The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘LIRR

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I been everywhere, man.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator is fully “back in action” after a long hermitage. In the last seven days – I’ve conducted three walking tours of the Newtown Creek watershed, visited the Kosciuszko Bridge construction project, attended and partcipated in a Working Harbor Committee tour, and have also found myself cathechizing elected officialdom about the dangers of CSO’s (Combined Sewer Outfalls). I also shot and developed a few hundred photos, and you’ll be seeing some of them over the next few days.

I also got to take the most photogenic of NYC’s subway lines the other day, which is the IRT Flushing or 7 line, as evinced by the shot above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Two of my walking tours last week were private affairs, and involved exposing groups of students to LIC. I brought the kids down the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, then along the main stem of the Creek itself, and we eventually ended up along the East River waterfront in Hunters Point.

The counterpoints between “America’s Workshop” and the “Modern Corridor” are jarring, and seeing the post industrial section contrasted with the gentrified residential sections really seemed to hit home with them. I love taking out groups of students, incidentally, as ultimately our world will be theirs someday, and they have to start thinking up the solutions to the colossal mess we’re going to be leaving behind.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funnily enough, what with all the running around, I ended up walking close to forty miles last week as I scuttled around from place to place. This weekend, I’ve got another private group tour on Saturday, but on Sunday there’s a free event I’m helping to conduct with my colleague Will Elkins from Newtown Creek Alliance. Details are found below for attending the “North Henry Street Project,” which will meet up at 11 a.m on the corner of Kingsland and Norman Avenues in Greenpoint.

This one is part of the citywide MAS Janeswalk event, and I’m hoping you can come along and check out the plans NCA has been concocting for the “Unnamed Canal,” a minor tributary of Newtown Creek.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, May 8th at 11 a.m. – North Henry Street Project,
with Municipal Arts Society Janeswalk and Newtown Creek Alliance,
in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 2, 2016 at 1:30 pm

padding, clicking, walking

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Want to feel better? Take a walk in Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Skillman Avenue between 39th street and 49th avenue is “big sky country” here in Western Queens, with the majesties of the Sunnyside Yard and the glorious skyline of the Shining City laid out for all observers. It has always been one of my favorite spots for a stroll, and never more so than at twilight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a number of things I can tell you about the yards. When it opened, this was the largest coach yard on the planet, and it hosts the busiest tracks on earth to this day – specifically, the Harold Interlocking, which is shared by Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad. There’s an ocean of PCB’s and other industrial chemicals in the ground here, and its likely going to be listed for some sort of environmental cleanup or remediation before too long.

The odd and continuing appearances of cast off single shoes found along the fence line continues to intrigue and puzzle a humble narrator, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the whole “deck over the yard and build a new neighborhood on top of it, with a stadium and hotel complex at the Queens Plaza side and affordable housing to the east” chestnut has surfaced again – the latest iteration of a plan espoused by Dan Doctoroff early in the first Bloomberg term. A number of people have asked me what my thoughts on the matter are.

My reply is always: How, in any way, would that be good for Queens? Does the proposal to deck the yards include hospitals and schools, an annex for the already stretched 104th and 114th precincts, additional FDNY personnel and equipment, or some mechanism to incorporate this new population into the existing wastewater system? Who will bear the costs of these municipal services? It won’t be the entity that builds a stadium or hotel complex, one guarantees you.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

slight remainder

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Notice: the November 9th Magic Lantern Show with Atlas Obscura is cancelled for now. We hope to reschedule for sometime during the winter. Observatory, where the event is scheduled to take place, has been damaged by Hurricane Sandy and flooding.

Alternatively, it has been decided to move forward with this Sunday’s Newtown Creek “SideTour” Poison Cauldron walking tour in Greenpoint, details are found at the bottom of this posting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Having moved through one of my regular “routes” from Astoria to Greenpoint to catalog the so called lower reaches of the Newtown Creek, it was time to return via another well explored and familiar pathway back to Queens. Over the Pulaski Bridge, into Long Island City, and ultimately up Skillman Avenue back to my neighborhood. On the Pulaski, I noted that one of the many undocumented sailboats which enjoys free berth on the Queens side had sunken, as you will discern in the lower right corner of the shot above.

