The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Maspeth

damaged youths

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It’s National Banana Creme Pie Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sorry gang, another short post greets you today. It’s been one thing after another around HQ, with first a minor injury and now a nasty head cold… a humble narrator just can’t seem to win for losing during the last couple of weeks. A post of some length and profundity will arrive in your inboxes tomorrow, but for today you’ll have to be satisfied with contemplating the weirdly colored waters of the fabled Newtown Creek.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 2, 2017 at 1:28 pm

awestruck party

with one comment

It’s Fred Korematsu Day of Civil Liberties and the Constitution, in the states of California and Virginia.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Throw your hands in the air, like you just don’t care.

That’s what most of the residents of Queens do when the subject of Newtown Creek comes up. That’s Brooklyn’s problem, not ours. Then I tell them about how the decisions affecting Queens are being made by the “transplant hipsters of Brooklyn” whom they revile, and that whereas Brooklyn is going to be getting new parks and other municipal goodies out of this Superfund thing… Queens is largely being left out of the equation. That riles the north shore peeps up a bit, but they still don’t get involved. Since the people of Queens are disinterested, so is elected officialdom.

Fish, or cut bait. If neither, then get out of the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always chalked it up to topography. If you’re in East Williamsburg, or Greenpoint, Newtown Creek is part of your life whenever you open your window. The Brooklyn, or south side, of the Newtown Creek hosts residential properties which are literally across the street from the bulkheads. The Queens, or north side, communities generally have a buffer zone of industrial buildings and highways separating them from the water. Newtown Creek is a half mile from residential Sunnyside.

In Queens, they complain about truck traffic, hipsters, and gentrification.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We are at a critical juncture, Newtown Creek wise. The science from all parties involved in the cleanup is beginning to be compiled. The DEP, in particular, is about to lock itself into a quarter century long program of construction and strategic maneuvering. Around a year or so from now, the oil and gas people will be doing the same and committing to a strategic course.

Ultimately, EPA will be doing the same thing and deciding on their course of action, but given the current political crisis in the Federal Government there is no real day to day guarantee that there will be an Environmental Protection Agency which resembles the current one.

What do clean and accessible waterways mean to President Trump and Steve Bannon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is going to be a meeting, the latest of many, of the Newtown Creek Community Advisory Group (CAG) on the first of February. If the shot above looks good to you, and you’d like to see more of the same – don’t come. If you care about not having a billion and a half gallons of raw sewage a year spilling onto mounds of poisonous and century old industrial waste, do come. Pipe up, we need voices and perspectives from outside the echo chamber.

Details on the meeting – time, place, etc. – can be accessed at this link. We could use some Queensican bodies in the room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shots in today’s post were gathered on the eastern side of the Newtown Creek, in Ridgewood and Maspeth. The environmental conditions in these industrial buffer zones are off the charts bad. You don’t have to look far to find dead birds, rats, all sorts of unlucky critters who innocently wandered in here. It wasn’t the Creek that killed them, it was the hundreds of heavy trucks.

As a note to Maspeth and Ridgewood residents – this is where the trucking you complain about comes from.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s a vision of what the future can hold for generations unborn that we have all been working for and towards. An industrial canal which also welcomes recreational boaters. An industrial canal which was the most significant job creation engine NYC has ever seen and which can be so again. A mixed use waterway in which business and the ecology operate hand in hand.

Ever heard of the “Maspeth heat island effect”? It’s the reason why your energy bills are so high during the summer, and it’s caused by the complete lack of green space in these industrial neighborhoods, which causes temperatures hereabouts to be ten or more degrees warmer during the summer than in surrounding communities. Is that Brooklyn’s problem? What about the trucks, or the garbage trains?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This post is meant to scold, and compel. Get involved, whatever your point of view is. The political elites of our City will not care unless you care.


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doglike lopers

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The concrete devastations, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned several times recently, an effort is under way to revisit a number of spots which I’ve not set foot in for a while. When I first began wandering around Newtown Creek and the neighborhoods surrounding it, a point was made to visit every single block, but in recent months and years, temporal exigency has caused one to travel along “efficient” routes to get from Point A (A as in Astoria) to Points B, C, and so on.

