The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s National Jelly Donut Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been on a non stop run across the City of Greater New York for the last six weeks, and my dogs are barking. Haven’t been to Staten Island (except by water, twice) or the Bronx at all, but tomorrow I’m going to Plumb Beach nearby Sheepshead Bay to attend a lecture on Horseshoe Crabs which, as it turns out, is being led by my tenth grade biology teacher. Small world, big City, I guess. The shot above was captured at the Grand Avenue station in Elmhurst, where I’ve been three times in the last six weeks, but was just passing through.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above was gathered onboard the new Citywide Ferry Rockaway service, which left from Pier 11 in Manhattan and proceeded to Bay 108 in Rockaway in about fifty minutes with a stop in Sunset Park. I was puzzled as to the end goal destination, across the street from the DEP’s Rockaway waste water treatment plant. B 108 isn’t exactly “Main Street” if you know what I mean, but putting two and two together, I figure that the City probably owns the land there due to the Rockaway Plant’s long tenancy and it was likely the only affordable spot along the Rockaway waterfront where you could install the dock.

Pictured, of course, is a NY Water Taxi rather than a Citywide Ferry boat. The Water Taxi was exiting Erie Basin while performing part of its’ IKEA ferry route.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering around Astoria one recent day, this coal chute cover was encountered and I decided to do a bit of detective work on the address embossed into its legend. The folks at Greater Astoria Historic Society host a page which describes the various name changes that the streets in Astoria have assumed over the years, which provided for some of the hard slog footwork in translating “329 9th Ave., Astoria, L.I.” into the modern day street grid.

What was once known as “Kowenhoven St.” in a city of Newtown called Astoria, which was later renamed as “9th avenue by the independent municipality of Long Island City, became 38th street in the Borough of Queens and a part of the Consolidated City of Greater New York in the early 20th century. The sections of Belcher Hyde Fire Insurance Maps included in today’s post date from 1919, and still carry the LIC era street names and addresses.

– Belcher Hyde map 1919

Broadway is always so named, and Steinway Street was once an avenue but is still named after the local Piano Baron, and 31st avenue used to be called first Jamaica and then Patterson Avenue. 9th street is now 38th street, and if I’m reading the map correctly, the street address (329) of the Atlantic Iron Works would correspond with that of the no longer extant Public School no. 6 (which is a whole other story) and is coterminous with the modern day “Sean’s Place” playground.

– Belcher Hyde map 1919

As a note, the track lines indicated are Trolley, or Streetcar tracks. The arrival of the IND subway line was still a few years away at the stage of the game, and the “cut and cover” work was likely underway but not indicated.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm

alienist harmony

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It’s World Day of Social Justice, for member states of the United Nations. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just a quickly today, as it’s also a holiday and I’m taking the day off. That’s a gas main hatch spotted somewhere over in Brooklyn, nearby the Newtown Creek. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 20, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Brooklyn

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hysterical laughter

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It’s Edgar Allen Poe’s Birthday, Icelandic Man’s and Woman’s Day (Bóndadagur), and it’s also National Popcorn Day – here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of my scheme to survive the cold this year involves a bit of a mix up on the normal routine. Rather than walk from Point A in Astoria to some distant industrial wasteland and then follow a completely different path back home (my normal “thing”), I’ve instead been taking the subway out a few stops to spots around three to four miles from home and then figuring out how to walk back home along an interesting route. On a recent day, my route involved taking the G out to Williamsburg. Not the shiny part of Williamsburg, of course, but the still crappy section that touches southern Greenpoint.

Whenever I’m in Williamsburg, I stare at the ground lest I catch the eye of a hipster who might find me novel or twee.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Leonard Street, this centuried access cover was encountered, bearing the screed “Catskill Water Chamber.” Now, I’ve asked the question “who can guess, all there is, that might be buried down there?” more than once at this – your Newtown Pentacle over the years… but in this case I don’t actually have to guess or wonder.

This is the sort of stuff that I know about which makes the folks at NYC DEP nervous about how I know it, incidentally. Short answer – while everybody else is reading about celebrity news or watching sports, I’m combing through the well hidden corners of NYC.gov. It’s a gold mine, I tell you.

Water Tunnel #2 is about 17 feet in diameter, and it feeds pipes which first stretch out under Long Island City, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg. A sixty inch trunk main pipe under Jackson Avenue in LIC connects to one on McGuinness Blvd. in Greenpoint after passing under the Newtown Creek. At Leonard Street and McGuinness, a seventy two inch pipe is connected to the main line, and that one feeds water all the way to Driggs Avenue.

