The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘newtown creek

sprightly cleric

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Up Dutch Kills, with a paddle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal T. Willis Elkins, who’s the Project Manager of Newtown Creek Alliance and the co chair of the Newtown Creek CAG, sent out an invite recently inquiring whether I might have any interest in taking an evening paddle with employees of the NYC DEP on my beloved Newtown Creek – specifically up the Dutch Kills tributary in LIC and a couple of other points of nearby interest in Booklyn.

How could I resist? 

T. Willis is also one of the show runners at North Brooklyn Boat Club, found in Greenpoint under the Pulaski Bridge, so that’s where our little crew met up. We donned life vests, listened to Will’s safety speech, and got into canoes. I chose to go out in the smaller of the two boats, presuming that it would be a better spot to take pictures from than the enormous version that everybody else would be in.

The only condition which T. Willis set down for the trip was that everybody would have to row, but… cardio, right?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

T. Willis had timed our trip to coincide with low tide on the Creek, which is required to pass beneath the MTA’s non functional Cabin M railroad swing bridge which is – at best – just a few feet over the water. We headed into Long Island City along the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, and pictured above is the second of the bridges you’ll find along the tributary – Cabin M – which is a truss bridge that can actually open and close.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above looks east along Cabin M towards the SimsMetal dock. DB Cabin services the Lower Montauk branch of the LIRR’s freight operations, connecting the Wheelspur and Blissville yards. The Long Island Railroad tracks follow the main stem of the waterway eastwards into Blissville, Maspeth and eventually turn north towards Fresh Pond. This traffic is maintained and operated by LIRR’s contracted freight partner, the NY & Atlantic.

Cabin M is part of the now defunct Montauk Cutoff tracks, which provided access to the Sunnyside Yards from the freight tracks along the Creek. The Montauk Cutoff itself was detailed in this post last year.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

We proceeded along Dutch Kills and passed under the venerable Borden Avenue Bridge, one of only two retractile bridges in the City of Greater New York. The sections of Borden Avenue it connects were swamp land until the Army Corps of Engineers blew through in the decade following the Civil War, creating first a “plank road” through the already despoiled wetlands, then a few decades later laying macadam roads and filling in the swamps with landfill. It wasn’t until 1909 that this area kicked into high gear, after the Queensboro Bridge opened. With the construction and creation  of the nearby Sunnyside Yards, and the Degnon Terminal industrial zone which surrounds Dutch Kills, this section of LIC soon became known as “America’s Workshop.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The head of Dutch Kills sports a “turning basin” built for shipping, which isn’t used in modernity due to that non functioning rail bridge – DB Cabin – found at its intersection with the main stem of Newtown Creek. The turning basin is nearly a mile back into Long Island City, and you can really get a sense of how much new construction is happening in LIC from back here.

There’s also a couple of pretty large combined sewer outfalls – CSO’s – back here, which everybody’s friends at the DEP whom we were paddling with are actually responsible for. The pipes here are connected to the Bowery Bay Sewage Treatment plant in Astoria, for the vulgarly curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve shown you before – lords and ladies – the abandoned fuel barges found back here, which have been allowed to rot away into the water – in previous posts. I’ve also described to you the “situation” which the American Warehouse company has found themselves in during the early 21st century – wherein the undermining of their site by the waters of Dutch Kills have cost them a pretty penny to shore up. Many, many million pennies, I’m told.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On our way out, we passed under the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge. All of the NYC DOT administered bridges on the Newtown Creek and its tributaries are maintained in working order, and I’ve witnessed this single bascule drawbridge being opened and closed.

Heck, I was a parade Marshall for its centennial, and we even had a parade.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Our little group visited a couple of other spots nearby, Unnamed Canal and Whale Creek, then rowed out to the Creek’s intersection with the East River for a bit. Along the way, I spotted this feral fellow in Greenpoint.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Wednesday, August 3rd, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. –
Glittering Realms Walking Tour,
with NYC H2O. Click here for more details.

Saturday, August 6th, 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. –
Insalubrious Valley Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club. 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

bright stone

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Tugboat action on part of America’s Maritime Superhighway, Newtown Creek, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Chickity check yo ass, if you think that new school Newtown Creek is a punk in New York Harbor. Obama and his crew down in D.C. call the Creek a “SMIA” or “Significant Maritime Infrastructure Area.” Dope tugboats can be seen rolling through here all the time.