Accordingly, since I seem to have all the time in the world at the moment, I’m taking the road less travelled and revisiting a few locales which have been off my radar for a bit. To wit, pictured above is the view from 53rd avenue at the angle between Sunnyside and West Maspeth, looking west towards the BQE/LIE interchange.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Prior to the installation of the two highways, roughly 75-80 years ago, this was a place where working people still lived. There was a neighborhood here, at the western border of Newtown’s Maspeth section and the eastern border of LIC’s Blissville subdivision. That’s when Robert Moses, with his New Meeker Avenue Bridge (Kosciuszko Bridge), and Brooklyn Queens Connecting highway, and Long Island Expressway came to town. Zoning decisions made in Manhattan during the post WW2 era rendered this area as “M1” – meaning it is designated for heavy manufacturing usage only.

Regardless of how the City people decided this land should be used, residential usage continued and there are still a small number of fairly ancient homes found peppered in amongst the warehouses, factories and construction oriented tower crane storage yards hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funny thing is that this neighborhood is – observationally – one of the last places in NYC where you can “leave your front door open.” Saying that, when I use the term “concretized devastations of Western Queens” this section of industrial Maspeth is what I’m usually thinking of.

Most of the surviving homes I see in this neighborhood are typified by what you see above, wood frame row houses which date back to around 1900 or so. There’s a few older houses nearby which are a bit “grander” and speak to an earlier incarnation of this area. A few have disappeared “under my watch,” and have been replaced with bland cinder block warehouse or industrial buildings. Can’t really speak to “who” lives here, amongst the cranes and highways.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All I can tell you is that they have an amazing view. This POV is on the rising bluff which once led to a prominent hill to the south called Berlin. The next highest prominence to the west would have been Laurel Hill, which Calvary Cemetery was carved into. This section of Maspeth was actually called “Berlin” until the First World War, when it was changed for obvious reasons to West Maspeth. To the east, the land’s declination rises until it meets a ridge which signals the beginning of the terminal moraine of Long Island nearby Mount Olivette and Lutheran Cemeteries. That ridge, which sports the same sort of rocky geology that lends its name to Ridgewood, is “real” land. Everything west of Laurel Hill is elluvial fill deposited by glacial process and sediment delivered by flooding from the Newtown Creek and East River.

Climate change and rising sea level wise, this likely will be the East River coastline someday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looping around to the south, as the BQE and LIE interchange cut off egress east/west, an ad hoc art gallery is encountered. Illegal dumping, as I’ve often opined, is the unofficial nativist art form of the Borough of Queens. Combined with long fence lines that are covered in crude graffiti, you’ll encounter several installations along this route which offer intriguing intellectual postulates from the local artistic community.

Everything here is artisanal, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reality of these installations are that this is simply a convenient place for a low level building contractor to dispose of construction debris without having to pay a dumping fee, but allow me to stay “high brow” in my assessments.

These dumpers really do seem to pay some attention to composition and color, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

53rd avenue terminates in a parabola which carries it into 43rd street, a colonial era pathway that once connected to Newtown Creek from Bowery Bay in Astoria. The road transected the properties of (amongst several other famous Dutch and English family names from the colonial era) the Riker’s, Skillman’s, and Alsops along its route, and according to the historic record – it was paved with crushed oyster shells. All that changed, of course, when first the Long Island Railroad and later Robert Moses came to town.

43rd street still exists in a fairly unbroken line from Astoria to Northern Blvd. and then crosses the Sunnyside Yards south into Sunnyside where it crosses Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Avenue. When it crosses under the Long Island Expressway overpass, it resumes its pre municipal consolidation name – Laurel Hill Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “43rd street” you encounter in this section of industrial Maspeth, however, is disconnected from the northern section. The last homes on 43rd street went “bye-bye” just a few years ago, due to a smallish construction project going on in the area. With fewer people watching, and caring, the artisanal illegal dumping in this area has amplified.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, you can discern why I sometimes refer to this section as the “crane district.”

