The Newtown Pentacle

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aged man

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A few more late night shots from Western Queens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In all actuality, these shots aren’t from all that late at night, instead they’re from the latter half of the rush hour period. One was meant to be attending an “after work” meeting which was subsequently cancelled. It was – nevertheless – satisfyingly dark out, and since I had my “kit” with me I started shooting. Pictured above, the 7 and the N elevated subway lines are moving across the shot and leaving behind naught but illuminated streaks. In the background of the shot are some of the new towers which have been built to answer that clarion call which all native New Yorkers have been making for a century, which is the desire to live in Queens Plaza. I can’t recall how many times I begged my parents for us to move to Queens Plaza as a child.

Can you believe that we’ve been denied the right to live in Queens Plaza all this time? Thank god for DeBlasio, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that my scheduled meeting was cancelled, which was meant to include a friend and colleague who lives in Sunnyside, an impromptu social engagement manifested itself and I jumped onto the 7 line to the former Middleburgh and met her at one of the many fine eating and drinking establishments found in that neighborhood. On my way, I decided to dare fate and the MTA’s rules concerning the usage of camera support equipment on their property to capture the shot above, which looks westwards along Queens Boulevard. The long exposure shot rendered both Subway and vehicular traffic as rivers of energetic light pulsing out of the shining city.

I can recommend the fish tacos at the Sidetracks bar and restaurant, as it turns out.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After escorting my friend back to her domicile, a humble narrator hoofed it back to Astoria via 43rd street alongside the fence lines of the titanic Sunnnyside Yards. I snapped the kit into action a couple of times along the way, wherever a fence was open and a salubrious point of view was available.

The shot above depicts the new construction around Queens Plaza – some of which are the same structures seen in the first shot of today’s post – as seen from a distance of one hundred and eighty three acres away.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 12, 2018 at 11:00 am

safe arrival

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A visit to Sims Metal Management over in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All summer long, one has a tendency to lead walking tours of the neighborhoods surrounding the fabulous Newtown Creek. There are boat tours too, but these walking and boat excursions are generally public facing tours that visit public places. My job is to provide historic context for wherever we happen to be, and describe the various issues each particular area is facing. There’s one spot along the Newtown Creek, however, which I only bring college or graduate student groups to. That’s Sims Metal, in Long Island City, and I brought a college group there last Saturday.

There’s a million reasons for this restriction, and number one is not wearing out my welcome.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number two revolves around the very busy schedule of this waterfront business. Luckily, Sims and its management are anxious to spread the word about their recycling operations. Their Sunset Park facility was actually purpose built with visitors in mind and they maintain an education center at that site. The Newtown Creek operation is different, and is a very busy industrial site.

When I can get a group in here, the entire operation pretty much shuts down in the name of safety. The working guys love it when they see me walking a group up the road, I think, as they get to take a coffee break.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number three is a safety issue. Several of the times I’ve been here, just on my own – it’s been strictly hard hats and steel toe boots, gloves, glasses, the whole “working guy” uniform. With a largish group of students, this isn’t realistic, so the site manager tells his crew to take a break and then carefully guides us around the site’s edges and discusses the services which the company offers.

Those services include the receipt and initial sorting of the “MGP” (metal glass plastic) and cardboard/paper materials collected by the Department of Sanitation’s curbside recycling program, which is what’s going on in the first photo of this post. All of this municipal contract material will be barged out of the Creek and sent for finer levels of sorting and processing at the Sunset Park facility.

I got to visit the operation in Sunset Park last summer, and did two posts about it – “Noxious Mysteries” and “Unusually Worried“. The latter one details the actual process of sorting recyclable garbage, if you’re into that sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other side of Sims’ operations here at Newtown Creek revolves around commercial customers. If it’s made of metal and you’re disposing of it, Sims is one of the larger players in the recycling business. Materials like the mountain of rebar pictured above get shipped here by truck from upland sources, then are loaded onto barges and sent off to be processed at another Sims facility.

My understanding is that material like that rebar in the shot above will be sent off to Jersey City and fed into a shredder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “big show” at Sims on Newtown Creek always revolves around the stacks of automobiles and trucks which they process. All the fluids, batteries, and various onboard tanks have been removed from these vehicles before they get trucked in. The discarded or junked vehicles are trucked into Sims and then stacked for eventual placement on a barge. That barge will be escorted by a tugboat over to another Sims facility in New Jersey where they’ll be fed into a shredder.

