The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘sunnyside

odd debris

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It’s National Chocolate Cake Day, here in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress. That’s what they used to call it. The reclamation of wetlands for profitable municipal or private use, and the installation of some sort of useful industry upon the new land. Here in Queens – Northern Blvd., or Jackson Avenue depending on where you are standing, used to be a raised road that rolled through a swampy lowland. Queens, and LIC in particular, were remarkable in the post Civil War era for the prevalence of water borne diseases suffered by occupants of the various towns and villages found along its route. Typhus, malaria, cholera – all of the mosquito vector illnesses were quite common.

It’s the reason that Queens was so open to large scale development in the early 20th century when technologies emerged that allowed for the draining of swamplands and marshes. In a sudden burst of activity at the start of the last century – you see the emergence of the Queensboro Bridge, the Sunnyside Yards, and the appearance of the subway system.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As far as the critters go, they’re still following their old patterns even though the ancestral waters are buried tens of feet below the surface. It’s why you’ll still see clouds of gulls flying around at Sunnyside’s northern border or over in Woodside, miles from the East River or Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The automobile represented “progress” to the generations who fought the World Wars. The City was remade and rebuilt by Robert Moses and the armies he led in pursuance of progress. The highways and local streets which divide us also provided the opportunity to raise the level of land over the water table and install sewerage systems. These sewers quicken the flow of water, which in turn did away with the languid puddles and marshes in which the disease spreading clouds of mosquitos could breed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There was no more potent symbol of “progress” in the late 19th century however, than the railroad. Unfortunately, it was ruled by opportunist financiers like JP Morgan and predatory capitalists like John D. Rockefeller, both of whom contributed to the industry becoming less and less profitable to operate. Robert Moses was no friend to the railroads either. Ultimately, by the late 1960’s, all of the private rail companies that handled passenger and freight were bankrupt and brought under government control.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Progress seems to be a forgotten concept in the modern day. It’s about maintaining what we’ve inherited, rather than dreaming big, of what we could have. We no longer reach for the stars, even on National Chocolate Cake Day.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2017 at 1:00 pm

eastern headland

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Cool cars trucks, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering home one day, I encountered this fantastically retro GMC RV parked alongside the Sunnyside Yards on 43rd street. Fiberglass body panels, panel truck frame… I didn’t check the registration sticker, but I think this is a GMC Motorhome, which was produced from 1973-8. There were only about 12,000 of these manufactured, and according to online sources, 7,000 of those are still registered and on the road.

They really knew how to make ’em back then, huh? This sucker is almost as old as me.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A fence was down at the Sunnyside Yards the same day I spotted the GMC Motorhome, revealing the cable truck seen above. Love the wooden spools, I do. Made me think that some titanic tailor had taken up residence at what was once the world’s largest railroad coach yard, and had used up all the threading which the truck brought in.

If you’re a giant, you can’t buy off the rack, as even a “big and tall” clothing shop has limits. Just ask the Mayor… as the Dope from Park Slope is Brobigdagnian. Maybe the giant tailor is working for him.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over on Northern Blvd., the delivery of automobiles is a daily occurrence. I’ve mentioned before that this sort of sight brings out my inner seven year old in the same way that FDNY engine units screaming by does. There’s a reason that I call Northern Blvd. “the Carridor” y’know.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 28, 2016 at 1:00 pm

clung round

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Night time in Queens, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This week, you can expect exactly zero newly minted shots from this humble narrator. One part of the reason for that is that Xmas week postings are (annually speaking) the ones with the lowest readership at this – your Newtown Pentacle, the other is that due to the gloom, wet, and cold last week – I wasn’t exactly outside a whole lot. As is my habit, a few shots were selected from the archives for presentation, your consideration and possible amusement.

That’s Sunnyside Gardens in the shot above, shot sometime in the late night or early morning, if memory serves.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Point A in my life is Astoria, Queens. All journeys start at “Point A,” for me, and end there as well.