You can also plainly see the sharp rise in altitude hereabouts. This is, as mentioned, largely an industrial zone. There’s a lot of heavy industry going on. Warehouse operations, severely heavy truck traffic, waste transfer stations – Newtown Creek is just a few thousand feet to the south.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Newtown Creek, that smallish construction operation I mentioned earlier is the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project, which crosses the waterway. If memory serves, that means that something like a half million vehicles a day pass through this pass between Berlin and Laurel Hills. The Kosciuszko Bridge was opened in 1939, and the Queens side approach was built into a shallow valley found between the two landforms, and over a lost tributary of Newtown Creek which was called “Wolf Creek.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s that, then. See you next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

dark and shapely

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Kosciuszko, Kosciuszko, men have named you…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over Thankgiving weekend, a visit was paid to the hazy borderlands of West Maspeth and Blissville. My goal was to check in on and shoot some photos on the progress the NYS DOT is making on Phase One of the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project. Phase One involves the creation of half of the new span, the rerouting of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and the demolition of the 1939 era Kosciuszko Bridge, which overflies the lugubrious Newtown Creek.

Documenting this project has been a long standing project of mine – this 2012 post tells you everything you could want to know about Robert Moses, Fiorella LaGuardia, and the origins of the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge. Just before construction started, I swept through both the Brooklyn and Queens sides of Newtown Creek in the area I call “DUKBO” – Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp. Here’s a 2014 post, and another, showing what things used to look like on the Brooklyn side, and one dating back to 2010, and from 2012 discussing the Queens side – this. Construction started, and this 2014 post offers a look at things. There’s shots from the water of Newtown Creek, in this June 2015 post, and in this September 2015 post, which shows the bridge support towers rising. Additionally, this post from March of 2016 detailed the action on the Queens side. Most recently, here’s one from May of 2016, and one from June of the same year. Finally, here’s one from August of 2016.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The roadway now extends out over the water and is firmly shadowing the concrete devastations of Queens, nearly crossing the LIRR Lower Montauk tracks. The BQE Onramp also seems to be coming along, and I suspect that the DOT’s contractors will be joining the bridge span to the Queens side approaches pretty soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the BQE Onramp, there it is. In the foreground is one of the structural steel sections which will be joined to the span and support the road surface. Not pictured are the “panels” of the road surface, which arrived a couple of days later and which were noticed during a subsequent and unrelated visit to the area.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, you can see how the sections are attached. This is a cable stay bridge, of course. The roadway above will carry four lanes of two way traffic, but it’s just half of the new bridge. When the western half of the project is complete, there will be four lanes in each direction, and there’s also going to be a bicycle and pedestrian path.

That’s awesome. Cannot wait to shoot from up there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new bridge, as I’ve been mentioning for several years at this point, is going to be quite a bit lower than the 1939 model. That’s going to bring noise issues to Maspeth and Blissville, I fear, but let’s see what DOT has planned.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYS DOT is currently wondering what to do with the areas on both sides of the Creek which these columns rise from. There’s talk of public space and treating the two spots in the manner of a park or playground.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Further back in Queens, to the north actually, the approaches to the new bridge seem to be ready for business. I haven’t managed to get up there yet, but cross your fingers, maybe I can talk the DOT folks into a walk through soon.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the fantastic sort of luck for which I’m distinguished, just as I started back for home (cutting through Calvary Cemetery) the misty murk occluding the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself began to break up, allowing the sky to turn blue and light to suffuse. I turned around and grabbed one last shot, while cursing.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

preliminary session

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Sometimes, you have to let the crazy out and let it play.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One’s life experience displays a certain dichotomy which is often hard to reconcile. For the first two thirds of my time on this planet, if someone spotted me lurking around their periphery they’d begin to batten down the hatches. Ladies would grasp at their purse, gentlemen would assume a proactively aggressive posture, and Policemen would eye me suspiciously. One has never understood this, as I’ve always been what law enforcement personnel would describe as “harmless.” By and large, however, I’ve always been reviled and rejected.

It’s always been an issue for me to remain curiously upright, since any accusation about a humble narrator is easy to believe. “Hey, I just saw Mitch running up and down Houston street wearing a clown suit and screaming about invading aliens. He also had a goat with him.” Most people would just say “yeah, I could see that.”

For the last third of my life, there’s been people who seem to actually want me to hang around them, occasionally. It’s weird, because I’m the same sort of objectionable fellow that I’ve always been. Maybe I’ve just figured out how to sugar coat it, or put some lipstick on this pig, or maybe I’m just getting old and they’re humoring me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The weird part of the particular stage of life I’m in – I’ll be turning fifty (hopefully) in 2017 – is the physical transition which I can’t see but which is quite visible to everybody else. My beard used to be dark brown, for instance, and my eyes are looking out of a face which doesn’t chime in with what I think I look like. Also, I make a noise when settling into a chair now, a pained exhortation which sounds like “uhhhhhnnnnnnk” that is coupled with a staccato popping of the ligaments as they stretch along decaying joints with their cartilage deficits.