At the corner of Metropolitan Avenue and Leonard Street here in Williamsburg, where the access cover seen above can be found, there’s a series of smaller twelve inch mains which split off from the main flow and feed water to local customers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s likely that these access covers were forged sometime between 1905 and 1915, with the Catskill system beginning to come online in late 1915. The Catskill system was ultimately completed by 1928, forging one leg of the tripod of upstate reservoirs which supply NYC with drinkable water. It’s all very complicated.

The NYC Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity was the entity which the Catskill system would be handed over to, and was one of the many “wet work” agencies that were compressed into the gargantuan NYC Department of Environmental Protection back during the City Charter revision of 1983.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After congratulating myself on displaying another bit of my largely useless knowledge base, it was time to start moving again as a small crowd of hipsters were beginning to form and I feared ending up being posted about on Instagram again. One decided to continue up Metropolitan Avenue, following it to the Northeast, and inexorably approaching those loathsome existential realities which one finds lurking about the legendary Newtown Creek.

More tomorrow – at this, your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

overtones of

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Another random series of shots, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in Greenpoint, a line of empty taxis parked on Provost Street, across the street from the sewer plant.

It’s actually meant to be pronounced as “Provoost” despite being spelled as “Provost.” The Provosts were one of the original five families of Greenpoint, along with the Bennets, Calyers, Praas, and Messeroles. These five Dutch families dominated Greenpoint politically for nearly two centuries, owned most of the land, and only began to recede into history when Neziah Bliss married into the Messerole clan. Bliss laid out the modern street grid, erected the first bridges over Bushwick and Newtown Creeks, and is the father of the modern community.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The IND R train entering into Queens Plaza. Queens Plaza’s IND service opened for business on August 19th in 1933, but back then there was only express service between Manhattan and Queens. It wasn’t until 1955 when the 60th street tunnel opened that the Queens local trains began to travel back and forth into the Shining City. I work on getting this shot every time I’m there, and you have to time it just right to catch an arc flash that the train sets off as it comes to the station tracks grade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s amazing how many manhole cover types there are, a subject which has been discussed endlessly at this – your Newtown Pentacle. The story of municipal consolidation can be read in the screeds embossed onto these iron discs, and the one pictured above was once the property of the “Bureau of Water and Sewers” which is now part of the NYC DEP and can be observed at the border of Sunnyside and Blissville in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is a “Brooklyn Department of City Works” access cover, which was found back in Greenpoint. DCW is also now a part of the consolidated DEP.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in Queens, on the “carridor” of Northern Blvd., a puzzling bit of signage has emerged on one of the enormous advertising bill boards found on the corner of 38th street. The easterly facing side says “Stay Calm” with a screed reading “-Peter.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The westerly facing side says “Don’t Panic,” and also has the “-Peter” signature. Dictionary definitions are superimposed on the block print messaging, this one bears the definition of courage. I’ve looked around for what these signs are meant to be selling or saying, but haven’t been able to find out much. If anybody knows what’s up with these messages, please share in the comments.

Either way, they are reminiscent of the sort of things Rowdy Roddy Piper observed in the John Carpenter film “They Live.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A gorgeous bit of hand painted signage adorns the back of a NYCHA emergency truck back in Greenpoint, and is pictured above.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

portal guardians

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Hatches abound in the Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is possessed by a certain and somewhat odd fetish for “access covers” – or as they are colloquially known and popularly referred to by the local gentry – “manhole covers.”

Often, these iron discs will be the oldest thing present on any given street, due to their durability and the difficulty one encounters when attempting to replace one. According to several Federal Highway and Street design manuals which I’ve suffered through – guidelines state that it is preferential to replace one of these hatch covers only with an exact copy issued by the original manufacturer.

That’s probably why you’ll notice the Citizens Water Supply Company of Newtown’s hatches sprinkled around the neighborhoods of the Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

About a block from the 108th Precinct’s HQ in LIC, sharp eyes will notice this 1874 vintage (independent municipality of) Long Island City sewer cap adorning the pavement.

Nothing else which has survived gentrification on this particular block dates back to anything earlier than 1900 or so, which makes this discus a genuine artifact of another age and a somewhat prehistoric culture.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few blocks away, on Second Street in LIC, there used to be an iconic power plant that (positively) electrified the Long Island Railroad. The power plant is gone, transmogrified by the Real Estate Industrial Complex into yet another bland residential building sheathed in mirror glass.