Pictured above is 31st street beneath the elevated tracks of the Subway, on a drizzle choked evening.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the elevated, I stand by my assertion that the 7 line is the most photogenic of all NYC’s Subway lines. That’s her, crashing through LIC.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 19, 2016 at 11:00 am

doglike lopers

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The concrete devastations, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As I’ve mentioned several times recently, an effort is under way to revisit a number of spots which I’ve not set foot in for a while. When I first began wandering around Newtown Creek and the neighborhoods surrounding it, a point was made to visit every single block, but in recent months and years, temporal exigency has caused one to travel along “efficient” routes to get from Point A (A as in Astoria) to Points B, C, and so on.

Accordingly, since I seem to have all the time in the world at the moment, I’m taking the road less travelled and revisiting a few locales which have been off my radar for a bit. To wit, pictured above is the view from 53rd avenue at the angle between Sunnyside and West Maspeth, looking west towards the BQE/LIE interchange.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Prior to the installation of the two highways, roughly 75-80 years ago, this was a place where working people still lived. There was a neighborhood here, at the western border of Newtown’s Maspeth section and the eastern border of LIC’s Blissville subdivision. That’s when Robert Moses, with his New Meeker Avenue Bridge (Kosciuszko Bridge), and Brooklyn Queens Connecting highway, and Long Island Expressway came to town. Zoning decisions made in Manhattan during the post WW2 era rendered this area as “M1” – meaning it is designated for heavy manufacturing usage only.

Regardless of how the City people decided this land should be used, residential usage continued and there are still a small number of fairly ancient homes found peppered in amongst the warehouses, factories and construction oriented tower crane storage yards hereabouts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Funny thing is that this neighborhood is – observationally – one of the last places in NYC where you can “leave your front door open.” Saying that, when I use the term “concretized devastations of Western Queens” this section of industrial Maspeth is what I’m usually thinking of.

Most of the surviving homes I see in this neighborhood are typified by what you see above, wood frame row houses which date back to around 1900 or so. There’s a few older houses nearby which are a bit “grander” and speak to an earlier incarnation of this area. A few have disappeared “under my watch,” and have been replaced with bland cinder block warehouse or industrial buildings. Can’t really speak to “who” lives here, amongst the cranes and highways.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All I can tell you is that they have an amazing view. This POV is on the rising bluff which once led to a prominent hill to the south called Berlin. The next highest prominence to the west would have been Laurel Hill, which Calvary Cemetery was carved into. This section of Maspeth was actually called “Berlin” until the First World War, when it was changed for obvious reasons to West Maspeth. To the east, the land’s declination rises until it meets a ridge which signals the beginning of the terminal moraine of Long Island nearby Mount Olivette and Lutheran Cemeteries. That ridge, which sports the same sort of rocky geology that lends its name to Ridgewood, is “real” land. Everything west of Laurel Hill is elluvial fill deposited by glacial process and sediment delivered by flooding from the Newtown Creek and East River.

Climate change and rising sea level wise, this likely will be the East River coastline someday.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Looping around to the south, as the BQE and LIE interchange cut off egress east/west, an ad hoc art gallery is encountered. Illegal dumping, as I’ve often opined, is the unofficial nativist art form of the Borough of Queens. Combined with long fence lines that are covered in crude graffiti, you’ll encounter several installations along this route which offer intriguing intellectual postulates from the local artistic community.

Everything here is artisanal, incidentally.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The reality of these installations are that this is simply a convenient place for a low level building contractor to dispose of construction debris without having to pay a dumping fee, but allow me to stay “high brow” in my assessments.

These dumpers really do seem to pay some attention to composition and color, however.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

53rd avenue terminates in a parabola which carries it into 43rd street, a colonial era pathway that once connected to Newtown Creek from Bowery Bay in Astoria. The road transected the properties of (amongst several other famous Dutch and English family names from the colonial era) the Riker’s, Skillman’s, and Alsops along its route, and according to the historic record – it was paved with crushed oyster shells. All that changed, of course, when first the Long Island Railroad and later Robert Moses came to town.

43rd street still exists in a fairly unbroken line from Astoria to Northern Blvd. and then crosses the Sunnyside Yards south into Sunnyside where it crosses Queens Blvd. and Greenpoint Avenue. When it crosses under the Long Island Expressway overpass, it resumes its pre municipal consolidation name – Laurel Hill Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “43rd street” you encounter in this section of industrial Maspeth, however, is disconnected from the northern section. The last homes on 43rd street went “bye-bye” just a few years ago, due to a smallish construction project going on in the area. With fewer people watching, and caring, the artisanal illegal dumping in this area has amplified.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the shot above, you can discern why I sometimes refer to this section as the “crane district.”