If I was a late model car, the mechanic would probably tell me that with a regular maintenance schedule, there’d probably be 15-20 thousand miles left before the junk yard beckoned. Saying that, my shocks and struts are shot, and I regularly fail on my emissions tests. I routinely describe my aches and pains as due to the presence of a “pain squirrel” which spends its time running from branch to branch over the course of the day. Today, the squirrel is on the left foot, tomorrow the right arm.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being a lot of things, including being “an environmentalist,” a “shill for the real estate guys,” and a “historical preservationist.” The latter bit is an assumption on the part of certain of my friends and colleagues. What I’m actually about – and everything I’ve been doing here at your Newtown Pentacle over the last seven years – is documenting the transformation of the ancient neighborhoods of Western Queens and North Brooklyn which surround the Newtown Creek as they transition from post industrial to residential. My researches into the subjects have revealed a paucity of the last age of transformation around the Creek, which occurred roughly a century ago. My plan is to leave behind some sort of record of what was here, before it’s all replaced by luxury condos. Hopefully, some future history kid will be able to make something out of it all.

I wish I got started sooner than I did, but kay sera sera.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the midst of all of this man-o-pausal angst, my wanderings have begun to carry me to places whose pavement I haven’t darkened in several dozen months. My experiential desires at the moment are for the desolate, the wind blown, the discarded. Especially, I want to be alone while I’m walking the earth, for an interval.

Other people suck. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Luckily, there is no shortage of lonely locations in the concrete devastation, and it is filthy black raincoat weather again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Queens is talking to me, can’t you hear her too?


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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 30, 2016 at 11:00 am

obvious that

with 3 comments

More on the proposed Maspeth Homeless Shelter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In yesterday’s post, the northern side of the area surrounding the proposed Homeless Shelter in Maspeth was descirbed in somewhat excruciating detail. The proposal put forward from the Mayor’s office calls for converting a Holiday Inn hotel on 55th Road to provide housing for one of NYC’s most vulnerable groups of people, and the location of it seems to be an entirely random choice of venue which City Hall arrived at by throwing a dart at a map of districts which didn’t support the Mayor in the last election cycle. The decision has already caused one long serving local politician to lose her job in an elective primary to an upstart and relative unknown who strongly objects to the placement of this facility, something which I’m sure the political establishment hereabouts will hold against the “Dope from Park Slope” when he attempts to get reelected.

That’s the hotel in the shot above, the tan and coral structure just to the south of the Long Island Expressway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Other than being a bland architectural travesty, the hotel itself is inoffensive. As a note, there is another nearby hotel found to the north on Maurice Avenue across the street from Mt. Zion cemetery – a Comfort Inn branded establishment which, like the Holiday Inn pictured above, exploits the European tourist market and offers lodging at a rate significantly lower than the ones offered at hotels closer to the City center. The shot above is from 55th Road, by the way.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While I was gathering these shots, the fellow above emerged from the hotel. He first informed me that I couldn’t take photos of the structure without a permit, then kind of invaded my personal space while telling me he didn’t want his photo published in a newspaper. This is a web site, incidentally, so I would offer to the gentleman pictured above that he needs to be more specific when stating his prohibitions. I reminded him that I was on the sidewalk of an adjoining property, of course, and that he had no right to attempt to circumnavigate the constitution of these United States on the subject of photography of those things which are visible from the sidewalk. He also sundered his right to privacy by confronting me thusly. Were I assigning any sort of editorial “slant” to this photo, he would have a legitimate beef with me, but since I’m not – he doesn’t.

As I always say, if you don’t me to point a camera at you, don’t hassle me when I’m shooting.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As stated in yesterday’s post, my objections to the placement of this facility revolve around the actual location of it, which I honestly believe to be a violation of the human rights of a vulnerable population.