The rectangular LIRR access cover remains, nevertheless. This chunk of iron likely dates back to the late 1890’s, an educated based on logo usage and operational era.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Queens Blvd., in the Sunnyside area, you might notice these IRT branded storm drain covers. They are found on the roadway parking lots which underlie the massive concrete acqueduct which carries the Subway tracks high above.

These access covers are a non standard size, btw, only around 16-18 inches across. They carry the sort of typography one would expect from the house of Moses at the TBTA, and I suspect that they might have installed when Queens Blvd. was widened to its current footprint back in the 1930’s (may have been 40’s but I think it was the post Triborough Bridge era in the late 30’s. Don’t trust me on this one, I’m pulling this from memory rather than proper fact checking).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Once upon a time, there was just one phone company. A monolith corporation which enjoyed a special status in NYC, the populace hereabouts called it “Ma Bell.” One of the interesting bits of history about which these access caps can inform the observer concerns corporate America.

You’ll see “NYCTEL” and “Bell System” as well as “NYNEX” and “Verizon” sprinkled around here and there, and all speak to the roll out of telephonic infrastructure across the megalopolis, and the evolution of the telecommunications industry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of wires, Consolidated Edison caps are probably the most numerous hatch covers encountered. They are larger than most of the other ones, and are sometimes several feet in diameter.

My understanding is that the electric people have been retrofitting their access pipes in recent years with plastic undercaps, whose purpose is to keep salt laden melt water from winter snowfalls from infiltrating down into and degrading the electrical equipment found within. The hidden barrier also serves to vouchsafe against the manhole cover becoming electrified.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in East Elmhurst, this gorgeous hatch was recently encountered along Ditmars Blvd. in the 80’s. It belongs, or belonged, to the Brooklyn Union Gas Company – another monolithic organization which enjoyed – like the Bell System – a special monopoly in NYC.

These mega corporations operated under the aegis of a “Public Utility” designation, which meant that in return for exclusive access to the NYC market they would agree to charging politically regulated rates and perform tasks in concert with municipal officialdom.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The typography on this hatch is particularly pleasing, to my eye, at least.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Also in East Elhurmst, around a block or two from LaGuardia Airport, this manhole cover was encountered. Signage nearby adjures that a buried gas line is in the ground, which might offer some clue as to the occupation of the hatch, but the “ACQ” screed embossed in the iron is somewhat puzzling.

Any ideas as to its meaning, Lords and Ladies?

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Upcoming Tours –

July 26th, 2015
Modern Corridor – LIC, Queens Walking Tour
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For those of you who have offered donations to pay for its replacement, the “Donate” button below will take you to paypal. Any contributions to the camera fund will be greatly appreciated, and rewarded when money isn’t quite as tight as it is at the moment.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

July 21, 2015 at 10:18 am

trembling protest

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the other day, one was strolling along Jackson Avenue in Long Island City and enjoying the late afternoon haze of auto exhaust when I decided to avoid a group of rough and aggressive looking youngsters by ducking down a dead end called Dutch Kills Street. Haughty and diffident, these unscrupulous looking minors had perhaps reached the third grade, but realizing that they have spent their short lifetime playing violent video games and were therefore potential killers, your humble narrator decided to walk the familiar path of ignominy and hide from them.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Such physical cowardice has often proven to be the better part of valor for one such as myself, a shunned and awkward thing which resembles a man. Dutch Kills Street, where the native art form of Queens (illegal dumping) is practiced wholly, is overflown by structures sprouting out from the Great Machine at nearby Queens Plaza. Vehicular traffic departing and approaching the mighty Queensboro bridge hurtles along overhead, and the street grade lanes end at the fence lines of the titan Sunnyside Yards..

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At the end of the street was observed another of the curious shoes which I’ve been noticing scattered around in similarly desolate locales over the last few months. Odd bordering on obsequious, the presence of just one half of the mated pair- again and again- just makes a little bell go off in my head when I see it. It is common to see all sorts of domestic and personal goods scattered about the neighborhoods surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, but the homogeneity of these singular shoe sightings simply suggests something sinister and suspicious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The rough looking group of third graders had noisily passed the intersection of Jackson and Dutch Kills, heading towards Tower Town down in Hunters Point. They were assembled in a “skirmish line” formation, walking abreast of each other while in the company of a group of women who seemed to have some measure of control over their movements. Some of these women had far younger children with them, who were being transported in bizarre cart like machines- whose appearance I did not like, I should add- which I found disconcerting. Your humble narrator hid behind a pile of trash for awhile, then fled the scene with haste.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 11, 2013 at 2:57 am

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