The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Triborough Bridge

swam curiously

with 4 comments

From Hells Gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Whilst wiggling about and adjusting the camera settings to capture the image above, a humble narrator was photographed by the occupants of a passing minivan (which slowed down to do so) on Shore Bouelvard alongside Astoria Park last Sunday. The largish iPhone brandished at me skillfully ignored all the folks engaged in romantic congress in the front seats of their cars, or the small army of marijuana enthusiasts who were similarly situated in the parking lane. Clearly, the iPhone person had uncovered some nefarious activity being committed by a strange old man in a filthy black raincoat, and would be reporting so to the proper authorities. I was waiting for the goon squad to arrive and kick in my front door back at HQ later that night.

Mighty Triborough, and the Hell Gate Bridge, in today’s dark light post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is just something about camera equipment that sets off the accent crowd here in Astoria which I’ll never understand. It’s kosher to wave your phone around wherever you go, but if they see a DSLR, it’s regarded with the same sort of caution and concern that you’d expect for brandishing an assault rifle. Given that the times I’m not carrying a camera are so rare that they are statistically irrelevant, it means that I get stared at a lot.

I’d get stared at a lot even if I wasn’t carrying the camera, as a note.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Children gasp or cry, dogs growl, old ladies clutch at their purses… all things that happen when one such as myself scuttles past. Men puff themselves up and assume aggressive posture, police slow down and observe, security cameras pivot on their swivels. The only living creatures which do not react negatively to me are birds, and one can walk through a flock of them pecking away at the ground with nary a ruffled feather.

A few years ago, whilst wandering about, I snapped a quick photo of the facade of a local Greek church – St. Irene’s. A small mob of old Greek ladies suddenly appeared and literally chased me for about 3/4 of a mile.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I favor atmospherics like fog for these kind of shots, normally, but for structures as massive and far reaching as Triborough and Hell Gate – fog and mist get in the way and obscure too much detail. It’s particularly dark on this section of the East River as well, which causes any sort of artificial lighting to flare due to the contrast.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In my never ending quest to break habits, a rare vertical or portrait format shot from the “House of Moses.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I walked into Astoria Park to get this final shot of Hell Gate. I do wish Amtrak would light this bridge up at night.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 23, 2018 at 11:00 am

risible talisman

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It’s National Blueberry Muffin Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

July 11th, 1936. That’s the day that the Triborough Bridge was dedicated and opened for business. The favorite child of Robert Moses, this was the epicenter of the master builder’s early empire of highways, bridges, and parks. It’s the main room in the “House of Moses,” and the center of a web of concrete and steel that extends for hundreds of miles in all directions. All of Moses’ many roads ultimately lead to the toll booths at Triborough.

The bridge serves as a backdrop in tens of thousands of family photos found in the Astoria section of Queens, but there’s only a handful of living Astorians still left above the ground who can recall a time before there was a Triborough Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Caro, who wrote the definitive biography of Robert Moses, described the bridge as a “traffic machine.” Caro was being critical (as in the bridge generates and amplifies traffic congestion rather than solving it), of course, but I think Moses (who often opined that without high speed roads, the traffic would still be there but moving along local streets instead) would have had an affinity for the term.

There’s an exceptionally brief and easily digestible history of the Triborough Bridge (more accurately the Triborough Bridges and Highways complex) in this 2006 NY Times piece, for the curious.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Robert Moses is famously and rightly associated with the Triborough, but it was Mayor Jimmy Walker who turned the first ceremonial shovel of dirt in Astoria Park on October 25 in 1929.

The bridge was conceived of, designed by, and it’s construction overseen (during most of construction) by the Chief Engineer of the NYC Department of Plant and Structures, Edward A. Byrne (who is coincidentally the fellow who did the Hunters Point Avenue and Borden Avenue Bridges over the Dutch Kill tributary of, and the vanished Vernon Avenue bridge at, Newtown Creek). Byrne became the first Chief Engineer of Moses’ Triborough Bridge Authority in 1933, but a silly political conflict forced him to resign and retire in 1934.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Reliable government source numbers I’ve reviewed, referring back to calendar 2015, inform that the Triborough Bridge hosts about 92,000 vehicle trips a day. That would shake out to something close to 33.6 million vehicle trips per annum.

