The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Metropolitan Ave. Bridge

correlated causeways

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Eleven bridges, one creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Pulaski Bridge is the first span you encounter, when you’ve left the East River and embarked on a journey down the fabulous Newtown Creek. A double bascule drawbridge, and electrically powered, the Pulaski Bridge connects 11th street in Long Island City with McGuinness Blvd. to the south in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Built in 1954, the Pulaski Bridge is owned and operated by the New York City Department of Transportation or “NYC DOT.” The Pulaski Bridge carries five lanes of traffic, plus a dedicated bicycle lane and a separate pedestrian pathway. It overflies the Queens Midtown Tunnel and Long Island Expressway, as well as active railroad tracks found on Borden Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DB Cabin acts as a gatekeeper to the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek. It’s a railroad swing bridge owned by the Long Island Railroad, and connects two rail yards – the Wheelspur Yard (to the west, or left in the shot above) and the Blissville Yard – across the water. Both rail yards and the bridge itself are part of the LIRR’s Lower Montauk tracks. DB Cabin dates back to the 1890’s and is in a terrible state of repair. The swing bridge’s motors are nonfunctional, which isolates the Dutch Kills tributary from maritime traffic, and from the rest of the Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Cabin M is just to the north of DB Cabin on Dutch Kills, and the single bascule drawbridge connects the Montauk Cutoff with the Blissville Yard mentioned above. The Montauk Cutoff is an elevated track which used to provide a connection between the LIRR’s Main Line tracks at the nearby Sunnyside Yards with the Lower Montauk tracks along the north (or Queens side) shoreline of Newtown Creek. The 2020 Capital Plan just released by the Long Island Railroad’s owner – The MTA – includes funding to demolish Cabin M.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Borden Avenue Bridge is owned by the NYC DOT, and is one of just two retractile bridges in NYC (the other being the Carroll Street Bridge over the Gowanus Canal). Built in 1908 to replace an earlier wooden drawbridge (1868) at the intersection of Borden Avenue and Dutch Kills, Borden Avenue Bridge received extensive upgrades and structural repairs in 2010 and 2011, and had its electronic components destroyed by flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Another round of repairs and upgrades began in 2019, which included asbestos abatement work.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Long Island Expressway is 71 miles long, and is operationally managed in three sections. The Queens Midtown Expressway is how it’s owners, the New York State Department of Transportation, refer to the section found between the Queens Midtown Tunnel and Greenpoint Avenue in Long Island City. This section is elevated, rising to 106 feet above the waters of Dutch Kills. The LIE truss pictured above handles some 87.7 thousand daily vehicle trips, or 32 million annually, to and from Manhattan,

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Hunters Point Avenue Bridge is due north west of Borden Avenue Bridge and the LIE truss. It’s a single bascule drawbridge, owned by the NYC DOT. Replacing an earlier wooden draw bridge that was opened and closed by a donkey walking on a wheel, the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge was built in 1910. Back then, it was a double bascule bridge, but a rebuild in the 1980’s simplified the mechanism to a single bascule. The masonry of the bridge is original to the 1910 design.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is found some 1.37 miles from Newtown Creek’s intersection with the East River, and roughly a half mile from the mouth of Dutch Kills. It’s a double bascule bridge, built in 1987, and owned and operated by the NYC DOT. There have been many Greenpoint Avenue Bridges, dating back to the first one built by Greenpoint’s town father Neziah Bliss back in 1850, but that one was called the “Blissville Bridge.” The Greenpoint Avenue Bridge is a traffic machine, carrying 28.3 thousand vehicle trips a day, or about ten million a year. Most of that traffic takes the form of heavy trucking.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The brand new Kosciuszko Bridge(s) replaced a 1939 vintage truss bridge that carried the Brooklyn Queens Expressway over Newtown Creek and are found some 2.1 miles from the East River. The NYS DOT is busy putting the finishing touches on the new cable stay bridge’s construction. In addition to the… ahem… high speed traffic lanes of the BQE, there is also a pedestrian and bicycle pathway found on the new Kosciuszko Bridge which connects 43rd street in Queens’s Sunnyside section with Meeker Avenue in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Grand Street Bridge is a swing bridge connecting Maspeth’s Grand Avenue in Queens with East Williamsburg/Bushwick’s Grand Street in Brooklyn. 3.1 miles back from the East River, in a section of Newtown Creek once called “White’s Dock,” the NYC DOT have recently announced plans to replace this 1909 beauty – which is actually the third bridge to occupy this spot. Damage from Hurricane Sandy, and the narrow roadways with height restrictions that the bridge offers, have pretty much sealed its fate. It will be missed.