The other locations and concurrent postings in this series exploring the post Hurricane Sandy conditions found around the Newtown Creek are Borden Avenue Bridge in open place, The Dutch Kills turning basin in dark moor, Calvary Cemetery in solid stones, The Maspeth Plank Road in sinister swamp, The Grand Street Bridge in shallow mud, English Kills in stranger whence, and Blissville to Greenpoint in vaguer recollection.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Descending down into Queens via the Pulaski stairs, where an eerie quiet was experienced. Again, this section of my survey was accomplished on Sunday the 4th, coincidentally the day which the NYC Marathon would normally have been conducted and ran across the Bridge, and the guys with the dirty fingernails who are the motive force in LIC had been hard at work cleaning up for the better part of week at this point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Evidence of sedimentation escaping the Creek’s bulkheads was apparent, evinced at street corner sewer grates as in the shot above. That sidewalk isn’t wet, that’s oil. An unrelated trip just two days ago revealed the corner to be in the same condition, but this is the definition of “wrong side of the tracks” down here and the larger City has bigger problems right now than some piddly corner hidden away in an industrial backwater.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Stalwart, the Long Island Rail Road yard at Hunters Point was in fine fettle, despite the orange hue which their rails had taken on, no doubt due to immersion in salt water. This was a commonality shared by all rail tracks observed around the Creek which were flooded, but remember that the historic facility at Hunters Point has survived through flood and fire since 1870, and that Sandy was hardly their first rodeo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The big story down here, beyond the flooding in the residential sections of Tower Town along 2nd and Center Streets- which I am not going to discuss- was the flooding of the Midtown Tunnel. According to the AP and WCBS, as well as official statements from the MTA, the water in the Queens Midtown Tunnel flooded in from the Queens side and emanated from Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Anecdotal stories transmitted to me described Dutch Kills breaching its banks and flowing down Borden Avenue which met with surge waters that rose over the bulkheads from the Creeks junction at East River. So far, no photos or video of the flooding have reached me. I understand that large scale pumping operations are still underway, and that the tunnel is now passable but only by buses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This flooding of the Midtown Tunnel is the reason why the Long Island Expressway is being diverted onto local streets after Greenpoint Avenue (at least as of a couple of days ago) and describes one of the larger casualties of Hurricane Sandy in western Queens. We got fairly lucky around these parts, as compared to southeastern districts like the Rockaways and Howard Beach.

Again, in the shot above, notice that fresh orange patina on the tracks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Noticing the large piles of trash along the rail tracks, conversation was struck up with a local woman named Marti. She maintains a small community garden alongside the fence line and revealed that she had been cleaning this mess up for days with the help of a few sympathetic laborers. All of this flotsam ended up plastered along the fence from the westerly flow moving down Borden Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The businesses along Borden, as mentioned in the first posting in this series, all experienced flooding in at least their basements. Enormous losses of vehicles and equipment notwithstanding, they were back at work on this day.

Of course, this is what Long Island City does, which is getting back to work.

Upcoming Newtown Creek tours and events:

Note: there are just 4 tickets left on this one, which is likely the last walking tour I’ll be conducting in 2012.

for an expanded description of the November 11th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

morning bright

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

For once, the smell at the corner of 49th street and 56th road/Laurel Hill Blvd./Rust street isn’t being caused by the infamously aromatic Maspeth Creek tributary of the larger Newtown Creek.