Maybe “traffic machine” is the right description? 

At any rate, Happy Birthday to Mighty Triborough, from here in Astoria, Queens.

Upcoming Tours and events

13 Steps Around Dutch Kills Walking Tour, with Newtown Creek Alliance – July 15th, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m..

The “then and now” of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary in LIC, once known as the “workshop of the United States.” with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

The Poison Cauldron of the Newtown Creek Walking Tour, with Atlas Obscura – July 22nd, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m..

Explore the hellish waste transfer and petroleum districts of North Brooklyn on this daring walk towards the doomed Kosciuszko Bridge, with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 11, 2017 at 11:00 am

proferred food

with 2 comments

Boredom, self hatred, and megalomaniacal fantasy – in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Possessed of a somewhat solitary and depressive personality type, a humble narrator is often forced to lurch forth onto the streets in search of diversion. These excursions are necessary, lest a psychological tumult be allowed to form behind the eyes and between the ears. Proprioception for one such as myself views the world thusly, with everything below the vault of the skull considered as somehow external – arms, legs, gut, and all the rest are merely there. “I” am found a few inches back from and equidistant to the ocular, nasal, mandibular, and auditory apparatus.

I’m all ‘effed up. 

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of my regular walks involves heading over to the Hells Gate section of the East River in Astoria from Newtown Pentacle HQ, which is found on the south eastern side of the neighborhood nearby its borders with LIC, Sunnyside, and Woodside. It’s a short walk, by my standards, which – there and back again – usually consumes about two hours of my time and provides some much needed physical exercise.

Saying that, I don’t always process this particular perambulatory route as being a particularly productive one from a photographic point of view.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My colleague Kevin Walsh from Forgotten-NY often wanders through residential neighborhoods and has a fine time of it, but one such as myself shuns populated places. A humble narrator enjoys the howling winds and concrete devastations, and is drawn to lonely, damned, or deserted places. Give me the abandoned, the derelict, the despoiled, the barren, the broken, the horrible. Oh to dance merrily along the poison shoreline and shattered bulkheads of some flowing gelatinous horror, with the night gaunts…

Of course, one cannot spend all of his time at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Truth be told, one of the things that draws me time and again to Hells Gate is that it’s the antechamber of the “House of Moses,” where mighty Triborough reigns. One of the true signs of a growing madness is working on a “theory of everything,” and I’m afraid to report that one is indeed going down that road. White laboratory coats, long black vinyl gloves, and a series of goggles are on order at a certain Internet retailer named for a South American river system, and genetic samples of the long deceased Mr. Moses are in the freezer.

My plan is to clone the master builder, and release an army of “Mosei” upon the world. They shall pave over everything and create a thousand lane highway circling the globe.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My Moses army will pay no mind to complaints from the citizenry, instead they will crush all opposition. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs” will be their mantra as they pour concrete for a highway whose path goes right through St. Peter’s in Rome on its way to and through Mecca on its way towards China. The Great Wall? Highway arches will be carved through it, but they will fall short of allowing buses to pass beneath them.

Part the Red Sea? The Mosei will turn the Red Sea into a parking lot dwarfing those of Riis Park or Jones Beach.. Enough of this hippie dippie environmentalist fad, let the automobile reign! The Mosei won’t lead a chosen people, instead they’ll choose which people to lead and where they’ll be led to.

Saying that, Amazon claims they’re out of stock on the mad scientist goggles, so my evil plans will just have to sit on the back burner. Someday, I tell you, someday… a real rain will come…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Megalomaniacal fantasy notwithstanding, one still had a rather formidable workload waiting for him back at HQ, so my sojourn to the forbidden northern coast of Queens was abbreviated and my scuttle turned back towards overly familiar vicinities. For some reason, every time I cross 31st street on my way home from Hells Gate, it feels like I’m passing through the gates of Mordor.