This is where the main spur of Newtown Creek ends, as a note. Directly east is a truncated tributary called the East Branch, and another tributary called English Kills makes a hard turn to the south just before you encounter Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Metropolitan Avenue Bridge is a double bascule drawbridge that crosses the English Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and is owned by the NYC DOT. Metropolitan Avenue was originally built as a private toll road in 1813, and the first bridge here was a part of the “Williamsburg and Jamaica Turnpike.” The current Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in 1931, although it has received significant alterations in 1976, 1992, 2006, and again in 2015. The 2015 alterations?

You guessed it, Hurricane Sandy strikes again.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Montrose Avenue Rail Bridge is the final crossing found over the waters of Newtown Creek and its tributaries. Some 3.7 miles back from the East River, it’s the property of the Long Island Railroad and used for freight service on their Bushwick Branch tracks. A truss bridge, or trestle if you must, my understanding of things are that whereas the trackway and parts of the rail bridge date back to approximately 1924… there has been quite a lot of work done on the thing which I have not been able to fully document so rather than fill in blanks with assumptions – I’m just going to say that I don’t know everything… yet.

It’s an active track, it should be mentioned.

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hidden laboratory

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It’s International Cheese Day, for the industrialized and lactose tolerant nations of this planet.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

3.4 miles from the East River is a spot which one refers to as DUMABO – or Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge Onramp. The first bridge over the flowing waters of English Kills was erected here (slightly to the west, actually) in 1814 and was privately owned by the Masters brothers, so it was accordingly referred to as the “Masters Bridge.” Historic sources indicate this spot as being, during the colonial to civil war period, the demarcation point between salt and fresh water on the English Kills tributary of the fabulous Newtown Creek. Shellfish were described as being found in “great abundance.” It was once known as White’s Dock, for the vulgarly curious. The precursor of the modern day Metropolitan Avenue Bridge was built in the 1870’s, and the modern bridge (much altered) was erected in 1931.

The fresh water was being fed into English Kills by upland springs and streams in nearby Bushwick that flowed downhill into it, and by ground water entering it from the bottom. Back in 1814, Metropolitan Avenue was just a wooden plank toll road rising up from the swamps, and it was called the “Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike road.” The springs and streams of Bushwick are what attracted beer breweries like the Ulmer people to a then German speaking rural neighborhood to ply their trade, but I digress. The fat renderers and acid factories began to show up in the 1830’s and 40’s around these parts, and notably – Peter Cooper’s “pestilential” glue factory, where Jello was invented, was just a few blocks away. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

NYC DOT has been doing a bunch of work at this spot recently, some sort of construction that they attached to the bridge itself. Unfortunately, they didn’t do anything about the loose soil on the shoreline, nor the decaying wooden bulkheads holding that shoreline in place. Of course, not many people come back here, but it would have been fairly easy to fall into English Kills given the rotting shoreline when the shot above was captured.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Mary H. tug, tied up to the Bayside Fuel Depot bulkheads, just east of the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge. This is pretty much the extent of serious maritime access to English Kills given the black mayonnaise/sediment mound situation that gobbles up operational draught and depth. The green wall with all the kit on top is Waste Management’s Varick Street Waste Transfer Station. The Waste Management facility handles predominantly “putrescent” or black bag garbage for the NYC Department of Sanitation, which is processed on site and then loaded onto the so called “garbage train” which travels on the tracks of LIRR’s Bushwick Branch to Fresh Pond and then over the Hell Gate Bridge to points unknown.

Seriously, unknown. I’ve asked and was told “homeland security” precluded the dissemination of where NYC’s garbage is dumped.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One headed up Varick Street towards industrial Bushwick from Metropolitan Avenue, where this spectacular salt dome structure was encountered. Seriously, no sarcasm is offered, this was a visually interesting and somewhat elegant solution to the problem. The rest of the neighborhood is dull, weathered, depressing. It’s nice to see a bit of color and style on display for something so pedestrian. It’s right next door to the Waste Management facility on Varick Avenue.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The streets in this section, just south and east of Newtown Creek, are industrial in the extreme. Heavy trucking, the garbage industrial complex… suffice to say that the roadways aren’t exactly bike or pedestrian friendly, and that they are in a sorry state of repair. Watch your step hereabouts, and never cross in front of a driveway without first taking a look. This part of the Newtown Creek watershed is what the band Metallica was likely describing with their “death magnetic” album. There’s “ghost bikes” everywhere you look, the air is a poisonous fume…

Yep, it’s pretty much Tolkien’s Mordor back here.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Turning off of Varick, I found myself wandering down Stewart Avenue and onto Randolph Street towards the undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens and that hazy industrial borderland which can either be called Ridgewood, East Williamsburg, or Bushwick – depending on whom you ask. Saying that, move quickly through this area, don’t talk to anyone, and certainly do not ask them questions if they speak to you. I would expand on why, but I’d again be told that I’ve seen too many movies, by some rich guy that moved to Hipster Bushwick from Connecticut less than six months ago who is trying to connect with a local art or club scene that they heard about on Instagram.