It’s the three headless chickens which are rotting away on the train tracks.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These bird corpses turned up at this crossroad shortly after the last full moon, without their heads, and have been left to moulder away. My personal theory, which has been enhanced by a recent addition on the other track of dinnerware adorned with coins and candles, is that this is some sort of “Santeria” thing- however- there are other logical possibilities…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is entirely possible that this trio “made a break for it” from a nearby “pollo vivo” establishment, were walking down the tracks, and were struck by a passing train which decapitated them. Often has this, your Newtown Pentacle, adjured against walking these active and street grade trackways- proclaiming the existential and mortal dangers of such activity to urban explorers and other photographers. Here is tangible evidence of what might happen to you.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There might also be some sort of bird mafia at work around West Maspeth, and these three chickens might have been left out in public view as a lesson to those who might snitch to the authorities about their illicit activities. “Dese boids mights beze Canaries takins a doit nap”. You don’t screw around with the Goodfeathers around Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Jocularity notwithstanding, it is likely a religious thing we are looking at here. The number three is significant, as is the positioning of the bodies at the crossroads of a north/south and east/west path. As stated in the past, your humble narrator is not overly familiar with the syncretic religions of the Caribbean or Central American cultures, but can spot “magick” at a hundred paces.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 13, 2012 at 10:14 am

elaborately fashioned

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

While moving through DUPBO (Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp) the other day, a passing train forced me to halt my ceaseless marching momentarily. Suffering from a malfunction, my headphones were not working, and the ultimate horror of being alone with my thoughts occurred. A brief interlude with your humble narrator has been described as exhausting, and that’s when the interviewee is feeling generous or is governed by polite behavioral norms. Long exposures to my uniquely abhorrent personality have been known to induce madness, encourage alcoholism, and destroy all hope for peace. An expectation of normalcy is usually abandoned by those unable to escape my presence shortly after first contact.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My family describes me as best taken in small doses, and does their best to disavow, deny, and distance themselves. Imagine what it must be like, between my ears, as one cannot escape from oneself. With the headphones roaring their cacophony, it is often possible for me to drown my endless narrative of self referential critique and worry, but without them the omnipresence of paranoid wonderings is impossible to evade. What you read in this blog is what I’m like all the time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Poverty stricken of late, my plan to get every last millimeter of sole from my last pair of hiking boots backfired, causing an injury of some kind to my left foot. Not severe, discomfort is barely noticeable until several miles into a walk, but after a while it becomes uncomfortable. While standing in DUPBO, one wondered if it might be something truly horrible and I began to ponder if it might be foot cancer. This led me to begin thinking about whether or not there was any such thing as “foot cancer” (there is), which led me to begin wondering about all the other aches and pains which I experience and attempted to ascribe a hypochondriacal “worst case” scenario to each.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Constant thought is given to being struck by a truck, or car, or train of course. I also worry about things falling off of buildings- did you know that bricks sometimes just come loose and fall? Falling air conditioners, electrified utility lines, even sinkholes could randomly cross my path. There are feral dogs, packs of rats, hordes of flesh eating centipedes, and aggressive seagulls… One could fall in the creek head first and get stuck in the mud, be drawn into a wood chipper, or end up stuffing a fifty gallon drum after taking a photo of something I shouldn’t have. It is not fun thinking these thoughts, and impossible for me to turn them off. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of things happen in New York City, things which are admittedly “statistically unlikely” but happened nevertheless- decapitation, bloodcicles, and pineapple with ham on pizza. Oddly enough, I seldom worry about being struck by lightning- go figure.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This is, of course, why I keep my headphones buried firmly in my ears and the volume turned way up, on these long walks around Queens and the Newtown Creek. It’s also why, as soon as budget allowed, a new pair of shoes were purchased, because you cannot run away from imagined dangers when your left foot hurts. The repair to the headphones has been accomplished as well, and as this shadow of what looks like a man strides forth, he no longer is forced to listen to a fear crazed maniac within his head. Still worried about foot cancer though… So many things can happen to you…

frenzied throng

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

As you may have noticed from the little flickr badge on the right hand side of this page, it’s been a rather busy few days for your humble narrator. The Working Harbor Committee Tugboat races were a hoot, as always, but I’ve had to develop and deliver the shots in a somewhat timely manner- despite the annoyance of a computer system crash and a concurrent setback in my overall schedule.

Such is life.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some extremely exciting stuff is on the front burner right now, and October is looking to be another incredibly busy month. I can’t discuss any of it yet, but there will be several intriguing “events” which will be described to you in some detail in the coming weeks that I’m involved with.