It’s probably the perennial shadows, or the smell of sulfur.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On Astoria Blvd., just before Steinway Street, this amusing signage was encountered on the door of a laundromat. One of the fun parts of living in a neighborhood renowned for its enormous immigrant population and legendary “diversity” is signage written by people who have less than a passing familiarity with English language grammar. Most of the neighbors just spell things the way that they sound to them, as is evinced above.

I like to believe that only “cos players” can piss therein.

Upcoming Events and Tours

Sunday, August 14th, 11:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. –
Calvary Cemetery Walking Tour,
with Atlas Obscura. Click here for more details.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. –
Port Newark Boat Tour,
with Working Harbor Committee. Click here for more details.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

half smile

with 3 comments

Happy Birthday, Triborough Bridge, you’re now an Octogenarian.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Triborough Bridge, aka Robert F Kennedy Bridge, in Astoria, Queens opened on this day in 1936. It was 80 years ago today that Bob Moses taught the band to play, as it were. The bridge complex (there’s actually three spans that compose Triborough, pictured in today’s post is the suspension bridge section which connects to Astoria) was designed by the team of Othmar Amman and Aymar Embury ll. Construction on the thing began on the so called “Black Friday” of 1929 which signaled the beginning of the Great Depression.

from wikipedia

Construction began on Black Friday in 1929, but soon the Triborough project’s outlook began to look bleak. Othmar Ammann, who had collapsed the original design’s two-deck roadway into one, requiring lighter towers, and thus, lighter piers, saving $10 million on the towers alone, was enlisted again to help guide the project. Using New Deal money, it was resurrected in the early 1930s by Robert Moses, who created the Triborough Bridge Authority to fund, build and operate it. The completed structure was opened to traffic on July 11, 1936.

The total cost of the bridge was more than $60 million, one of the largest public works projects of the Great Depression, more expensive even than the Hoover Dam. The structure used concrete from factories from Maine to Mississippi. To make the formwork for pouring the concrete, a whole forest on the Pacific Coast was cut down.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The national economic downturn caused progress on the project to grind to a halt, until Robert Moses took interest in the project and inserted himself. For the vast majority of living New Yorkers, all that we’ve ever known of this City is what Moses made of it. He gave our grandparents, parks, highways, and bridges – for awhile in the mid 20th century he was the de facto spokesman for “progress.” He destroyed entire neighborhoods and ruled his empire like a tyrant, as well. We all live in the “House of Moses.” 

Moses wanted to build parkways and expressways, ultimately, and proposed to NY State that his high speed roads could serve as the approaches for the Triborough. His “Grand Central Parkway,” “Astoria Blvd.,” “East River Drive (now called FDR drive),” “Whitlock Avenue,” and “Eastern Blvd.” projects were all built simply to serve the needs of the automobile and feed traffic to Triboroughs Toll Booths. Due to the roads in Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx, Triborough soon became the greatest machine for magnifying traffic that NYC that the world had ever seen. Traffic magnified year after year, and every single one of those vehicles had to pay tolls.

Moses, who helped author the modern constitution of NY State when he worked for Governor Al Smith, conducted business in the shadowy world of an “authority,” or public benefit corporation, which he had christened as the “Triborough Bridge Authority.” Moses literally wrote the laws governing such “authorities” and was able to game the system at every step. Today his authority is called the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which was incorporated into the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1968.  