You can also plainly see the sharp rise in altitude hereabouts. This is, as mentioned, largely an industrial zone. There’s a lot of heavy industry going on. Warehouse operations, severely heavy truck traffic, waste transfer stations – Newtown Creek is just a few thousand feet to the south.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of Newtown Creek, that smallish construction operation I mentioned earlier is the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement project, which crosses the waterway. If memory serves, that means that something like a half million vehicles a day pass through this pass between Berlin and Laurel Hills. The Kosciuszko Bridge was opened in 1939, and the Queens side approach was built into a shallow valley found between the two landforms, and over a lost tributary of Newtown Creek which was called “Wolf Creek.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s that, then. See you next week, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 16, 2016 at 11:00 am

hitherto baffled

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Santa Claus, Sunnyside, the Turks, and FDNY Ladder 163 – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Celebrating the forthcoming Saturnalia, on a stretch of Sunnyside’s Skillman Avenue, the community received a visit from Santa on Saturday the third of December. There was a street fair sort of thing, and all the local small businesses welcomed the arrival of both Father Christmas and the shoppers who followed him. The whole thing was orchestrated and underwritten by the office of Jimmy Van Bramer, the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and I think there were other donors but didn’t pick up on who they were. 

The owners of Flynn’s, Quaint and Claret, and the Dog & Duck all slept happily that night – I’m sure – after watching their establishments grow absolutely full to the gills with merry making community based customers who were lured over to Skillman Avenue for the event.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Even the Turks, who aren’t exactly Christmas people, got in on the show. They were grilling kebabs – or whatever the Mediterranean grilled meat on a stick standard is called in Anatolia – on a smoky BBQ.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I was asked to come and photograph the event by my friends in the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and did my standard “thing” at public events when behind the camera. Part of my “thing” is this – always take pictures of kids, dogs and the food.

I moved back and forth between 51st street and 43rd street on Skillman Avenue, which was closed to traffic due to the pending arrival of Santa and the concurrent lighting of a tree at that little church on the corner of 48th. I will admit that this sort of event photography ain’t exactly exciting for me – I mean… it’s not like something visually “exciting” is going to happen at a parade or street fair.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On one of my passes, the smoky Turkish BBQ pictured above had disappeared. The smoke liberally painting the air was now billowing up from their sidewalk basement gates, and FDNY had arrived on the scene.

As mentioned in the past, I was the Brooklyn kid who ran down the street yelling “Firemen, Firemen” whenever an engine or ladder truck screamed past. Nothing has changed for me, despite the passing of multiple decades.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A minor blaze had broken out in the basement of the Turkiyem Market, it seems.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Ladder 163 was called to the scene, along with their partner unit Engine 325 – both are stationed at the same firehouse and they call themselves the “Woodside Warriors.” The two units were discussed a couple of weeks ago, in this post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given that this was a street fair, ultimately, the normal crowd control stuff they do didn’t apply and this was a rare opportunity to get in close and observe while FDNY did its thing. Saying that, I wasn’t “that” close as I was using that new zoom lens of mine – the Sigma 50-100mm f1.8. I also swapped in another Sigma lens occasionally, which was an 18-35mm f1.8. Periodically I fired off the flash for a bit of extra light, but I’m trying not to use camera mounted flashes these days.

These two Sigma lenses are now the core glass in my “NYC night kit,” btw.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The FDNY folks firehoses (monitors?) were charged up with hydrant water, but from what I surmised, the initial wave of personnel who went into the basement had managed to quell things using hand operated extinguishers. I suspect that they probably squirted a bit of water around down there anyway in the name of conquering any “hot spots,” or areas which might reignite.

