The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Sunnyside Yards

morbid listening

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It’s a small world, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Sometimes it seems like all of Western Queens is a visual parable, some Hollywood set piece or theme park designed by an otherwise unmentioned truly evil brother of Walt and Roy Disney – Dick Disney. The good news is that DickDisneyland doesn’t require an admission ticket, but enter at your own risk since it was designed by a real Dick. Of course, one of my postulates states that entire City of Greater New York is composed of five theme parks. I refer to Queens as “Adventureland,” the Bronx as “Frontierland,” Brooklyn as “Tomorrowland.” The big attraction for the punters is Manhattan the “Shining City,” and there’s always “Staten Epcot” but not many people visit that one. The world of tomorrow ain’t what it used to be, I fear.

Straddling the currently undefended border between Adventureland and Tomorrowland is the Newtown Creek attraction, and I’ll trust that you’ll find it a non obsequious and intrinsically interesting section of DickDisneyland during your next family friendly vacation to New York City.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

DickDisneyland has a litter problem, unfortunately, but try to view it as the stuff that future archaeologists will make their careers on, making their academic bones while studying our historic trash middens. It’s not just about entertainment here in the Creeklands (found just next door to Tomorrowland’s Sewer Mountain ride), it’s also educational. Over in Maspeth, nearby the Haberman rail siding, there’s going to be an animatronic showpiece and theater installed soon which will depict Dick Betts and the original Maspeth colonials scalping and killing the Lenape, followed by a live action raid of the theater by actors playing Maspeatche Warriors. At the end of it, the audience will be transported to Elmhurst to find out how that whole story ending up working out.

At the Haberman theater gift shop you’ll be able to buy jarred samples of Black Mayonnaise, small quantities of Peter Cooper’s Glue, and replica oil drums with commemorative certificates indicating the time and date of your visit to the Creeklands attraction here in DickDisneyland.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Management at DickDisneyland, it should be mentioned, enforces rules upon its employees and visitors which do not apply to themselves. Were a concession manager to maintain gigantic pools of standing water on their individual lots, enormous financial repurcussions would ensue as our management teams are terrified of mosquito infestation. You can’t have visitors and resident employees of DickDisneyland getting sick, after all. That would reflect poorly on the managers, and deny them promotion to higher positions within the organization.

On the properties directly administered by the management, however… well… who watches the watchers in DickDisneyland?


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stinking ossuaries

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Scuttling, always scuttling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whenever I mention the 1980’s to those who grew up in Long Island City and Astoria, a shudder seems to go through them. I’ve always wondered if that shudder has anything to do with why all the trees are in cages.

I’ve asked a few of the lifers, but boiling down the answers offered by them reveals one singular truth, which is simply expressed by describing the Croatian people as being remarkably tight lipped. There’s some gesturing involved in their answers, and sometimes a few words in a language which I can never understand (I’ve tried). Regardless, something motivated several of them to build iron cages for the street trees around here. I’ve learned to just accept things over the years which I’ve dwelt here in Astoria, Queens. 

Such is my lot. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One is in a weird place, in terms of his mood. Feeling increasingly obsequious, and often wondering who the old fellow staring back at me from the bathroom mirror is, a humble narrator nevertheless sallies forth. Like the trees here in Astoria, there are iron bars and fences all around me. Often it feels as if one is juggling chain saws, and that one slip up will result in disaster. The whole “angry young man” thing is no longer a valid posture, as I’ve instead found myself cast as a broken old man. Such is the wheel of life, however, and there’s no point in moaning about it.

There are still battles to fight, and wars to win.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of, that’s the Sunnyside Yards (est. 1909) pictured above. The shots in today’s post, from this point onward, were all captured along 43rd street while walking south. 43rd street, once you cross Northern Blvd. from the blessed rolling hills of almond eyed Astoria, used to be called Laurel Hill Blvd. It connected the eastern side of LIC’s Blissville over by Newtown Creek and Calvary Cemetery with Middleburgh, which modernity calls Sunnyside. That was before the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, and even before Queens Blvd. and the IRT Flushing Line were created in the 20th century.