Suffice to say- “Want to see something cool? Come with me, bring a camera and ID”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What does all this shadowy discussion and veiled promise have to do with shots of speedy trains and hidden trackbeds? Nothing at all, but this is a visual metaphor for what it feels like to be me at the moment.

A deer in the headlights, with a juggernaut hurtling ever closer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just in case you were wondering- the trains are Metro North at Spuyten Duyvel, LIRR at Woodside and then DUPBO near Hunters Point, and Amtrak at Sunnyside Yards.

Catching up on the latest round of research, getting the next series of postings together, getting back on track. Expect regular but rather short posts for the next few days as I pull together the next session of this, your Newtown Pentacle.

squat creatures

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

An interesting conversation with someone who had just moved into the Long Island City area, whom I met at the after party for the recent Forgotten NY “2nd Saturday” Skillman avenue walking tour, involved the environmental and health consequences of living so close to Newtown Creek and the heavy infrastructure around LIC.

She was part of that group often referred to in a denigrating manner by area wags as “tower people”, and desperate to describe her new neighborhood as “not that bad”- she began making references to far off catastrophic environmental situations. Delicate turf for one such as myself, whose taciturn visage and brusque “matter of fact” mannerisms have never proven popular in polite circles- and extra hazardous as it involves Newtown Creek.

from wikipedia

Long Island City station was built on June 26, 1854, and was rebuilt seven times during the 19th Century. On December 18, 1902, both the two-story station building, and an office building owned by the LIRR burned down. The station was rebuilt on April 26, 1903, and was electrified on June 16, 1910.

Before the East River Tunnels were built, the Long Island City station served as the terminus for Manhattan-bound passengers from Long Island, who took ferries to the East Side of Manhattan. The passenger ferry service was abandoned on March 3, 1925, although freight was carried by car floats (see Gantry Plaza State Park) to and from Manhattan until the middle twentieth century.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The specific structure she dwells in is a newly realized and daring escapade which sits directly next to the Midtown Tunnel and the Pulaski Bridge, and is only a few blocks from the Newtown Creek. On the next corner one may find one of the Belmont Tunnels which carries both 7 train and Long Island Railroad to Manhattan, and the LIRR main line tracks weave through the area as well. She described the experience of living in this new building as fantastic, but overhearing your humble narrator as he proselytizes and promotes awareness of the Newtown Creek, grew increasingly uneasy as she heard an alternate description of her new home.

This is not my intention, nor what I intend when discussing the Creek and it’s environs in public.

from newtownpentacle posting of June 10, 2009

In the late 1860′s, Newtown Township was being run, politically, by a group of country hicks from eastern Long Island who wouldn’t know a good deal if it bit them on the bottom. All the sweat and blood being shed in Hunter’s Point, and along Newtown Creek- servicing the exploding populations of the two cities (Brooklyn and especially Manhattan)- it was the East River’s taxes that were building elaborate courthouses and paving roadways (in Jamaica, Queens and other unimaginably eastward points)- but what were these “New Men of industry” getting back from Newtown Township?

Was it those baronial Dutch farmers from Elmhurst who built the ironclad Monitors that redefined naval warfare? Was it they who had set up the casino riverboats, and a Turtle Bay to Hunters point ferry service to bring in the rubes, when Manhattan outlawed card rooms and horse betting parlors? Did those cloud watchers and pig farmers build the greatest and most productive shipyards in the entire world on Newtown Creek, or was it men like Cord Meyer and Daniel Pratt? The entrepreneurial explosion of the industrial revolution, the future, was happening right now on the East River and especially on the Newtown Creek, notLong Island Sound or Jamaica Bay.

These farmers from Flushing were standing in the way of progress, and holding on to an agrarian way of life that the railroad was obviously going to destroy. Besides, all the farm goods on Long Island would still have to go through the docks in Hunters Point and Astoria on their way to Manhattan anyway. The shores of Newtown Creek were bulkheaded and straightened by Newtown Township in 1868 in an effort to boost navigability.