I’m told that said shredder will reduce a car to metallic toothpicks in a few seconds, but no matter how many times I ask, the Sims people say it’s just too much of a safety risk to let me close enough to photograph that part of the process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The academic group I was shepherding around last weekend were urban planning students from MIT, and were in town to study the industrial zone in Long Island City. I’ve also had Robin Nagle’s NYU class back here, as well as a group from a Dutch university who make an annual visit to Newtown Creek. We only ask Sims to open their gates to us for academic groups, as a note.

The mission of the Newtown Creek Alliance is to “reveal, restore, revitalize” Newtown Creek. Bringing student groups to Sims Metal is part of the “reveal” side of the job. You should see what my colleagues are up to on the “restore and revitalize” planks, which you’ll have ample opportunity to do this summer.


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private collector

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These pants are too tight.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in prior posts this week, a walk over to the Bushwick side of the fabulous Newtown Creek was recently endeavored upon. As I often mention, this time of the year is never a good interval for a humble narrator, who often finds himself staring out the window wishing that it wasn’t quite as rainy or snowy or cold as the winter season typically is in New Yrok City. Atmospheric hurdles notwithstanding, one nevertheless found himself standing on the Scott Avenue footbridge over the Bushwick Branch tracks contemplating his problems while capturing a lovely winter sunset on a chilly night.

As a note, that’s the garbage train you see on the tracks below. By garbage, I mean the “black bag” or “putrescent” waste stream, which is containerized up by the Waste Management company at a couple of spots along Newtown Creek, and which will be “disappeared” out of the City by a rail outfit called the New York and Atlantic.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other day, in a post congratulating the Grand Street Bridge on its 115th birthday, I mentioned the Grand Avenue Bus Depot in Maspeth but didn’t show it. The shot above rectifies that, and it’s one of the few times that I’ve grabbed a shot of the place without being hassled by MTA’s “rent a cop” security. I don’t argue with the septuagenarian security guards there anymore, instead I write complaint letters to MTA HQ in Brooklyn, asking about exactly when the MTA decided it was kosher to abrogate my rights.

I’m becoming quite crotchety in my old age.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Buses have been increasingly focused on in recent months for one reason or another. Like a lot of the other municipal stuff which we are surrounded by, these vehicles pass by unnoticed and uncommented. They sort of blend into the background of the City and roll on by. I’ve become fascinated by them, in the context that buses are basically giant boxes of light moving along the darkened streets of the hive, and can be somewhat difficult to photograph. I like a challenge.

That’s the Q104, heading east along Astoria’s Broadway. As is the case with many of the bus routes of Queens, a part of the Q104’s replicates that of an old and forgotten trolley route. For the modern day residents of Astoria, myself included, it’s provides a vehicular connection to the Costco retail operation next door to Socrates Sculpture Garden.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Q102 on 31st street in Astoria, another line which I’ll periodically use when I’m returning from Newtown Creek and lazy sets in while I’m marching up Northern Blvd. About 800 million rides occur on MTA’s roughly 5,700 buses annually. Depending on the model of bus, which have an average life span of about 12 years on the streets of New York City, MTA pays out anywhere between $450,000 and $750,000 for EACH one of its diesel buses, and the hybrid models pictured above can add about $300,000 to the price tag for a new unit. You read that right, btw.

A lot to spend on a big box of light, no?


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luring skylines

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Only the lonely…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Girt in filthy black outer wear, with camera dangling, recent endeavor found a humble narrator scuttling in the general direction of Bushwick from Astoria. Crossing the Newtown Creek at just the right spot is critical, as the various street grids of the ancient communities which surround it are often at odds with each other and can be described as dangerously heterogenous. Walk over the wrong bridge and you could have easily added a half hour to the journey.

In the case of walking from Astoria to Bushwick, the best path to follow is actually one through Sunnyside, Woodside, and Maspeth. You want to aim yourself at the Grand Street Bridge, where you’ll get a nice view of the Koscisuzcko Bridge if you get there at the right time of day.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Using knowledge of the old municipal grids which signified the borders of the independent towns and villages, one threw himself inexorably south and east. Crossing the former Thomson Avenue, now called Queens Blvd., nearby its intersection with Greenpoint/Roosevelt Avenue vouchsafed me passage out of the street pattern of the Middleburgh section of Long Island City now known as Sunnyside. The natural turn one would make at this point is about ten blocks eastwards at 58th street nearby the so called “Big Six” buildings, which is less than pedestrian friendly and visually “meh.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Instead, one cut through the funereal properties of the Roman Catholic Church called “Second Calvary Cemetery,” a path which guaranteed one a bit of quietude and solace. One always feels at home amongst the tomb legions, for their condemnations and judgment are always silent. There are four Calvary Cemeteries, by the way, which share common supervision under an organization called “the Trustees of Old St. Patrick’s cathedral.” The local manager – over the groundskeepers, interments, office, and all other existential issues is provided by a fellow named Joe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is the case with many cemeteries in Queens, a highway bisects the property. In this case, it’s the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and although the local street below it has no street signs or other demarcations – it’s Laurel Hill Blvd. The Calvary’s on the southern extent of the highway are Calvary #’s three and four. You end up on 58th street anyway, at the end of this street, where a southern or right turn is exacted. You’re still in Woodside at this point, incidentally.