Referring to old maps of Western Queens requires the usage of three distinct sets of documents, as they’ve (a shadowy cabal, probably) renamed and reoriented the streets so many times in Queens that it’s confusing as all get out figuring out what something used to be called. There’s a few “landmark” lanes which you can use to figure out relative positioning, like Jackson Avenue or Steinway Street, but even then…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

43rd street, as a pathway to Newtown Creek, has been off my radar for the last few years due to the Koscisuzcko Bridge construction project. Just this last winter, the newly rebuilt pedestrian bridge spanning the onramp to the BQE from the LIE was opened. It replaced an older iteration as part of the bridge project, and I’m in the process of reinstalling this pathway as part of my mental map for “where do I want to go today” usage.

The scaffolding in the shot above obscures the Celtic Park apartment complex, so named for a former beer garden and complex of athletic fields which the development is named for. The Celtic Park, as it was known, was designed and situated to take advantage of the huge numbers of Irish Catholic New Yorkers who came to Queens to visit loved ones in the various properties maintained by Calvary Cemetery found nearby in Blissville and Woodside.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One improvement which hasn’t occurred, and I plan on getting after the K-Bridge team about it next time I see them, is the approach to the pedestrian and bicycle bridge that joins 43rd street with the stubby three block stretch of Laurel Hill Blvd. found on the south side of the LIE. The trestle seen above carries the Long Island Expressway, and acts as a seldom mentioned approach to the BQE and Koscisuzcko Bridge itself.

It’s fairly terrifying walking along this stretch of sidewalk, with traffic ramping up to highway speeds alongside of you. A series of jersey barriers would cheaply and effectively address the issue. I’m on it, don’t worry.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Aforementioned, that’s the extant section of Laurel Hill Blvd. mentioned above. To the west (or right) is Blissville’s Calvary Cemetery, to the east (or left) is the BQE and industrial Maspeth. This is also more or less the legal border which once existed between the independent municipalities of Long Island City and Newtown, prior to the consolidation of the City of Greater New York.

Tomorrow – so, what’s going on with the Kosciuszcko Bridge project?


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frigid gust

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Like a scorching case of incurable venereal disease, the Sunnyside Yards deck story is back in the news.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just last week, Crains New York Business reported that a development team had been anointed by the NYC EDC to helm the next stage of decking over the Sunnyside Yards and building the Mayor’s Death Star in the LIC section of Western Queens. Representatives of the EDC informed me that this report was erroneous, and that no partner has yet been chosen to explore the pathway laid out in their 2017 feasibility study.

I informed them that the Federal EPA had recently added Sunnsyide Yards to the Newtown Creek Superfund site as a “PRP,” or Potentially Responsible Party, alongside Exxon Mobil, the NYC DEP, National Grid and others as being responsible for the environmental degradation of the waterway.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Remember, decking over the Sunnyside Yards has long been a dream for the Manhattan based Real Estate Industrial Complex. It’s 183 square acres of land which proponents of development describe as “ugly,” a “scar,” and “a wasteland surrounded by under utilized potential.” I remind them that it’s actually surrounded by LIC, Astoria, Dutch Kills, and Sunnyside. Then I remind them of the promises about affordable housing and community space that Council Member De Blasio made about the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn and which never materialized, or the self same Council Member and later Public Advocate’s overt resistance to both Newtown Creek and Gowanus being included on the Superfund list in the first place.

Odd position for the self proclaimed man of the people to hold, and one wonders if his relationship with the Toll brothers, Forest City Ratner, and other real estate developers had anything to do with it? Bill De Blasio is the Donald Trump of the left, I would offer.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are mutiple bridges crossing the Sunnsyide Yards, this one carries 39th street, which becomes Steinway Street on the other side of Northern Blvd. See that eight story building at the left? It’s the Standard Motor Products building, the one with the Brooklyn Grange Rooftop farm on top of it. According to renderings offered in the EDC feasibility study, the deck at Sunnyside Yards at 39th street would be start one story higher than it. That would be considered the zero altitude point for the measuring of the forty to sixty story tall residential towers which the document also discusses.

At 43rd street and Barnett Avenue, in Sunnyside Gardens, the deck would start at eleven to twelve stories over the current street grade in Sunnyside Gardens.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One would actually prefer the deck structure to fully resemble the cinematic Death Star, a vast sphere of steel with an enormous cannon aimed at New Jersey set into its face, as opposed to the idea of seeing more of the banal glassine boxes typical of recent development activity in Long Island City go up. I’m sure the Mayor could tap Disney for a few campaign donations in return for the free advertising to finance the vainglorious Presidential ambitions he’s currently nursing – if he were to build his Death Star in Queens at Sunnyside Yards. He’d be able to claim that he built “affordable” housing in the Death Star.