Today, Triborough is officially part of the MTA Bridges and Tunnels unit, but it still carries an obscene number of vehicles and collects shed loads of cash at those toll booths. 

from wikipedia

Robert Moses (December 18, 1888 – July 29, 1981) was the “master builder” of mid-20th century New York City, Long Island, Rockland County, and Westchester County, New York. As the shaper of a modern city, he is sometimes compared to Baron Haussmann of Second Empire Paris, and is one of the most polarizing figures in the history of urban planning in the United States. He changed shorelines, built bridges, tunnels and roadways, and transformed neighborhoods forever. His decisions favoring highways over public transit helped create the modern suburbs of Long Island and influenced a generation of engineers, architects, and urban planners who spread his philosophies across the nation.

Never elected to public office, Moses was responsible for the creation and leadership of numerous public authorities which he could control without having to answer to the general public or to elected officials. It is due to Moses that there are a disproportionate number of public benefit corporations in New York state, which are the prime mode of infrastructure building and maintenance in New York, and are currently responsible for 90% of the state’s debt. As head of various authorities, he controlled millions in income from his projects’ revenue generation, such as tolls, and he had the power to issue bonds to borrow vast sums, allowing him to initiate new ventures with little or no approval from legislative bodies, bypassing the usual power of the purse as it normally functioned in the United States, and the cumbersome process of citizen comment on major public works.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The jewel in Robert Moses’s crown was always mighty Triborough, and it was the center of his construction empire. Using the proceeds from the tolls on the bridge, and the unique freedom from the election cycle which Mayors and Governors were and are beholden to, the “authority” became a shadow government. Moses was able to wield incredible amounts of credit through the issuance of attractively priced municipal bonds guaranteed by Triborough’s millions in toll proceeds. This made him very popular with banking interests, and the huge amounts of cash and credit he had allowed Moses to build anything he wanted. Wherever he wanted.  

Moses’s offices were on Randall’s Island, adjoining the counting rooms for the bridges tolls.

from wikipedia

Originally named the Triborough Bridge Authority, the authority was created in 1933 as a public-benefit corporation by the New York State Legislature. It was tasked with completing construction of the Robert F. Kennedy (Triborough) Bridge, which had been started by New York City in 1929 but had stalled due to the Great Depression.

Under the chairmanship of Robert Moses, the agency grew in a series of mergers with four other agencies:

  • Henry Hudson Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • Marine Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • New York City Parkway Authority, in 1940
  • New York City City Tunnel Authority, in 1946

With the last merger in 1946, the authority was renamed the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

Generating millions of dollars in toll revenue annually, the TBTA easily became a powerful city agency as it was capable of funding large capital projects. From the 1940s-60s, the TBTA built the Battery Parking Garage, Jacob Riis Beach Parking Field, Coliseum Office Building and Exposition Center and East Side Airlines Terminal, as well as many parks in the city.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There are few structures in NYC which are as staggering in scale as Triborough. According to Moses biographer Robert Caro’s definitive book “the Powerbroker” – “more than five thousand men would be working at the site, and these men would only be putting into place the materials furnished by the labor of many times five thousand men; before the Triborough Bridge was completed, its construction would have generated more than 31,000,000-man hours of work in 134 cities in twenty states.”


The bridge’s 3.5 miles of roadway include a suspension span to Queens, a vertical lift bridge to Harlem in Manhattan and a fixed truss bridge to the Bronx-all converging at a huge traffic junction on Randall’s Island. The Queens span is 1,380–feet long and has four lanes in either direction. It has a clearance of 135 feet above the river, high enough for ships to pass under. The Harlem River lift span (as it is commonly called) in Manhattan has three lanes in either direction and moves its center section up and down like an elevator to allow tall marine traffic to pass. The Bronx crossing has three lanes in either direction over its framework of steel beams that form interconnected triangles, making the structure light and strong.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There is a school of thought out there which suggests that the heroic performance of American industry during the Second World War was due to the industrial orders which Moses placed during the 1930’s for materials needed to construct the bridge and its approaches. The steel factories of Pittsburgh, concrete factories up and down the East Coast of the United States, the railroads and cargo ships which carried the material into NYC – all served to put American industry back to work. Think about the corollary supply lines for everything that was needed to make it – coal, iron, coke etc. If Pearl Harbor would have occurred in a world in which there had been no Triborough project, it would have taken as long as two years to stoke the furnaces and rehire a work force to build the weapons of WW2.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Triborough, as the name implies, touches down in three of the boroughs of NYC. It connects Manhattan, Bronx, and Queens. The East River suspension bridge spans a part of the river called Hells Gate. It also sits on one of the lesser islands of the archipelago of New York Harbor, Wards Island. Wards has been connected to its neighbor, Randall’s Island during the 20th century by landfill, but they used to be distinct land masses separated by a tidal strait.