That’s the Dann Towing company’s Ruby M slipping by and flying its colors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Awesome, Ruby M is a 48 year old crusher, bro. She’s a hundred feet long with a beam of 28 feet, and Dann’s Ruby M only needs 12 feet of draft to fire up those 1,750 HP twin steel screws. She was crunching a fuel barge down the Creek, but needed the bitchin’ Pulaski Bridge to pop open before she could thrash through to the east.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Woe to you, oh earth and sea, if you don’t acknowledge the inherent wonders of Newtown Creek. Above, the latest entrant in the Creek’s pageant of wonders enters the frame as the tug Helen Laraway plies its gelatinous waters. A twin screw, steel hulled push boat, Helen Laraway was built in 1957 and can muster up 2,000 HP to power its twin screws.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek once hosted the most valuable maritime industrial bulkheads on the entire Earth. The unfortunate truth of the modern age is that only a small percentage of the owners of the waterfront properties hereabouts use their bulkheads. A single barge carries the equivalent cargo of 38 heavy trucks.

Upcoming Events and Tours

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

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 28, 2016 at 11:00 am

nail biting

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A bit of Newtown Creek “now and then,” in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has been at work on several subjects regarding that fabulously decadent cataract of Municpal neglect known to all as the Newtown Creek. It’s kind of big picture stuff, which requires a “long tail” of research on and about certain industries. You can’t understand something modern unless you understand its past, I always say.

For example – If I want to describe the Brooklyn Union Gas Manufactured Gas plant on Newtown Creek in Greenpoint (which is now the National Grid LNG plant on Varick), I need to possess an at least topical amount of knowledge regarding the history and technology of the 19th century Manufactured Gas Industry in New York City.

Actually, that’s not an example, it’s precisely the thing I’ve been working on – to develop an understanding of. Manufactured Gas Plants – or MGP’s as they’re known in the environmental community.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001a_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

This sort of research always turns up a few surprises, and for an area like Newtown Creek – which is of truly national importance in the story of the second industrial revolution, but for which scant historical visual documentation exists – it’s sometimes pretty interesting. Harper’s Weekly was on quite a tear about my beloved Creek back in the summer of 1881, and presented a few illustrations of “the horror” interspersed with texts describing the oil drenched mud and stinking waters of Newtown Creek.

Here’s my speculation as to what I think we are seeing in these drawings. Educated guesses, btw., that’s all.

Nowadays, the outline of Newtown Creek barely resembles what it looked like back in 1881 – there used to be a couple of islands in the Maspeth Creek/Turning Basin area for instance – but there are few historical constancies with which you can reckon location around the creek when old photos or even illustrations are presented. The LIRR tracks are one of them, and another is the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road.

In the shot above, that pile of piles on the shoreline in the center of the shot? The smokestacks on the far shore? The gas holder tanks on the horizon?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I think that the illustrator was sitting right about where I was last winter, at the shoreline intersection of industrial Maspeth’s 58th road with Newtown Creek, looking south west towards Greenpoint’s National Grid LNG site with the ruins of the Maspeth Avenue Plank Road directly in front of me.

Harper_s_Weekly_hp001b_S_

– from Harper’s Weekly, August 6th, 1881 (courtesy google books)

The view above has railroad tracks in it, ones which follow a certain curve, one that has remained fundamentally the same since the LIRR laid them down in the late 1860’s. The tall smokestacks at the left of the shot are likely those of Phelps Dodge. The ones off in the distance are probably the Haberman rendering plant. Calvary cemetery would be to your left, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the illustrator set up his tripod at Penny Bridge – which is the modern day spot that Review Avenue transmogrifies into Laurel Hill Blvd.

That would put the illustrators point of view somewhere on the eastern side of Blissville, looking eastward towards Maspeth.

photo by Mitch Waxman

I’m of the belief that this is the same shoreline seen in the left side of the shot above, although my photo was captured from out in the middle of the channel while onboard a boat. The masonry on the lower right – or Brooklyn side – of the shot is what’s left of old Penny Bridge, and the 1939 model Penny Bridge (Kosciuszcko) is right where that divot on the shoreline is in the 1881 illustration from Harper’s Weekly. Phelps Dodge would have been found on the east side of the Kosciuszcko Bridge, and their property included the gray building with the blue stripe (the modern day Restaurant Depot).

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

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.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

abnormal gaps

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Cool cars, Bushwick East Williamsburg edition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One was happily scuttling along recently, on his way to conduct a tour of the “Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,” when a charming old rust bucket was encountered on Grand Street not too far from the centuried swing bridge named for it. Unlike other “cool cars,” described at this – your Newtown Pentacle – I’m unable to describe make, model, year, or engine type as frankly – there wasn’t enough left of the thing to do so.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I can tell you that it was a short bus, and that it still had an engine. It was missing a radiator and all the other parts which would attach around the engine, including the front end’s entire outer body.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were four tires on the thing, so that’s something. Additionally, inside the relatively intact passenger cabin, there seemed to be quite a few bits and bobs being stored. Looks like a handyman special to me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just on the other side of the Newtown Creek in Maspeth – where Grand Street transmogrifies into Grand Avenue upon leaving Brooklyn and entering Queens – the short bus’s owner could probably find all the help he or she needs with the project at the MTA’s Grand Avenue depot.