The Mayor could start calling himself Darth Equity then. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My understanding is that the actual Sith Lord of New York – the Dark Prince of Albany – remains adamantly opposed to allowing the Mayor his folly here in Queens, but I’m positive it’s not out of altruism.

As a reminder, this decking project defeated the ambitions of Robert Moses, Nelson Rockefeller, and Michael Bloomberg as well as a host of lesser powers and potentates over the last century. Robert Moses, famously, threw his hands in the air and said “it’s just too complicated,” and that was just in terms of trying to site the Long Island Expressway over the yards.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One looks forward to the day when Bill De Blasio is done sharing his wisdom and sage guidance with NYC, and moves on to share his special set of skills and insights with the rest of the country. Like Donald Trump, he will make a series of promises he never intends to honor, and will disappoint those who believe in his sophomoric and disingenuous promises. The reality that the Sunnyside Yards plan was actually offered by and reintroduced by Michael Bloomberg’s right hand man Dan Doctoroff in a NY Times Op-Ed in the current Mayor’s first year in office, rather than the idea having explosively emerged (in the manner of Athena) from the fertile imaginings of Mr. De Blasio, is something unmentioned by City Hall.

Also, if we’ve got the money to do this, let’s fix the Subways and NYCHA first?

Sum up – Darth Equity, the Mayor is a Dope from Park Slope, and he still wants to build a Death Star in Queens.


Upcoming Tours and Events

April 14 – Exploring Long Island City – with NY Adventure Club.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail?
Tickets and more details here.

April 15- Newtown Creekathon – with Newtown Creek Alliance.

That grueling 13 and change mile death march through the bowels of New York City known as the “Newtown Creekathon” will be held on that day, and I’ll be leading the charge as we hit every little corner and section of the waterway. This will be quite an undertaking, last year half the crowd tagged out before we hit the half way point. Have you got what it takes the walk the enitre Newtown Creek?
Click here to reserve a spot on the Creekathon.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

April 3, 2018 at 11:00 am

childish eyes

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Opposites can repulse or attract, no matter what Paula Abdul said.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Laboriously explained over the last few weeks of night shooting, the tripod technique one has been exploiting involves using small apertures, low ISO camera sensitivity, and long exposures to gather images. It’s rather the opposite of my normal shooting procedure. Out for a scuttle one recent afternoon, a humble narrator decided that since it was incredibly bright out he’d do the opposite of that normal procedure for daylight shots – wide open aperture photos with a shallow depth of field.

That’s the Harold Interlocking pictured above, at the Sunnyside Yards. A night shot from the same vantage point was offered in last Friday’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that I was pointing the camera into a scene full of reflective surfaces which the sun was setting behind, and the aperture was set to f1.8, I had to reduce sensor sensitivity down to ISO 100 and use a shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second to control the light. 1/8000th is as fast as my shutter will flip, I would mention. That’s fast enough to freeze a bee’s wings mid flap, or to render an in flight helicopter blade static.

It’s kind of thing with me… when it’s not a shot “I have to get,” I like to experiment and see what the capabilities of the capture device are at their extremes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wandered around a bit with this particular set of settings, which is something else I force myself to do periodically. There are days where I leave my camera bag and zoom lenses at home and go out for a stroll with just a 50mm lens attached and the camera settings locked. The “nifty fifty” as its called, offers an aperture range between f1.8 to f22, with its only real limitation being that it’s a prime lens and fixed to its singular focal range. That means I need to either get close or go further away from a subject.

There’s a reason for this, which is to keep on my toes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Limiting yourself can sometimes force you to get a bit more creative, or just deep dive into the inner workings of the camera. The shot above won’t be finding its way into National Geographic, for instance, but it was a fine balancing act challenge – exposure wise.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Be back tomorrow with something completely different at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 8, 2018 at 11:00 am

ancient hill

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183 square acres, and you can’t even catch a train there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the way home from the Degnon Terminal and Dutch Kills, my habit is to walk up the hill on Skillman Avenue alongside the Sunnyside Yards. It’s actually set against a pretty subtle but noticeable incline, Skillman from Thomson Avenue to 39th street, and the walk is actually decent cardio (it’s no Maspeth, though). You also get to see trains along the way, which is always a plus for one such as myself. Luckily the fences are in atrocious condition and there’s all sorts of places you can stick a lens through and get some shots. 