The Holiday Inn sits across the street from the Long Island Expressway, which produces a standing wall of high decibel sound. While I was shooting the shot above, I actually called a friend, whom I could not hear even though my headphones were in – and she could barely make out what I was saying despite the fact that I was shouting into the microphone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This gas station with a convenience store is directly across the street from the hotel, and would presumptively fill the role of a supermarket for purchasing food and other existential necessaries. As is the case with such locations, everything you can purchase within is priced as high as the market will bear, and food items available are typically highly processed food stuffs designed for a long shelf life.

I guess the Mayor thinks that microwave burritos are good enough for these so called “Homeless” he’s planning on exiling to industrial Maspeth.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The character of the streets surrounding the hotel can be best described as truck routes. The sidewalks found under the overpasses of the highway have no pedestrian protections like bollards or jersey barriers, and are littered with debris and dead pigeons. There is no lighting, and perpetual shadow exists down in these spaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the west – more highways, cemeteries, and industrial sprawl.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the south – the roads lead to the industrial zone surrounding the Newtown Creek superfund site.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east – McDonalds and a Chinese take out restaurant offers an alternative food source to the microwaved burritos and packaged snack cakes found at the gas station convenience store. Luckily, there’s a financial institution in this little strip mall – a check cashing location, which like all examples of such institutions offers high interest payday loans and charges a usurious amount for cashing a check.

The people proposed for exile to this hotel are going to need somewhere to cash their benefit checks, after all, why not ensure that they get to keep as little of it as possible?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking south – up Maurice Avenue. At the top of the hill, around a half mile away, is the Goodfellas/Clinton Diner on Rust Street, if you need a landmark. The businesses located in the area are mainly warehouse operations, and there’s still a bit of manufacturing going on in the area, but it’s highly unlikely that any of the businesses in this area would hire a down on their luck person for an entry level job.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pictured above is 55th drive, looking east, this street is found behind the hotel property lot. Bleak, this is an industrial street which hosts a few Korean family owned kitchen cabinet manufacturers and a couple of warehouse operations. During the week – the fleets of trucks which carry their wares, and palettes of their products, populate roadway and sidewalk alike.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking west along 55th drive, the Koscisuzcko Bridge project is visible, but I don’t think that an opportunity for work will manifest itself for the proposed occupants of the Holiday Inn hotel there either.

What are the people that the City wants to move in here supposed to do to fill their days? 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The condition of the sidewalks and streets along 55th drive are fairly crappy. As with all the industrial neighborhood sidewalks you’ll find in Western Queens – illegally dumped junk, debris, and gravel are randomly deposited.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This playground and pocket park is one of the very few public green spaces in Maspeth’s northern section, and will likely become the place where the residents of the Hotel spend their time.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So, does it make sense?

Is it smart to exile a vulnerable population in an industrial zone found along an elevated highway that carries close to a half million vehicle trips a day and which produces an ear shattering din? Is it ok for these people to be exploited by a check cashing location, and to have to make a choice between eating convenience store food, Chinese take out, or at McDonalds? Or, is it just expedient?

Spotty bus service is a regular complaint for the residents of the surrounding neighborhood, and Maspeth is notoriously a “transit desert.” How will the people housed in this Holiday Inn access medical or social services without a car?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What do you think?

Upcoming tours and events:


“The Untold History of the Newtown Creek (aka Insalubrious Valley)” walking tour
with New York Adventure Club, Saturday, October 1st from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 20, 2016 at 11:00 am

dizzily down

with 4 comments

From the perspective of a wandering mendicant…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Often have I commented on the hazy “intertidal” zones found along the former borders of long forgotten town and village municipalities in Western Queens – in fact, I’ve coined the term “angles between” for them. There’s – functionally – no one alive today who has a personal remembrance of Maspeth or Woodside being referred to as towns or villages with clearly defined borders due to urban sprawl and the life’s work of Robert Moses. When the City of Greater New York consolidated Long Island City and the county of Newtown into a new entity called “Queens,” it’s at these hazy border areas that the Manhattan people got away with literal “bloody murder.” The export of Manhattan’s dirty industries, it’s unwanted poor, the corpses of its dead – all were sent east to what was – then – a still quite agricultural community called Queens. This also happened to the Bronx and Staten Island, and to a lesser degree Brooklyn.