BTW, I question “monitors” above as that’s what you’d call a fire suppression hose and nozzle on a boat. If any of “youse guys” are on the job, let me know what you call a fire hose in the comments. The comedic potential of the preceding sentence is acknowledged, but keep it clean – this is a family blog.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was all terribly exciting. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The crisis was averted, and Sunnyside got back to the holiday season. Jimmy Van Bramer lit a Christmas tree at the church, kids sang holiday ditties, and eventually Santa showed up despite being around 25 minutes late. It seems that Santa got stuck in highway traffic, which amplifies the message on a bit of common knowledge held by all New Yorkers.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, beats the Van Wyck. Not even Santa.


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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 12, 2016 at 11:00 am

possible reinforcements

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Block by block in LIC, from grave to rail.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In a post last week – I mentioned that shortly after visiting the Kosciuszko Bridge construction site, the burning thermonuclear eye of God itself had managed to burn off the atmospheric gray miasma which had occluded it. As I moved inexorably northwards back to Astoria, via First Calvary Cemetery, the sky – and light – seemed to get better and better.

Pictured above is the skyline of the Modern Corridor of LIC, rising beyond the tombstones set into what those who lived during the colonial era would have called Laurel Hill. Note the change in elevation. The flood plain of the East River and the Newtown Creek is what they’re built on. Back here in Blissville, the ground begins to rise as you head eastwards towards the start of the terminal moraine of Long Island in Maspeth, and the bluff which gives Ridgewood its name.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the main gate of Calvary Cemetery above, stout ironwork which is decorated with the fasces of the Romans. Obviously, leaving Calvary is a privilege, as most who enter it stay there forever. In the distance, beyond the Queens Midtown Expressway section of the world’s longest parking lot – called the Long Island Expressway (in hushed whispers) – is the Degnon Terminal. The former industrial park adjoins LIC’s tributary of Newtown Creek, called Dutch Kills.

The street closest to the gates is Greenpoint Avenue. To the left, or south – is the infinity of Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The LIE arrived in Long Island City as the same time as the Midtown Tunnel, and a year after the Kosciuszko Bridge opened. It cut LIC in half, but when you’re in the “House of Moses,” that’s a typical and oft repeated story. An argument I often end up in is with those who have grown up in Western Queens who tell me that they don’t live in LIC. They’ll claim Sunnyside or Astoria are distinct, separate, and that LIC is “over there.”

If you live in a zip code that starts with “111” you live in Long Island City. That’s the code associated with the municipality’s former holding by the United States Post Office. Using the example of the “Miracle on 34th street” movie, if th USPS says it – it’s true. I win.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This used to be Hoffman Avenue, in a time during which virtually no one currently alive would remember. It’s in Sunnyside, which is the name assigned to the neighborhood surrounding Queens Blvd. shortly after the IRT Flushing Line was built and opened. The so called “Philadelphia plan” rechristened the north/south “named” streets of “Long Island City” heights, later Sunnyside, with numbers instead of names like “Bliss” or “Lowery” or “Laurel Hill Blvd.”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An east/west avenue, Skillman is named for an old farming family and provides the century old southern border for the Sunnyside Yards. There used to be a “Pest House” nearby, during colonial and early 19th century times, where sick and dying residents would be quarantined away from the rest of the population to avoid the spread of epidemics. Skillman Avenue is built on a bluff, or ridge, that used to look down on the pestilential swamps that sat between it and through which Jackson (modern day Northern Blvd.) Avenue was built.

All of that changed with City consolidation in 1898, and the later construction of the gargantuan Sunnyside Yards by the Pennsylvania Railroad company at the start of the 20th century. Robert Moses renamed the stretch of Jackson Avenue that goes from 31st street to Flushing as Northern Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, I can describe where you’ll find every single hole in the fencing surrounding the 180 plus acre Sunnyside Yards complex is located, and the one which provided vantage in the shot above is one of my favorites. It overlooks the Long Island Railroad Main Line, which has been carrying commuters from east to west, and back again, since 1870.


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blasphemous disturbance

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Evil lurks, in darkness.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One has long decried the presence of a horde of vampires in Queens Plaza, where they spend their days hiding in the steel of the elevated subways. The presence of the Baltic Strigoi and the Cretan Kalikantzaros in Astoria, the Liches and the syncretic wizardry of South America observed at St. Michael’s Cemetery, the Egyptian Djinn of Steinway Street, those curious Celtic creatures lurking in the post industrial subterrene voids of Blissville, and the unmentionable Dibbuks of the Chabad in Williamsburg have all been discussed in the past. These are all immigrant imps, however, carried to Brooklyn and Queens by the European masses. Supernatural immigrants from old world to new.

