The Newtown Pentacle

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It’s always Tuesday, somewhere.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One last shot from the waterways of New Jersey, depicting the MV Port Richmond sludge boat, part of the NYC DEP’s fleet, negotiating under one of the many bridges in New Jersey which I don’t know the name of. When I don’t know the name of a bridge in this neighborhood, I say it’s probably the Pulaski Skyway, but I’m almost always wrong. I do it to get a rise out of people.

I believe that the bridge in the shot above is the Vincent R. Casciano Memorial Bridge, aka the Turnpike Extension Bridge. If I am correct, it was built in 1956.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal Val, who was operating her Valmobile through often heavy automotive and truck traffic, proferred that it was time to start heading back towards more familiar territory. In the back seat Scott the Libertarian had little to say about the matter, but as a Libertarian that’s his lot in life. Majority opinion was located in the front seat.

Unfortunately, given the section of Bayonne we were in the only logical way home was through the Holland Tunnel and then lower Manhattan. I can report that traffic has ticked back up to not quite pre pandemic levels but pretty close.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Soon, the Valmobile was chugging across the Manhattan Bridge as well. Luckily there wasn’t a toll on this crossing, but over the course of the afternoon we racked up a good forty to fifty bucks worth of bridge and highway tolls. That’s how they get ya, huh?

A quick meal in Astoria was quaffed, and my pal Val managed to get home before yet another thunderstorm lashed through. Scott the Libertarian lives nearby HQ.

Note: I’m writing this and several of the posts you’re going to see for the next week at the beginning of the week of Monday, August 24th. My plan is to continue doing my solo photo walks around LIC and the Newtown Creek in the dead of night as long as that’s feasible. If you continue to see regular updates here, that means everything is kosher as far as health and well being. If the blog stops updating, it means that things have gone badly for a humble narrator.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 25, 2020 at 11:15 am

intact copy

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A short aside on the Arthur Kill, and a look at the Goethals Bridge project.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For the last few days, I’ve been describing a day trip to South East Brooklyn, which we’ll return to later on, but for today’s post I want to show you what’s going on at the veritable edge of NYC on the western end of… Staten Island… at the Arthur Kill waterway. That’s the Goethals Bridge construction project you’re looking at, which is another one of the three mega projects involving bridges going on in NYC at the moment.

I was actually “at work” when these shots were captured, conducting a corporate boat excursion for a group that wanted to “see something different” than what you normally get on a harbor cruise. They were all eating lunch on another deck as we passed by the Goethals so I grabbed my camera and got busy.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m nowhere near as familiar with Goethals as I am with the Kosciuszcko Bridge over my beloved Newtown Creek,  of course, but I can tell you that the span overflying the water is 672 feet long. With its approaches, which connect Elizabeth, New Jersey (and the NJ Turnpike) to… Staten Island… the structure is actually some 7,109 feet long. It’s 62 feet wide, 135 feet over the Arthur Kill, and carries about 80,000 vehicles a day.

Goethals opened in June of 1928, and along with the nearby Outerbridge Crossing, was the inaugural project for a newly created organization known to modernity as the Port Authority of New and New Jersey.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like several of the depression era bridges in NYC, Goethals has been deemed as being insufficient for the amount of traffic it carries, and it has developed some structural issues over the last century. Port Authority is building a replacement bridge, which will be a cable stay type span. It’s going to be wider, have modern traffic lanes, and incorporate both bicycle and pedestrian access into its design. It’s also meant to be a “smart bridge” which will utilize active sensor technologies to monitor traffic and structural integrity.

The PANYNJ has also left room in their designs for future modifications to the span like adding a rapid transit line. The blue bridge you see just north east of the Goethals is a railroad lift bridge which connects New Jersey’s CSX rail lines to the New York Container Terminal port facility on the… Staten Island… side. It’s called the “Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Railroad Bridge,” for the curious.

The part of… Staten Island… where all this is happening is called “Howland Hook.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Elizabeth, New Jersey side, where the Goethals connects to New Jersey’s “Chemical Coast.” It’s called that for the enormous presence of the petroleum industry in Elizabeth. This area was formerly the property of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey.

SOCONJ retained the corporate branding of the Standard Oil trust after the Sherman anti trust act was invoked by President Teddy Roosevelt back in 1911. That branding was “S.O.,” which over the course of the 20th century first became “ESSO” and then later became “EXXON.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The new Goethals Bridge is meant to be ready for use in 2018, at which point the PANYNJ will begin the demolition project to get rid of the original. The 1928 steel truss cantilever bridge was designed by a fellow named John Alexander Low Waddell, who also designed the nearby Outerbridge Crossing. As a note, Outerbridge Crossing is not called that due to it being the furthest out bridge, as colloquially believed. It’s named for a a guy named Eugenius Harvey Outerbridge, and I’m friends with his grandson Tom.

The Goethals Bridge(s) is named for General George Washington Goethals, superviser of construction for the Panama Canal, and first consulting engineer of the Port Authority of New and New Jersey.