Of course, I couldn’t have more inconspicuous – the only person for about a square mile not wearing a safety vest and hard hat, and instead clad in a filthy black raincoat flapping about in the poison wind while waving a camera about.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the Bushwick Branch of the LIRR, which carries the garbage train from Bushwick into Queens and its mysterious destination on the continent, it’s just beyond that fence in the shot above. It’s been a while since I wandered through here, and those corrugated fences you see are fairly new, as evinced by a near total lack of graffiti. Back to the implied presence of criminally inclined individuals who are organized into a structure which one might define as a “crew” or a “family,” I’d point out the total lack of graffiti on a visible fence line in North Brooklyn – the high end graffiti capital of these United States.

Go ask someone who grew up in Brooklyn or Queens what that means.

Nevertheless, as is always the case when wandering through the industrial zones surrounding the fabled Newtown Creek, that horrible inhuman thing with the three loved burning eye that cannot possibly exist in the sapphire megalith of Long Island City was watching. It sees all, owns all, knows all.

More to come, next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.

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perpetually ajar

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent serendipity found your humble narrator onboard a vessel plying the languid waters of the Newtown Creek. This particular adventure was part of a larger and laudable effort which will be the subject of a posting later in the week, but urgent demands and unavoidable deadlines preclude discussion of the outing at this point. Instead, one is anxious to share the scenic wonders and hidden landscape of this water body that defines the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens.

Captured in the heart of DUMABO (Down Under the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge), the shot above depicts the far off and omnipresent Sapphire Megalith rising over industrial Brooklyn and framed by the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge while opening at English Kill.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The self same Megalith again provides geographic context for the scene, and the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge and Calvary Cemetery occupy the foreground.

To the right is the Phelps Dodge site, and to the left is found the lurking fear and that rampant darkness which lurks on the Brooklyn side of DUKBO (Down Under the Kosciuszko Bridge Onramp).

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, gaze in wonder at the skyline of the Shining City itself, as framed by the titan National Grid tanks and the myriad works of infrastructure arrayed across the Brooklyn flood plain. Inextricably linked, the heavy industries and energy installations along the Newtown Creek allow the Shining City to maintain the facade of assumptions which Manhattanites prefer to believe about this place where aspirant and realist metaphors clash.

More, on why exactly I was on this boat, will be forthcoming. Apologies for brevity and obfuscation.

life, matter, and vitality

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Paramount in my apprehensions about this unremembered walk- which began at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral, continued down Delancey Street, went over the Williamsburg Bridge, staged into Williamsburg, and continued up Grand Street in the direction of that assassination of joy called the Newtown Creek- is the ideation that something happened to me in the ancient church.

Remember, this unknown fellow from the interwebs offered me information which is dearly sought, the location of a certain interment lost in the ghoulish multitudes of Calvary Cemetery which I have spent too much time searching for. When my anonymous assignee walked into the church with two troglodyte ruffians, I panicked and fled… but a nagging suspicion that something else might have happened in there torments me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Could a mere intuition have sent me into this flaming paroxysm of cowardly flight, carrying me blind miles in a stupor? A delicate constitution and deep physical cowardice are my hallmarks, yes, but a multiple mile flight which propelled me across most of the eastern districts of Brooklyn? Nevertheless, according to my camera card, I had nevertheless returned to the loathsome lands of the Newtown Creek and was standing upon the Metropolitan Avenue Bridge once again.

The coincidental concurrence of my route with certain long forgotten street car (trolley) routes continues to intrigue me as I write this in the sober and controlled environment of Newtown Pentacle HQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tugboat which is often noticed here is the “Mary H.” which runs fuel barges from the outer harbor to the Bayside Oil depot located on Metropolitan Avenue itself, near it’s junction with Grand Street. The section of the Creek visible in these shots is actually a tributary, called English Kills. Two ancient pathways, which we call Grand St. and Metropolitan Avenue these days, cross each other here at a sharp angle.

Metropolitan was formerly known as the Williamsburgh and Jamaica Turnpike, and it connected Newtown in Queens with the Eastern District of Brooklyn- Bushwick, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. The crossing of Grand and Metropolitan was also one of the stops on the New York and Manhattan Beach Railroad, its depot would have found at the foot of Greenpoint’s Quay Street in 1912.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A theory which guides me of late requires a paradigm shift in thought and perception, simply put- the older communities of western Queens and north western Brooklyn have more in common with each other than they do with the boroughs they reside in. In earlier times, before the bridges, intimate (and railroad) ties knit these communities together and Bushwick has more in common with Astoria than it does with Flatbush.