The sidewalks stop about halfway between 58th street’s two corners, and it’s a long block between the BQE and the Long Island Expressway, I tell ya, and there ain’t no sidewalks for most of it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Along 58th, on the east side of the street, is Mount Zion cemetery. Third Calvary is across the road, on the west side. Mount Zion is a Jewish cemetery, and was primarily set up for folks who lived on the crowded Lower East side of lower Manhattan. This graveyard uses every possible square inch of space for interments.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was on 58th street, along the wrought iron gates of Mount Zion Cemetery, that the latest trophy of the Queens Cobbler was observed. The Queens Cobbler is – of course – a local serial killer who leaves behind single shoes as ghastly trophies of his or her nefarious activities.

One couldn’t linger though, as a particular form of psychological torment was awaiting me in Bushwick and I didn’t want to be late.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 6, 2018 at 2:30 pm

hitherto denied

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Happy 115th birthday, Grand Street Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

At a cost of $174,937, the newly constructed Grand Street Bridge – spanning the fantastic Newtown Creek – officially opened on this day in 1903 (although it had already been unofficially open to traffic since December of 1902). The Grand Street Bridge connects Maspeth in Queens with East Williamsburg/Bushwick in Brooklyn, and when it was built they had horse driven traffic in mind, as well as electric streetcars or trolleys. The City of Greater New York, with its familiar five boroughs and Manhattancentric political orientation was only a few years old at this point in time. Grand Street was part of a spate of bridge building that occurred in the years following municipal consolidation, both major and minor, which allowed the newly created Borough Presidents a chance to… ahem… share the wealth with their supporters.

The 1903 model, pictured above, is the third Grand Street Bridge. There were 1875 and 1890 models as well, but the historic record describes them as being shabbily constructed and “dilapidated.” The 1903 model has stood the test of time, although it did receive a bit of work and a fresh coat of paint during a rehabilitation project back in 1973.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Grand Street is the demarcation line between the so called “East Branch” tributary and the main stem of Newtown Creek. The intersection with another tributary, English Kills, is nearby. That’s part of the East Branch, pictured above. As a note, when Grand Street crosses northwards into Queens, it becomes Grand Avenue.

My understanding is that the 1890 model Grand Street Bridge was operated by hand cranking winches. It’s also my understanding that the presence of a nearby wharfage in this area (called White’s Dock) narrowed the navigational channel significantly, and that it was pressure from various Brooklyn based merchants and manufacturing associations which drove the Federal War Department into condemning that iteration of the bridge – and Whites Dock- setting the stage for the construction of the current model and the shaping of the modern bulkheads surrounding it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

End to end, Grand Street Bridge is nearly two hundred and twenty seven feet and one half inch in length. Horizontally it’s meant to be just over thirty two feet wide, with two lanes of vehicle traffic squeezing into a very tight nineteen feet and eight inch area. There are two sidewalks which are meant to be just under six feet wide, according to the NYC DOT, but that number sort of conflicts with my perception of them. Those tight lanes of traffic mean that anything bigger than a passenger car has to wait for traffic coming from the other side to cross over the bridge before they can do the same. This creates backups on both sides of the thing.

I think the sidewalks measurement must include the box girders visible in the shot above, which is actually from below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Grand Street Bridge is a swing bridge, which means that the whole structure sits on a mechanical palette and can rearticulate itself ninety degrees to allow maritime traffic to pass to and fro. It’s a crying shame that there aren’t any customers in the East Branch who would require the presence of barge and tug, since the City is obligated to maintain the machinery here in functional order by the orders of the United States Coast Guard.