Wards Island is kind of a weird place. 

from wikipedia

After the war ended, Jaspar Ward and Bartholomew Ward took ownership of the island that later carried their surname. Although a small population had lived on the island since as early as the 17th century, the Ward brothers developed the island more heavily by building a cotton mill and building the first bridge to cross the East River in 1807, connecting the island with Manhattan at 114th Street.

The bridge, paid for by Bartholomew Ward and Philip Milledolar, was a wooden drawbridge. The bridge lasted until 1821, when it was destroyed in a storm.After the bridge was destroyed, the island was largely abandoned until 1840, when the island was transformed into a dumping ground for everything unwanted in New York City. Between 1840 and 1930 the island was used for:

  • Burial of hundreds of thousands of bodies relocated from the Madison Square and Bryant Park graveyards.
  • The State Emigrant Refuge, a hospital for sick and destitute immigrants, opened in 1847, the biggest hospital complex in the world during the 1850s.
  • The New York City Asylum for the Insane, opened around 1863.
  • An immigration station from 1860 until the 1892 opening of Ellis Island.
  • Manhattan State Hospital, operated by the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene when it took over the immigration and asylum buildings in 1899. With 4,400 patients, it was the largest psychiatric institution in the world. The 1920 census notes that the hospital had a total of 6045 patients. It later became the Manhattan Psychiatric Center.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Shades of “Arkham Asylum” on Wards Island (from the Batman mythology) notwithstanding, Triborough – along with the Hell Gate Bridge – is the backdrop to life here in Astoria. Due to the rapacious real estate development currently underway in western Queens, this won’t last for long as residential towers continue to rise all along the waterfront. The view above is from the Queensboro Bridge, incidentally, looking north.


Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center, a maximum security hospital of the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH), opened in 1985 and provides secure treatment and evaluation for the forensic patients and courts of New York City and Long Island. Most patients are received through the courts under Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) or through the OMH Commissioner’s office via the New York State Code of Rules and Regulations (NYSCRR) regarding hospitalization of the mentally ill.

Treatment is provided in accordance with the current standards of professional care outlined by the Joint Commission of Accreditation of Health Organizations (JCAHO) and is carried out with respect for each patient’s privacy and rights, in agreement with his/her level of functioning and need for security. KFPC has an active staff education program as well as academic affiliations with several metropolitan area colleges and universities, to help assure quality treatment and state of the art care.

and from wikipedia

The Manhattan Psychiatric Center is a New York-state run psychiatric hospital on 125th Street on Ward’s Island in New York City. As of 2009 it had 509 beds. The current building is 14-stories tall.

The hospital’s roots date to 1848 when Ward’s Island was designated the reception area for immigrants. Some additional structures were originally part of Blackwell’s Island Lunatic Asylum, which opened around 1863.

The building was significantly enlarged in 1871, and a Kirkbride Plan style building was built. After the immigration entry shifted to Ellis Island in 1892 the state took it over from Manhattan in 1899 and expanded it even further. At the time, it had 4,400 beds and was the largest psychiatric hospital in the world.

At the time it was one of two psychiatric hospitals for residents of Manhattan that had been take over by the state. The other psychiatric hospital would become the Central Islip Psychiatric Center in Central Islip, New York. Both hospitals were referred to as Manhattan State Hospital.