The local politicians in the “lesser” boroughs were more than happy to take on the cemeteries, heavy industries, and garbage handlers in the name of “progress” and doing favors for the hidden elites of Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Shining City of Manhattan replaced its tenements, its abattoirs, its manufactured gas plants with what at the time would have referred to as “modern” apartment blocks. For you real estate savvy types – that’s so called “pre war” developments like Tudor City in Murray Hill, Peter Cooper Town/Stuyvesant Village which sits on the former site of several Manufactured Gas Plants, or the United Nations building (built into the former site of several slaughterhouses and abattoirs that was known as “blood alley”). The process of converting industrial Manhattan over to a residential and commercial center kicked into high gear in the years before and directly following the Second World War, the age of “urban renewal.” That’s when the highways were jammed through on Long Island, the dairy farms of Queens were converted to housing tracts, and the “Manhattancentric” school of thought concerning development really kicked in. The tenements emptied as the teeming masses sought a better life in Queens, and further east in suburban Nassau and Suffolk counties. This turned Western Queens into a transit corridor for trade and commuters.

It’s all about “the City” and literally all roads for hundreds of miles in any direction lead to Manhattan.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mt. Zion cemetery – that’s its Maurice Avenue fence line pictured above and it’s in the center of all the shots in today’s post – is categorically in Maspeth, and it is infested with tiny gecko like lizards. Saying that, it also defines Maspeth’s blurry border with Woodside in the same way that Maspeth’s border with LIC’s Blissville section is defined by the Koscisuzcko Bridge. The cemetery is fairly ancient by Queens’s standard, it’s roughly 78 acres in size, there’s around 210,000 interments therein, and its first burial in Mt. Zion was conducted in 1893. There used to be a Gypsy encampment here, a shanty town that was home to a Romani tribe from Transylvania that called itself the “Rudari,” or “Ludar,” depending on whom you ask. The Rudari, just for the sake of literary trivia, are the same tribe that worked for Count Dracula in the Bram Stoker novel named for the vampire lord. The historical record of Queens usually refers to them as “The Maspeth Gypsy’s,” and it should be mentioned that referring to them using such nomenclature would be considered a racist hate crime and slur in the modern day European Union.

The Rudari were renowned for copper working and animal training. The reason that the circus train still comes to Western Queens every year is that the circus industry used to buy trained critters – bears, horses, etc. – from them. Many Rudari found work at the Phelps Dodge copper refinery along Newtown Creek, and remnants of their community persist to this day in the Sunnyside Gardens area along Queens Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are a series of semi detached one and two story homes in the area directly surrounding Mt. Zion, which are sandwiched between the Long Island Expressway and Brooklyn Queens Expressway. To the south is the heavy manufacturing district surrounding the eastern side of Newtown Creek and its tributary Maspeth Creek. Mixed use industrial zoning directly touches the cemetery, and hundreds of truck based warehouse businesses are located hereabouts. There is also a large footprint Coca Cola distribution center nearby, and a primary shipping hub for United Parcel Service is less than a mile away, as is the warehouse and distribution center for the Duane Reade retail empire. Mt. Zion’s western side is directly across the street from the Second, Third, and Fourth sections of Calvary Cemetery. Pictured in the first shot of today’s post is part of the Department of Sanitation’s colossal vehicle maintenance facility, which is right next door to an NYPD vehicle maintenance facility, and there’s an FDNY vehicle maintenance facility nearby as well. Suffice to say that these are heavily travelled streets, here under the Long Island Expressway and just a short walk away from Newtown Creek.

If you talk to the people who live anywhere near this area, their common complaint always involves the amount of trucks and cars which use their neighborhood as a thoroughfare. Of course, talking to the people of Queens is considered an obstacle by City Hall, and a loathsome requirement when implementing their policies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mt. Zion cemetery was set up for members of the Jewish community, whose burial laws are a bit different than the Catholic ones. Jews are meant to buried singularly, rather than having multiple bodies in the same gravesite as in the Catholic tradition. This means that Mt. Zion sprawls and has the appearance of being overcrowded. There are sections of the cemetery which are virtually impassable due to this, where it is impossible to find a place to put your foot down between the rows of tombstones.