The unifying principal, the organizing principal in fact, was access to the waterfront not just at the East River- but all along the various creeks and kills which once penetrated inland. The culture which grew along Sunswick and Newtown and Bushwick Creeks is lost to time and shifting populations, buried beneath centuries of concrete and the remnants of long vanished industry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It would seem that your humble narrator continued down Grand Street from Metropolitan, toward the border of Brooklyn and Queens at the Grand Street Bridge, and area I dare to call DUGSBO- Down Under the Grand Street Bridge Onramp.

This section of the City of Greater New York, incidentally, is called East Williamsburg by modern cartographers.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fear exists in my heart for the noble little Grand Street Bridge, as modern traffic races across it’s delicate mechanisms. Long has it been since boat traffic has crossed it, the last official opening was in 2002. One misstep by a careless trucker and this historic structure would require replacement, no doubt by an economical fixed span.

Who speaks for it, save I? It deserves a better advocate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An oddity and relict vehicle appears next in this fever dream found on my camera’s memory card, which is most probably a 1940 Ford Deluxe Coupe. It appears to be a loving restoration, although a powerful and enigmatic auto like this should either be painted black or fire engine red in my eyes.

What do I know, after all, I’m some guy who gets scared of strangers in the City and then wanders around the boroughs in a haze of panic and all the while I’m taking pictures that I don’t remember taking…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s actually funny, considering that in this odd state which I was suffering from, that when seeking a safe haven my subconscious mind bought me here to the Newtown Creek. It has been some time since warnings and admonishments to newcomers about this place have been offered at this- your Newtown Pentacle.

Irresponsible of me, in fact.

This carrion relict of a forgotten age is not the world you know, and those rules and conventions which govern the City that encompasses it’s district do not always apply here. Trucks and railroads operate at high speed along these streets, the very air you breathe is a fume, and there are malign forces long thought dead or neutered which still thrive here. The ground is a broken minefield of powdered glass and tetanus tainted metal, and just below the surface is a writhing agglutination of the very worst stuff that the 20th century ever managed to conjure. Who can guess all there is, that might be buried down there?

Welcome to the Newtown Creek.

Note: apologies for the absent updates this last week, but the City of Water Day Newtown Creek Tour and Magic Lantern Show seriously drained my strength. To be seen by so many diminishes me.

The Creek from the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge

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newtwn_HDR_IMG_8317_19.jpg, originally uploaded by Mitch Waxman.

Newtown Creek has long been home to the oil and petroleum industries. Famously, the underground Greenpoint oil spill is the largest in U.S. history and can be tied back to John D. Rockefeller‘s Standard Oil (now Exxon). The extent of contamination by oil, however is just the tip of the iceberg.
A quarter of New York City’s raw sewage is dumped directly into the creek. It mixes with 19th century pollutants like coal tar and naptha to form what Bernie Ente calls “Black Mayonnaise”. Estimates say that there’s anywhere from 10-20 feet of this unctious ooze coating the bottom. The waters of the Creek aren’t a death sentence, just a multi day stay in the hospital for a course of broad spectrum antibiotics.

from the Environmental Protection Agency:

Newtown Creek is a part of the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary that forms the northernmost border between the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. In the mid 1800s, the area adjacent to the 3.8 mile Newtown Creek was one of the busiest hubs of industrial activity in New York City.  More than 50 refineries were located along its banks, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, fertilizer and glue factories, sawmills, and lumber and coal yards.  The creek was crowded with commercial vessels, including large boats bringing in raw materials and fuel and taking out oil, chemicals and metals.  In addition to the industrial pollution that resulted from all of this activity, the city began dumping raw sewage directly into the water in 1856.  During World War II, the creek was one of the busiest ports in the nation. Currently, factories and facilities still operate along the creek. Various contaminated sites along the creek have contributed to the contamination at Newtown Creek.  Today, as a result of its industrial history, including countless spills, Newtown Creek is one of the nation’s most polluted waterways. 

Various sediment and surface water samples have been taken along the creek. Pesticides, metals, PCBs, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are potentially harmful contaminants that can easily evaporate into the air, have been detected at the creek. 

In the early 1990s, New York State declared that Newtown Creek was not meeting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.  Since then, a number of government sponsored cleanups of the creek have taken place. The New York City Department of Environmental Protection has sampled sediment and surface water at a number of locations along the creek since 1980.  In 2009, EPA will further sample the sediment throughout the length of Newtown Creek and its tributaries.  The samples will be analyzed for a wide range of industrial contaminants.  EPA will use the data collected to define the nature of the environmental problems associated with Newtown Creek as a whole.


During the 1970’s, there were fears that a casually tossed cigarette would ignite the water.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 29, 2009 at 1:56 pm

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