Since I had the tripod with me, I rigged it up a few times when I saw something interesting. These are long exposures, which causes passing vehicles, and trains, to blur into streaks of light. In the shot above, that’s the 7 Subway line exiting Queens Plaza above, and the Long Island Railroad transiting below.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the busiest intersections I’ve ever encountered is at Skillman Avenue and Queens Boulevard. An insane amount of traffic moves through it on a twenty four hour and seven day a week schedule, heading to and from the Queensboro Bridge. There are vampires reported to be living in the steel overpasses as well, so you have to stay alert and wary around these parts because of both traffic and the undead. Queens Plaza is complicated. 

That’s another 7 train at the top of the shot, if you’re the curious type.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Crossing the yards at 39th street, which becomes Steinway Street on the other side of Northern Blvd., I did another setup at one of the many fence holes I’ve catalogued over the years. That set of green, red, and white streaks you see are a passing Long Island Railroad train at the Harold Interlocking. It’s the busiest train junction in the country, as a note, and almost 800 trains a day streak through here on their way to and from the City, last I checked.

Why is it called the “Harold Interlocking”? Ask some of the octogenarian Queensicans you meet in neighborhood bars around Sunnyside, Woodside, or Astoria and they’ll tell you that 39th street used to be called Harold Avenue back in the old days of long ago and far away. DO NOT drop John Lindsay or Bill de Blasio’s name, at your peril. 


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Written by Mitch Waxman

March 2, 2018 at 11:00 am

systematic collection

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It’s National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

So – last week I had a few things to do over in the Hunters Point section of LIC on a particular afternoon. A short and rapid scuttle ensued, one which saw a humble narrator hurtling south towards Skillman Avenue in a staggering pursuance of arrival in certain points found westwards of the almond eyed Astoria he calls home. Avoidance of perambulatory transit through Queens Plaza has become a “thing” for me, as the alternative route – using Jackson Avenue – is less visually interesting, and is also a somewhat harrowing journey on foot due to omnipresent construction and heavy vehicular activity.

Besides – I have zero opportunity to shoot shots of trains using the Jackson Avenue route, and I know where just about every hole in the fenceline along the Sunnyside Yards can be found. I always advise those dear to me to “stand behind something” while waiting for the traffic signals to change and allow access to cross this Northern Boulevard, I would mention, so in the interest of practicing what I preach – one ducked down and cowered behind a fire hydrant (pictured above). 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

OK – Steinway Street in Astoria is analogous to 39th street in Sunnyside, and the two are connected by one of several truss bridges that span the Sunnyside Yards. It’s actually fairly “good cardio” walking over the 39th street span if you lean into it and push towards the apogee of the thing. At the top of the arch, there’s a worker access road that would carry Amtrak and other railroad employees down into the railyard, and that’s where I spotted a percussionist practicing his craft.

Naturally – One did not wish to interrupt his reverie, so I cannot describe who the fellow was, but he was positively “rocking out.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Observedly – It was a three piece drum set which this gentleman had set up for himself, and despite having noticed a humble narrator photographing him, he never skipped a beat.

Y’know – This sort of drum kit is relatively modern in origin, and whereas it is quite familiar to modern eyes, it was only originated in the 1860’s. It’s called a “trap drum” or “double drumming” kit, and prior to the semi modern era, each one of the instruments on view (base, cymbal, snare) would have required an individual musician to operate. The trap drum innovation was conducive to the development of the musical schools of ragtime, jazz, and rock-n-roll, I’m told.

But – I digress.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Then – Although I wish I could tell you that one got caught up in the wild al fresco rhythms offered by this anonymous percussionist, as mentioned at the top of the post – I had things to do and places to be. Utilizing one of those aforementioned holes big enough to stick a lens through – in the fences of the Sunnyside Yards – and which I keep a constantly updated mental map of, to capture a shot of Amtrak’s Acela train passing through the Harold Interlocking on its way towards Manhattan. It’s the busiest train junction in the United States, actually, the Harold Interlocking. The Mayor wants to build luxury housing upon a deck on top of it. Please vote for someone else today.

Ultimately – I had places to go, and headed west into the setting sun, scuttling along with a camera in hand.