The PANYNJ has a neat website set up for the project which includes live construction webcams, check it out here.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, July 23, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking tour,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, July 27, 1st trip – 4:50 p.m. 2nd trip – 6:50 p.m. –
2 Newtown Creek Boat Tours,
with Open House NY. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 30, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
DUPBO Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

Sunday, August 21, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Poison Cauldron Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Project Firebox 53

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rounding out the distinctly New Jersey oriented series of posts this week, captured during a day trip which ended in Bayonne, is a Project Firebox. Kevin Walsh and I both spotted this alarm box at the same time, which evinced an “oooohh” from your humble narrator and a sharp intake of breath from the webmaster of Forgotten-NY. This is a fairly early Gamewell Telegraph Alarm Box, which still seems to be employed.

from wikipedia

In 1855, John Gamewell of South Carolina purchased regional rights to market the fire alarm telegraph, later obtaining the patents and full rights to the system in 1859. John F. Kennard bought the patents from the government after they were seized after the Civil War, returned them to Gamewell, and formed a partnership, Kennard and Co., in 1867 to manufacture the alarm systems. The Gamewell Fire Alarm Telegraph Co. was later formed in 1879. Gamewell systems were installed in 250 cities by 1886 and 500 cities in 1890. By 1910, Gamewell had gained a 95% market share.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Saying that you’ve seen a Gamewell is a bit like saying that you’ve seen a Ford or a Chevy, of course, as the Massachusetts Company has dominated the market for well more than a century. Still, running across one of these on the street in such a totally random manner is what this blog is all about. Our little party began to madly photograph the thing, which no doubt caused the local Bayonnicans no small amount of puzzlement.

from 1914’s Report on the city of Bayonne, N.J., By National Board of Fire Underwriters. Committee on Fire Prevention and Engineering Standards. -courtesy google books

Of automatic type and Gamewell make, installed in 1907, and includes the following: An 18-circuit protector-board, arranged for 10 fire alarm circuits and 8 police signaling circuits; a 10-circuit battery charging board for the police system; a 10-circuit fire alarm battery charging board, with the usual testing and charging devices; a 7-circuit non-interfering automatic repeater; a punch register for registering all alarms, connected to a box circuit; a stop clock; a non-interfering break-wheel transmitter with a wheel for each box number and each assigned number, and a J4-K. W. motor-generator for charging storage batteries. A motor-generator is held in reserve in the storeroom. Switchboards are marble on wooden mountings. A gong and pen register on a direct line from the A. D. T. office in Jersey City is located in the hall adjoining the operating room. The department telephone switchboard is in the operating room.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apparently, there is a large collectors market for this sort of device, largely driven by former firefighters who wish to preserve them as historical artifacts.

from backtaps.com

In today’s world, the only company still manufacturing telegraph fire alarm boxes is the Gamewell Company, owned by Honeywell, Inc. While no one is purchasing new complete telegraph fire alarm systems, there are some towns that still add to their existing systems. Thus, there is still a need for Gamewell to produce these boxes.

desolate shore

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in yesterday’s posting, a few friends and I made it a point to experience the Bayonne Bridge a few weeks back and walk over the pedestrian walkway. Our reasoning was that since the construction project which will “rekajigger” the roadway is beginning quite soon, access to this point of view will be denied to pedestrians for some time and we had better go while the getting was good. Hence…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The bridge seems absurdly high, much more than its actual height suggests. This is largely due to the low lying shorelines which comprise the surrounding terrain, which are a vast tidal floodplain reclaimed by landfill techniques from the swampy marshlands which nature intended. One or two members of our small party found themselves suffering the effects of vertigo, but luckily your humble narrator was not one of them. My paranoid fantasies allow little room for other psychological complaints to crowd in.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Attempts at “getting artsy fartsy” with the camera were what occupied me, and along the way envy for the unique perspectives captured by the daring bridge photographer Dave Frieder crawled into my mind. If you don’t know Frieder’s work, you should. He made a career of climbing the bridges of New York City (and beyond) and captured extraordinary images while doing so. He is also quite the expert on bridge engineering.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is true beauty in the arch component of the Bayonne Bridge, one can visualize the lines of force moving through the steel. Othmar Amman, who designed the bridge, often allowed the structural elements of his work to remain visible. Before him, engineers would be compelled to erect facades of masonry or cement to encase the steel, but he liked to let it all hang out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looking to the west, and New Jersey, one may observe the gargantuan Port Elizabeth Newark dock complex which serves as one of the main engines of the Port of New York. Gantry cranes and stacked shipping containers obscure Newark Airport behind it. Beyond lies the continent, and the United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To the east is witnessed the city state which lies off the coast of America, the shining city. The Kill Van Kull is the body of water spanned by the Bayonne Bridge, a tidal strait which connects the port facilities to the west with ocean going traffic. The Kill has been discussed thoroughly here at your Newtown Pentacle, and a section of its landward side on Staten Island is actually the subject of a walking tour (offered below) which I conduct for the Working Harbor Committee. The Staten Island side of the Kill is “The North Shore” and the Jersey side is called “The Chemical Coast”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Some work on the bridge has already begun, as evinced by the construction aprons being installed. The initial phases of things involve the removal of generations of lead based paint which protect the structure from corrosion. In our environmentally and politically correct age, such material is anathema, and must be removed. Discussion of the EPA administered site on the Staten Island side which is polluted with Uranium, of course, will be kept to a minimum.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Slouching downward toward Bayonne, those lines of force I mentioned earlier dance within the steel. Not pictured, incidentally, are the many bits of signage installed along the walkway advising the citizenry against suicide. Were my only choices for residence New Jersey or… Staten Island, despondency might set in, but one cannot believe that either is “that bad”. Since the City keeps the suicide counts for individual bridges quiet, I can’t provide any insight on this, but is the Bayonne Bridge a favorite spot for such activity?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Fully ensconced on the New Jersey side, the roadway betrays its destination via signage. Morningstar Rd. seems to be innocently named, but upon seeing the sign, I could not help but think of two things. First- the Morningstar in occultist circles is Venus, and Second- Morningstar is the last name of the transmogrified archangel Lucifer. Perhaps those anti suicide signs are more prosaic than I thought. Does the Bayonne Bridge quietly connect to some outer borough road to hell?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Bayonne Bridge as seen from the New Jersey side, as our little party entered the unknown country of Bayonne in search of a diner. Luckily New Jersey is lousy with such establishments, although there is a significant difference in the meaning of “sloppy joe” over there. The NYC sloppy joe is what the rest of America would call a “loose meat sandwich”, whereas in NJ it’s a three layered affair which involves turkey breast, cole slaw, and russian dressing- amongst other things.