In 1870- the leading men of the communities of Astoria, Ravenswood, Blissville, Sunnyside, Dutch Kills, Bowery Bay, and Middleton combined their considerable political patronage and their vast fortunes together and formed Long Island City. The population of the new city didn’t quite number 10,000, but the great unwashed- like we modern multitudes- were just along for the ride.

All this was far more than the men who owned and operated the 800 pound gorilla, also known as the Long Island Rail Road, could have asked for.

Industrialists and gangsters all over the new city vied for position on the train tracks, waiting for the iron road to lead the world directly to their door.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Here’s the thing… I can’t lie to the LIC Tower people about the history of the place and the leave behinds in the ground and water that are extant still, but by the same token, don’t want to breathe fire in their direction either. Attempts were made to explain her new role not as some mere resident of LIC, but as an actual stakeholder in it’s future. Careful shepherding by the actual community, rather than some external agency, is what LIC needs. Burying ones head in the sand works badly for Ostriches, and worse for primates.

She didn’t see it that way and insisted that things weren’t so bad around these parts, and that proximity to the admittedly excellent Sweetleaf Coffee shop trumped other concerns.

We laughed.


Residents of a building in Long Island City, Queens say they are near their wits’ end over the noise from train engines that idle all day in a nearby yard, and want the MTA to put the brakes on it. Borough reporter Ruschell Boone filed the following report.

For some Long Island City residents, the sound of idling train engines plow through their day.

“I’m not here to observe it all day. I wouldn’t want to be here five days a week,” said resident Mark Goetz.

“It’s really horrible. I mean, like I wake up to this noise every morning,” said resident Lillian Marchena.

Marchena’s apartment is directly across the street from the Long Island Rail Road rail yard. She says residents have been complaining for years about the diesel engine trains that sit idling during the day.

“It’s actually gotten a little bit better from the beginning when I first moved in, but it’s still a big problem,” she said.

Over the last two years, the LIRR has turned off some of the engines during the day and placed some trains in other parts of the rail yard as part of a compromise, but some residents said the noise is starting to increase again.

“From 7:30 in the morning ’til 5:30 at night, Monday through Friday,” said Community Board 2 Chairman Joe Conley.

It is a harsh reality for new residents moving to the once-industrial area. The rail yard has been there for more than 100 years, but residents want the diesel engines turned off during the day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Greenpoint side of the Newtown Creek is actually a hotbed of neighborhood activism, which is reflected by the abundance of grant money funding community projects there. Greenpoint of course, is a multi generational community, whose population is largely anchored in place and possessed of an “institutional memory” that remembers the sins of the past. The Queens side, not so much.

A not so funny joke I tell is: the borough motto should be “welcome to Queens, go fuck yourself“.

The reason it’s not funny is that it’s largely true, and something as simple as a blizzard or a blackout will concretize that rather quickly. It’s also why our neighborhoods are viewed as transient way stations on the way east by the elites of Manhattan, and it is something that needs to addressed, should we desire to see the “American Style” of government continue throughout the 21st century.

The trains and the Creek and the commuter traffic and the noise, you see, are not going to be leaving the scene anytime soon and frankly- compared to a hundred years ago, things are just grand.


LONG ISLAND CITY, a city of New York, separated from Brooklyn by Newtown Creek, with Hunter’s Point as its southwestern portion. It is the terminus of the Long Island and the Flushing and North Side railroad. It has large oil-refineries, sulphuric-acid factories, and many other large and important manufacturing establishments.

Blissville, now incorporated within the city limits, on Newtown Creek, is the seat of large distilleries, and of factories for compressed yeast, fertilizers, etc.

Astoria, the northwestern portion of Long Island City, contains carpet and piano factories, and many good residences.

The part of the city called Ravenswood contains also many handsome residences, Long Island City has an extensive front along the East River, Newtown Creek and Long Island Sound, Newtown Creek being navigable at this point.

The city has water-works, gas and electriclight plants and street-railways. The public schools have an enrollment of over six thousand pupils. Both Jamaica and Long Island City claim to be the county capital, each having several county buildings. Population of the city 1890, 30,506.

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