Upcoming Tours and events

Exploring Long Island City, from Luxury Waterfront to Abandoned Factories Walking Tour,
with NY Adventure Club – Sunday, November 12th, 2:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Long Island City is a tale of two cities; one filled with glittering water-front skyscrapers and manicured parks, and the other, a highly active ground transportation & distribution zone vital to the New York economy — which will prevail? With Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Sunday, December 10th, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 7, 2017 at 11:00 am

unmentionable allies

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It’s National Cheese Pizza Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As the adage goes, when one gazes into the proverbial abyss, there’s always something staring out of it at you. In the case of the Sunnyside Yards here in Queens, that’s usually a bored Amtrak cop whose eyes have glazed over in front of a bank of monitors connected to security cameras.

Me? I know where every hole in the fencelines can be found, and which one of my lenses will fit through it. In the case of the shot above, the hole is around twenty five millimeters, and I haven’t got anything in my kit that can be inserted through the hole. Luckily, there’s a lot of holes in the fence.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One attempted to use the downtime last week in a productive fashion, wandering about whenever the weather permitted. Saying that, I didn’t get too much done – on purpose – in order to vouchsafe a bit of time to just sit and think. I did have a couple of things to do that interrupted my reveries, however.

I was asked by Councilmember Van Bramer’s office if I would write a response to an “Op Ed” by the Queens Anti Gentrification Project” aimed at Jimmy and offered at the citylimits site. QAGP seems to have taken some umbrage at my response and published this post at their own site addressed towards me. I’ve known Jimmy Van Bramer for a while now, his Mom lives a couple of blocks away from me here in Astoria, and I emphatically support his reelection campaign. Jimmy has been, and I’m sure will continue to be – an effective advocate for his district.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One shall be responding in my usual manner – next week – to the QAGP folks, but allow me this:

As I’ve said in the past, “gentrification” is not an apropo term for what’s happening in LIC (or North Brooklyn). The proposal to deck over the Sunnyside Yards, the rezoning of the LIC industrial districts and consequent residential tower construction by monied interests based and interested only in short term benefits to Manhattan offered by this build out, the complete blindness towards the municipal infrastructure costs associated with this process… we haven’t got a word for it yet.

This POV will be crystallized in a post offered next week.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One does stand ready to be accused of being a shill, again.

When I first “stepped out” in public and began discussing Newtown Creek and the environmental issues affecting our community the accusations were waiting for me. New York City Planning asked me “who do you think you are”? One well known activist openly described my efforts at building awareness of these issues as a shell game initiated by the real estate developers, whom I was obviously a clandestine agent of. My willingness to converse with and try to find common ground between the community and the historical corporate polluters of Newtown Creek – ExxonMobil and the like – saw me accused of being an agent of the petrochemical industry sent amongst the environmental community to sow chaos. When I became involved with transit issues, more recently, accusations of being a Democratic Party operative emerged. The kayakers, the bicycle people… don’t get me started.

I wish my life was that interesting, and that the monies people presume I’m receiving for my activities were actually in my possession. Our Lady of the Pentacle and myself barely scratch by, just like everyone else these days.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking as the first person in Queens to throw down the gauntlet to City Hall regarding the Sunnyside Yards mega development, and one of the principal flies in the ointment of the people planning it, one finds all of these accusations amusing. Ask the NYC DEP if I’m in their employ, or ExxonMobil, or any of the other entities who’ve I set my focus on over the years. I’m quite popular with the MTA establishment at Jay Street as well, and as far as the BQX goes… let’s just say that when I walk into a meeting room the staffers from EDC collect up in a quiet corner and discuss how to handle the fact that I’ve shown up.

My resume and activist credentials which have defined my life over the last ten years have not been gained by throwing around a bunch of meaningless slogans. Instead it’s been “showing up” to nighttime meetings with bland officials at a sewer plant during snow storms in January, and sweating in the July heat to build consensus and constituency amongst my fellow citizens. I’ve put my name on everything I’ve done, as well. When I’ve been wrong, the first person to bring it up has been “yours, truly.”

This is real life, not some intellectual game, and a looming infrastructure crisis is about to hurt us all.


Upcoming Tours and events

Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – Saturday, September 9th, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Explore NYC history, hidden inside sculptural monuments and mafioso grave sites, as you take in iconic city views on this walking tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

September 5, 2017 at 11:30 am

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