A 600,000 square foot facility that’s four stories tall, the Grand Avenue depot can store 200 city buses at one time just on the first floor. It’s the second floor that would come in handy for the short bus’s owner, as one of the 27 maintenance bays up there would be just the thing to getting this “cool car” up and running again.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Tuesday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. –
LICHenge, with Atlas Obscura and the
Hunters Point Park Conservancy. Click here for more details.

Saturday, July 16, 11:15 a.m. – 12:45 p.m. –
FREE Newtown Creek Boat Tour,
with Waterfront Alliance (note- WA usually releases tix in batches).
Click here for more details.

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.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

sojourns beyond

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A man needs a decent hat. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After conferring with a friend who is known for his regular display of sartorial excellence, regarding queries as to his current preferences for a haberdashery, a humble narrator found himself heading to the South Side of Williamsburg to purchase a summer hat. Famously, “I wear a lot of hats” – which is how I often describe the complicated web of non profit organizations with whom I’m associated. Saying that, I’ve always favored “old fashioned” hats in my normal round, the sort of things commonly observed on male heads until the early 1970’s – fedoras and the like. I used to have a place near Port Authority where I’d shop for my chapeaus, but that operation is long gone, and burnt away by the fires of gentrification. 

Accordingly, I found myself in a cab heading to Williamsburg (where those fires burn hottest, oddly enough) from Astoria last week. Normally, I’d walk it, but I was still convalescing from a nasty cold which I was suffering from and didn’t want to overexert. Since the logical route involved the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and a trip across the Kosciuszko Bridge and over my beloved Newtown Creek, I had the camera ready to go and was firing the shutter the entire way. 

Pictured above – Calvary Cemetery in Blissville. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hopes that before the 1939 model Kosciuszko Bridge is demolished that a chance to properly shoot Newtown Creek from up here comes along, rather than just using an insanely high shutter speed and the “spray and pray” technique. “Spray and Pray” is basically a series of blind shots, where you point the prefocused lens in the general direction of a subject and hold down the shutter button with one hand and with the other – you cross your fingers and hope your luck is good. 

The whole ride took around 15 minutes, which is kind of lucky. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is from that rooftop in Greenpoint that I mentioned the other day, and it’s a lot more in tune with what one normally goes for – a composed shot with a thought out field of focus. Hopefully, I’ll get to do something similar from up on the “Kos” someday after the BQE is rerouted onto the new span, and before they demolish the old one. 

As far as the hat buying went, I went to “Bencraft” on Broadway and South 8th nearby the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza and bought a spectacular Panama for a reasonable price. Seriously, if it wasn’t for the Orthodox Jews of Brooklyn, there wouldn’t be a single haberdashery left in the entire City of Greater New York.  

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

thaumatropically grotesque

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Back in the saddle, and Brooklyn’s invisible flame, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent endeavor and some Newtown Creek Alliance business found me up on a roof in Greenpoint the other day, where a spectacular vantage point on the largest and newest of NYC’s fourteen sewage treatment plants was encountered. The POV is south by south west, for the curious, and the street upon which those tractor trailers are parked is Kingsland Avenue in a section of Greenpoint which I’ve long referred to as “DUGABO” or Down Under the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge Onramp.

Hey, you’ve got to stay ahead of the real estate guys, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment plant uses its “digester eggs” to sterilize and thicken sewer water via biological process into a liquid with the consistency of honey that is commonly referred to as “sludge.” Bacterial specie are maintained within the eggs that consume nutrients within the liquid, and their particular biology results in the production of industrial levels of methane gas. Given that the bacterial population is pretty much identical to that found in the human gut, this sort of gas production is something which most of us are pretty familiar with.

Thing is, whereas we humans can fart or belch out this waste product – given the comparatively tiny amount of the stuff which the human gut produces – the sewer plant has to instead find some way of expressing the waste material which doesn’t involve explosive exhalations of mephitic gases.

Notice those four pipe shaped structures, and the distortion in the light just above them? Invisible flame.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An upcoming project which the plant’s managers are embarking upon with the National Grid company will attempt to harvest the methane as part of a “waste to energy” experiment, but for now the waste gas is simply burned off. An interesting bit of engineering is at work in the shot above. It seems that when the plant first opened, the temperature and frequency of the combustion process was producing a bright orange and blue flame reminiscent of the sort of thing you’d see on a propane grill or domestic stove. Passerby in Greenpoint and motorists on the Long Island Expressway (found on the Queens side of Newtown Creek) would regularly call 911 and report that there was a fire at the sewer plant.