The streets surrounding it are barren, virtually treeless, and are a favored spot for illegal dumping of construction debris and other garbage.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reason that this little travelogue is being presented today involves the plans recently presented by the De Blasio administration to convert a hotel in the area over to a homeless shelter. A subsequent post will detail the hotel and the area directly surrounding it, but this is the northern side of the zone which the “Big Little Mayor” has picked to warehouse those who are considered socially and economically undesirable. The community of Maspeth has responded with their characteristic flair, and pushed back on City Hall with considerable skill and energy. City Hall, as is its habit under the current Mayor reacted to the protests by implying that Maspeth’s indignation is fueled by racism. Several publications picked up this theme, and the Internet commentarium knee jerk followed the rhetoric offered by the administration of the “Dope from Park Slope.”

My personal views on the Maspeth shelter project were the subject of a debate recently with a former colleague whose views and perspectives I greatly respect, but the argument I make about the placement of people – people who exist at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum – in this area is that it’s a human rights violation.

Simply put, it ain’t exactly a bed of salubrious roses out around these parts even if you’ve got money in your pocket, let alone when you’re down and out. This wouldn’t be a shelter, this would be a penal colony.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maspeth, as in the community of, has been doing a great job of demonstrating its objections to the placement of a homeless shelter hereabouts. They don’t need me to chime in, or make war, for them.

What I’ve found disturbing is that the knee jerk reportage mentioned above that describes their objections in terms of “rich white people” not wanting “poor black people” in their neighborhood – which has been presented by news sites that have covered the protests.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To start, there’s a few different sides to Maspeth. To the south and east, you do indeed have a somewhat suburban and moneyed section that is populated by people of European decent. To the south and west you’ve got an industrial zone, but you’ll find the odd block of homes in there, the residents of which are a hodge podge of “everybody.” On the north western side, here around Mt. Zion, my observations have revealed a population who are pretty much the same mix of people you see everywhere in Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria and so on. East and Southeast Asians, Africans and African Americans, Irish, Jews, Italians, Levantines, Middle Easterners – the whole “vibrant diversity” mix that the politicians are always crowing about.

The “homeless” are not a monolithic people comprised from a single racial group with a common ancestor. Who these “homeless” are would be best defined, by Marxist economists, as the “underclass” and what they have in common is not the color of their skin but grinding poverty. I’ve always argued that just calling these people “the homeless” is dehumanizing and that it’s done by those armchair academics who have never actually known someone living on the street in any context other than dropping a quarter in their cup. There is no “homeless problem,” rather there’s tens of thousands of individual problems. Siting them away from a familiar setting, breaking whatever they have left of a social network, treating them like something to be warehoused in a neighborhood of warehouses – this ain’t the right idea.

On the subject of every neighborhood having to do “its fair share” – Maspeth already handles close to 20% of NYC’s garbage, it hosts the LIE and BQE, has several NYS and one Federal Superfund sites in it, and there are intersections where close to 3-400 heavy trucks an hour roll through on their way to Manhattan. The garbage train also transits through Maspeth a few times a day, which represents and comingles Brooklyn’s share of the garbage handling with Maspeth’s.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are virtually no mass transit lines available from this location, police patrols are infrequent at best, and at night this is a virtually abandoned part of the city. Bus service is spotty, and it’s one of the places in Queens where you truly need a personal vehicle to get around.

There are streets with no sidewalks here in the half mile around the proposed shelter.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shocking ignorance of City Hall regarding the existential realities of Western Queens never fails to amaze me. All they seem to know about our neighborhoods is what they see on maps rolled out on mahogany desktops that have pins stuck into them by paid cronies. I’ve met several members of the Dept. of City Planning over the years, and the ones who I respect the hell out of are the ones who put on a pair of sneakers periodically and go out for walks in the areas they’re assigned to. I don’t always agree with their choices, but I do respect them.

I have a random idea, which is to site a homeless shelter on 11th street in Park Slope, just off fifth avenue.

Tomorrow, we’ll cross under the highway and take a direct look at what Mayor Bill De Blasio considers as being a good fit for one of the most vulnerable populations of people in NYC to call their temporary home, since he hasn’t decided to lead by example and convert his aforementioned house on Park Slope’s 11th street over to either affordable housing or for use as a shelter.

Upcoming tours and events:


“First Calvary Cemetery” walking tour
with Brooklyn Brainery, Saturday, October 8th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Click here for tickets.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

September 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

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