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

subsidiary impression

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

You see it all the time, here at your Newtown Pentacle. The Bayonne Bridge, deemed an archaic impediment to navigation by those scions of NY harbor whose hidden machinations are confined to secretive board room meetings at Port Authority and the NYC EDC, is often used as a frame for tugboat shots by your humble narrator. Othman Amman’s second masterpiece (after Hellgate), the bridge is destined to be altered shortly. Accordingly, a group of enthusiasts, antiquarians, and weirdos were gathered one fine September morning to walk across it.

from a Newtown Pentacle posting of June 26, 2009

The fourth largest steel arch bridge on Earth with a height of 150 feet over the water, it connects Bayonne, New Jersey’s Chemical Coastline with Staten Island. It’s primary mission is to allow vehicular traffic access to Manhattan via the Holland Tunnel…

The Bayonne Bridge was designed by a man who helped design the Hell Gate rail bridge on the East river- and was principal designer for the Verrazano bridge over the Narrows, The George Washingston Bridgeover the Hudson River, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge over the East River, the Throgs Neck Bridge over the East River. He was brought in to simplify the design of mighty Triborough– which is actually a bridge and highway complex spanning multiple waterways and islands. A swede Swiss, Othmar Amman worked for Gustavus Lindenthal (designer of the the Queensboro and Hell Gate Bridges), and took over as head bridge engineer at the New York Port Authority in 1925. He also directed the planning and construction of the the Lincoln Tunnel.

He was Robert Moses’s “guy”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We came to… Staten Island… via the ferry, and accessed a bus which took us to a less than savory section of the forgotten borough adjoining the bridge. There, the walkway was gained and off we went. Amongst our number was Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY fame, my aide de camp and far eastern correspondent Armstrong, as well as our railroad expert, and a certain lady who knows that all that glitters is gold. Stairway to heaven, indeed.

from panynj.gov

Initially, the bridge was planned for motor vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians only. Accordingly, a suspension bridge design was developed since this type of bridge offered the most economical way to engineer a single span across the Kill Van Kull for motor vehicles. However, the suspension scheme was abandoned when the Port Authority commissioners insisted that considerations be made for at least two rail transit tracks to be added at some future date. (Studies showed that adapting a suspension design for rail traffic would be cost-prohibitive.) With rail traffic in mind, the bridge’s chief designer, Othmar H. Ammann, began developing a scheme that spanned the Kill Van Kull with a single, innovative, arch-shaped truss. As with the suspension bridge scheme, Ammann worked on the arch design in partnership with architect Cass Gilbert. The arch bridge that emerged promised to be a remarkably efficient solution, well suited to the site from both an engineering and aesthetic standpoint.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Like the thrice damned Kosciuszko Bridge over my beloved Newtown Creek, Bayonne Bridge is a relict of an earlier age with a less than bright future. Public fortunes will be spent on reengineering it to fit the needs of private commercial interests. Government sources describe a scenario in which the arch itself will remain unaltered, but that the road which it carries will be obliterated and replaced. Increasingly important to accomplish the walk before this happened, we ignored the signs along the walkway adjuring against suicide and left… Staten Island… for New Jersey to see what could be seen. More to come…

Also- Upcoming tours…

for an expanded description of the October 13th Kill Van Kull tour, please click here

for an expanded description of the October 20th Newtown Creek tour, please click here

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