DEP’s engineers “tuned” the venturi jets of the four exhaust stacks to burn invisibly instead, which I’ve been told was accomplished by regulating both the amount of oxygen within the mechanism and the amount of pressure within the gas line leading out from the eggs. The system is far from perfect, however. Area businesses report that the four stacks occasionally produce a “sonic boom” sort of noise, and create a disturbing vibration which transmits through the atmosphere and into neighboring buildings.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2016 at 11:00 am

Leviton

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A “reblog” from August of 2012.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I seem to walk past this structure at least once a week, have done so for several years now, and until recently was completely ignorant about one of the largest employers of 20th century Greenpoint. The Leviton family built this commercial empire by the sweat of their brows- stories of part time employees encountering old Isidor working on the factory floor are rampant in Greenpoint, verging on Pop culture amongst “garden spotters” of a certain age.

from wikipedia

Leviton Manufacturing Company, Inc. is a manufacturer of electrical wiring devices, data center connectivity apparatus and lighting energy management systems. The company was founded in 1906 by Evser and his son Isidor Leviton. They began by manufacturing brass mantle tips for the natural gas lighting infrastructure in Manhattan. They sold their mantle tips on a pushcart on the Bowery on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Isidor Leviton designed a screw in lampholder for Thomas Edison’s Electric Lamp in 1910 and within ten years the lampholders were being used in every apartment in New York. In 1936 Leviton built a two square block 4 story factory and warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn which still stands today. Leviton products include over 25,000 devices and systems, used in homes and businesses.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Another bit of reputation that the family gathered unto itself was a certain liberalism regarding class, religion, and creed in their hiring practices- eschewing the segregation and selective hiring practiced by other corporations- particularly those in the electronics sector. The father of a close friend once told me that, in the years following the second world war, he was denied an opportunity to use his ivy league engineering degree because of a last name that sounded “too Italian”. Not an issue at Leviton, I am told.

from heresgreenpoint.com

By 1910 Leviton was designing and manufacturing pull-chain lamp holders for Thomas Edison’s newly developed light bulb, and in 1922 the company was moved to Greenpoint to better facilitate its rapid ascention. The massive factory took up two city blocks between Newel and Jewel Streets and produced over 600 electrical items, from fuses to socket covers to outlets and switches. Leviton would remain in Greenpoint until 1975, when the company again relocated, this time to Little Neck, NY.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Newspaper reports describe the company as resistant to unionization, and even Eleanor Roosevelt found herself standing in solidarity with a picket line on Greenpoint Avenue in the 1940’s. In August of 1940, a large group of laborers “went out”, despite Leviton paying “benefits”- a rare and coveted perk of employment in that era. “Benefits” are what health insurance and a retirement plan were once known as, and were not an automatic or legislated requirement before the 1970’s- for those of you reading this under the age of 30, understand that these “insurance benefits” were something won by the labor movement of the early 20th century.

This was the scene of a long and contentious labor strike in 1940,

as detailed in this preview of the George Ruffini book– “Harry Van Arsdale, Jr: Labor’s Champion”, courtesy google books.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today, the structure is called the “Greenpoint Industrial Center” and seems to host a series of industrial, artisanal, and warehousing operations who make use of its cavernous interior spaces. The Leviton company left Greenpoint in the 1970’s, migrating to literal greener pastures in eastern Queens and ultimately Melville, Long Island.

from nationmaster.com

The Leviton Manufacturing Company was founded in New York by Isidor Leviton, at the dawn of the electrical era in 1906. Originally engaged in the fabrication of mantle tips for gas lighting, the Company soon afterwards in 1910, converted to production of a single electrical product — a pull-chain lampholder (designed for Edison’s new light bulbs).

    • 1922: Leviton relocated to Greenpoint, Brooklyn after acquiring the TECCO plant, and now offered 568 products.
    • 1929: Acquires Meteor Electric Company, a leading manufacturer of wiring devices.
    • 1932: Leviton devices are used in the Empire State Building.
    • 1937: Acquires American Insulated Wire and becomes the industry leader in wire, cable and cord products.
    • 1939: Leviton devices featured at World’s Fair.
    • 1950: Purchases the Deal Electric Company.
    • 1953: Acquires Hale Brothers Companies, now known as Leviton Canada.
    • 1960: Leviton is among the first manufactures to institute an employee pension plan.
    • 1961: Leviton devices are installed in the White House.
    • 1965: Harold Leviton becomes President and CEO.
    • 1972: Introduces the first GFCI, the first touch dimmer, and a selection of home automation powerline carrier components.
    • 1973: Introduces Decora® designer-style devices.
    • 1975: Moves corporate headquarters to current location in Little Neck, NY.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Saturday, June 25, 10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
The Insalubrious Valley of the Newtown Creek,
with Brooklyn Brainery. Click here for more details.

Sunday, June 26, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

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