The DOT spends a bunch of money every year doing so, and the City has been petitioning the USCG to “delist” the East Branch for navigability, and to allow them to replace the 1903 Grand Street Bridge with something more appropriate for modern traffic needs – a static and far wider truss bridge – since at least 2002. The USCG remains adamant in its position, however, that all of Newtown Creek is a “SMIA” or Significant Maritime Infrastructure Area and all of its bridges must be maintained and be “moveable” on the waterway.

This brings up the questionable status of the MTA’s rail swing bridge “DB Cabin” on the Dutch Kills tributary of Newtown Creek, but that’s another story.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The last time I checked the numbers, Grand Street Bridge carried just under ten thousand vehicle trips a day. That was in 2011, it should be mentioned, and supposedly only 7% of that traffic was defined by DOT as being “trucks.” As always, you need to learn how to speak “government” when reading things like that. They mean heavy tonnage trucks – garbage, semis, tankers – not box trucks, pickups, or delivery vans which everybody else would call “trucks.” A significant causality of traffic congestion in both Maspeth and East Williamsburg/Bushwick, the Grand Street Bridge is structurally far too narrow for modern day needs.

Modern needs include accomodating the traffic generated by the MTA’s gargantuan Grand Ave Bus Depot & Central Maintenance Facility, which is found on the Maspeth side of the bridge. The entire bus company unit serving Brooklyn crosses this bridge at least once a week for cleaning, inspection, and maintenance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One such as myself always has his ear to the ground, or is probing away at the elected or appointed lords of the local vicinity in hope of gleaning some knowledge of their secretive plans for us all. The general impression gathered is that were there money available right now to replace the Grand Street Bridge with a newer model, construction would begin forthwith.

I’ll be sorry to see the old girl go when they find the cash, as the Grand Street Bridge is one of my favorite bridges found along the lugubrious Newtown Creek. At any rate, Happy Birthday, old lady.


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declared studies

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When you live on an archipelago, you see a lot of bridges.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned recently, a humble narrator has been trying to make some sense of the photographic archives which he’s been assembling for the last decade or so. Separating wheat from chaff, as it were. Something which has been noticed is that my eye is continually drawn to the “night shots” of the infrastructure which the municipal leaders of the past erected around our great urban hive. Pictured above is mighty Queensborough, as seen from LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Certain points of view in my archive don’t exist anymore, or have been removed from public accessibility by the ravenous appetites of the Real Estate Industrial Complex. The former is the case with this shot of the East River/Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges at night, which was gathered from a landing at a former South Street Seaport structure. That landing was demolished along with the rest of the building, and has been replaced by yet another glass box which will – when opened – restrict the view to those who can afford the price of admission.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Kosciuszcko Bridge replacement project has been a particular pleasure to photograph, and no moment brought me more excitement than the lowering of the central span of its 1939 iteration. What a show, man.

A recent bout of Flu has left a humble narrator a bit worse for wear, and short on new content this week. Accordingly, shots from the archives have been pulled and will be presented thusly, as this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 2, 2018 at 11:00 am

Posted in Photowalks, Pickman

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when during

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People walk around like they’re safe or something…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the childhood aphorisms which one carries about with him is the use of the word “accidentals” to describe traffic collisions. It’s taken me nearly half a century to control the urge to call tree rodents “Skwerlows,” as a note. Pictured above is a rare sight, an NYPD cruiser – throughly demolished – on the streets of Astoria. The shot is from 2012, and the story as it was transmitted to me involved the coppers responding to a call at high speed. They encountered one of those sudden elevations in the street which caused them to lose control of the car in a shower of sparks, whereupon they took out two parked cars and a tree in addition to a few street signs. The commander of the 114th pct., at the time, assured me his cops recovered from injuries they sustained during the crash.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Jackson Avenue in LIC is a heavily travelled road, and accordingly has a higher than average statistical number of “accidentals” than other streets. The odd sight pictured above was noticed and recorded in 2014 whilst a humble narrator was scuttling to or from the noisome Newtown Creek on some sunny day. The physics of what occurred here mystify one such as myself.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “Carridor” is what I call Northern Blvd. Tens of thousands of vehicle trips a day carry west and eastbound traffic through Western Queens on their way to and from Manhattan via the Queensborough Bridge. Sometimes I like to just stand there to watch and wonder, since unlike me, all these drivers have someplace to go.

A recent bout of Flu has left a humble narrator a bit worse for wear, and short on new content this week. Accordingly, shots from the archives have been pulled and will be presented thusly, as this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

February 1, 2018 at 1:00 pm

Posted in Photowalks, Pickman

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