Occluded, however, are the belief systems of the original inhabitants of western Long Island.

from wikipedia

Kishelemukong is the creator god, not involved in the daily affairs of the Lenape. Instead, he directed the manitowak, the life-spirits of all living things, which were created by Kishelemukong. The manitowak were venerated in ceremonies, rituals, dreams, visions, games and ohtas (see below), as well as through the interventions of the Metinuwak, who were healers, spiritual and emotional guides, and religious leaders; they could communicate with the manitowak.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Living, as we do, in a time when the 19th and 20th cultures of Brooklyn and Queens are being dismantled and burned away in the crucible of “development,” one has been ruminating of late about the aboriginal cultures which were similarly dismantled by the Manhattan people during earlier eras. The “Lenapehoking” pre conquest era has captured my interest, but I’m dismayed at the primary source materials which I’ve been able to lay my hands on. Unfountuntely, much of the early source material on the subject I’ve scanned propagates the mythology of the “Noble Savage” and what Kipling called “The White Man’s Burden.”

Problem is that almost everything I’ve been able to find on the Lenape – and their various cultural splinters around New York Harbor – was written by the very same people who decimated and conquered them. It’s a bit like reading a Nazi history of the Second World War, or a British history of their empire in the Raj. I’m looking for some guidance on the subject, books to read, scholars to query. I’ve already reached out through my social network to modern day members of the surviving Lenape nation, but that’s a set of relationships I’m just beginning to develop. Any suggestions on “what to read” would be greatly appreciated, if you happen to be clever about the subject, and I’d ask you to share links and suggestions “with the group” by dropping links into the comments link below.

from wikipedia

A noble savage is a literary stock character who embodies the concept of an idealized indigene, outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolizes humanity’s innate goodness. In English, the phrase first appeared in the 17th century in John Dryden’s heroic play The Conquest of Granada (1672), wherein it was used in reference to newly created man. “Savage” at that time could mean “wild beast” as well as “wild man”. The phrase later became identified with the idealized picture of “nature’s gentleman”, which was an aspect of 18th-century sentimentalism.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This line of inquiry was initiated for me by an argument I found myself in with an academic ignoramus who decided to describe the Lenape to an audience of students not too long ago. Her version of the Native Americans of New York Harbor was a composite of Hollywood representations of the Cree and Lakota cultures, which included teepees and solar worship.

I am quite familiar with the Native cultures of northern and central Mexico, as a note. The Mexica – or Aztec – imperial culture of Lake Texcoco is something which I’ve studied in great depth for instance. I can actually offer quotations of Aztec poetry, speak intelligently about their economy and agricultural systems, and have a more than passing knowledge of the complexity of their religious traditions. If the Mexica Triple Alliance Empire – Aztec is a Spanish word – had another hundred years to develop, the Europeans would have encountered an analogue of Cesarean Rome when they landed at Vera Cruz, and the story of the North American continent would have turned out VERY different than it did.

Wisdom of crowds time, lords and ladies – what and who should I be reading?

from wikipedia

The Lenape (/ləˈnɑːpɛ/) are a Native American tribe and First Nations band government. They are also called Delaware Indians and their historical territory included present day New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania along the Delaware River watershed, western Long Island, and the Lower Hudson Valley.

Most Lenape were pushed out of their homeland during the 18th century by expanding European colonies, exacerbated by losses from intertribal conflicts. Lenape communities were weakened by newly introduced diseases, mainly smallpox, and violent conflict with Europeans. Iroquois people occasionally fought the Lenape. Surviving Lenape moved west into the upper Ohio River basin. The American Revolutionary War and United States’ independence pushed them farther west. In the 1860s, the United States government sent most Lenape remaining in the eastern United States to the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma and surrounding territory) under the Indian removal policy. In the 21st century, most Lenape now reside in the US state of Oklahoma, with some communities living also in Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada) and in their traditional homelands.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

November 16, 2016 at 2:00 pm

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