It later became the Manhattan Psychiatric Center. The facility is currently run by the New York State Office of Mental Health.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As a rule, I don’t use the modern appellations for Queensboro (Ed Koch) and Triborough (Robert F. Kennedy). I will, once the Brooklyn Bridge is renamed for Michael Bloomberg or Chuck Schumer.

Happy 80th, mighty Triborough.

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 11, 2016 at 11:00 am

resting and brooding

with 5 comments

Contemplative perambulations, in today’s post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mighty Triborough, as observed from the elevated Subway station on 31st street here in Astoria. One will admit that the depression era aesthethics of Robert Moses’s empire building span over the East River has always appealed to me. Currently, anything that causes me to forget about the various pedantic existential issues regularly offered up by the human infestation – which plague my days – is nepenthe, and a welcome relief from the coarse bleating of the swine.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Regular readers of this, your Newtown Pentacle, would be stunned to hear the things a humble narrator has been accused of. I’m “some sort of shill for the real estate industrial complex,” laying the ground for them to develop condos along Newtown Creek – that’s my favorite. Recently, someone accused me of distorting facts and propagating a right wing agenda, and compared me to Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Others have asked if I’m seeking some sort of political appointment or secretly working for some candidate for elective office. A representative of City Planning once uttered “Who do you think you are?.” Funnily enough, most of my accusers are in fact politcal operators and members of the “establishment.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I can tell you is this – I’m some shmuck with a camera who wanders around and researches the history of Western Queens and North Brooklyn obsessively. Certain issues or topics force me to “get involved” such as Newtown Creek, or the disastrous plans which the Big Little Mayor have announced for the Sunnyside Yards. Unlike most of my critics, I actually live here. To them, I say go back to your apartments in Manhattan or move here and get some actual skin in the game.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Tours –

May 3, 2015 –
DUBPO, Down Under the Pulaski Bridge Onramp
with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, a free tour offered as part of Janeswalk 2015, click here for tickets.

May 16, 2015 –
13 Steps Around Dutch Kills with Atlas Obscura

with Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for details and tickets.

May 31, 2015 –
Newtown Creek Boat Tour
with Working Harbor Committee and Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman, click here for tickets.

Written by Mitch Waxman

April 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

vast enclosure

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When you cut things down to the bone, and ask yourself the question “Who was the New Yorker that most profoundly changed the City?” it always comes back to one fellow. Ray Kelly or Mike Bloomberg would vie for the crown in modernity, in the long view of history Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton, Boss Tweed, or the Roebling clan have major claims on the title. Robert Moses would tell you that it was himself, and arguably, so would Osama Bin Laden.

In the opinion of a humble narrator, the crown belongs to one man- a Swedish immigrant named Othmar Ammann, and today is his birthday.

from wikipedia

Othmar Hermann Ammann (March 26, 1879 – September 22, 1965) was a American structural engineer whose designs include the George Washington Bridge, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and Bayonne Bridge.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Brooklyn Bridge has the fame, Williamsburg Bridge the infamy, Manhattan Bridge is overlooked. The bridges of Othmar Ammann, however, are the ones which shaped the modern megalopolis and allowed the expansion and diaspora of New York’s laborers from the tenement neighborhoods of the five boroughs to the suburban satellites of modernity. The vast populations of Long Island and New Jersey and Westchester who commute into the city on a daily basis would have never achieved their current size, were Ammann removed from the story.

As a side note, and just to toot my own horn for a moment, the shot above was published last year in the New York Times- check it out here

Also from wikipedia

Othmar Ammann designed more than half of the eleven bridges that connect New York City to the rest of the United States. His talent and ingenuity helped him create the two longest suspension bridges of his time. Ammann was known for being able to create bridges that were light and inexpensive, yet they were still simple and beautiful. He was able to do this by using the deflection theory. He believed that the weight per foot of the span and the cables would provide enough stiffness so that the bridge would not need any stiffening trusses. This made him popular during the depression era when being able to reduce the cost was crucial. Famous bridges by Ammann include:

  • George Washington Bridge (opened October 24, 1931)
  • Bayonne Bridge (opened November 15, 1931)
  • Triborough Bridge (opened July 11, 1936)
  • Bronx-Whitestone Bridge (opened April 29, 1939)
  • Walt Whitman Bridge (opened May 16, 1957)
  • Throgs Neck Bridge (opened January 11, 1961)
  • Verrazano Narrows Bridge (opened November 21, 1964)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Othmar Ammann was a bit of an artist, his bridges achieving a rare thing for engineering projects, which is the elevation of a functional structure to the sublime. A prevailing theory in fine art and graphic design which emerged in the 20th century is “less is more”, and Ammann’s spans are manifestations of this concept in steel and cement.


By the early 1960s, when the George Washington’s lower deck was added (as specified in the original plans), Ammann had all but eclipsed his mentor. Ammann’s other 1931 creation, the Bayonne Bridge connecting Staten Island and New Jersey, was until 1977 the world’s largest steel arch bridge — more than 600 feet longer than the previous record holder, Lindenthal’s Hell Gate Bridge.

Months before his death in 1965, Ammann gazed through a telescope from his 32nd-floor Manhattan apartment. In his viewfinder was a brand-new sight some 12 miles away: his Verrazano-Narrows suspension bridge. As if in tribute to the engineering prowess that made Ammann’s George Washington Bridge great, this equally slender, graceful span would not be surpassed in length for another 17 years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Eclipsed by the vain and power seeking during his sunset years, Ammann is one of the forgotten few who crafted the connections between the individual components of the archipelago islands of New York Harbor. Mighty Triborough or the graceful arch of the Bayonne Bridge speak to his sense of esthetic, and indicate that he was in touch with some higher imperative than merely moving automobiles from one place to another.


His works soar above the water, spanning the city’s rivers and connecting New York to the rest of the country. But who has heard of Othmar H. Ammann?

Donald Trump hadn’t, at least not back in 1964 when he was a high school student and his father took him to the dedication ceremony for the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. ”It was a sad experience,” Mr. Trump recalled. ”For years, various politicians had fought the bridge. Now that it was built, I watched as these same people all got up and took credit for it, congratulating themselves and introducing one another. The only one not introduced was the man who made the bridge, Othmar Ammann.

feeble horns

with 3 comments

Hell Gate and Triborough bridges from Old Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Loathsome memories of recent setbacks- and also of certain rebuffs- plague your humble narrator during these gloomy and sunless days, and always only solace can offer nepenthe. Thus, during a recent stroll by the pacific maelstrom of Hell Gate, nestled between two steel structures whose unearthly vibrations and omnipresent vocalizations form the aural environment- this series of shots were captured.

curiously scattered bones on sidewalk in Astoria – photo by Mitch Waxman

Vengeance and malice, indeed all of the seven deadly transgressions, populate the infernal dream world which has plagued me since childhood. Of late, a vivid character has typified these somnambulist hallucinations, and at least once during the night I’ll awaken in cold sweat grasping at the void of a curtain draped chamber. Surely, these negative humors are manifestations of another failing displayed by your humble narrator and least of all men, the inability to not bear grudges well beyond all sensible intervals.

sinister seeming bird at Hells Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

Having grown up in a lonely and isolated existence, in dusty rooms of sculptured green carpeting and vinyl covered couches with odd knick knacks that betrayed basic tenets of adherence to the Hebrew faith, family members carried a charge of eastern European distrust for outsiders. Don’t trust anyone, my mother used to tell me while still in the cradle. As such, your humble narrator has grown into a hostile and suspicious man, contemptuous of authority even when such authority is necessary to govern over and control chaos and anarchy.

Amtrak at Hellegat Hell Gate Bridge – photo by Mitch Waxman

Often I stand on a point of principle, in a combative and tenacious- and vastly unpopular-  stand over small matters such as allowing a police officer the right to inspect my belongings on demand. Of course I realize the age we are living in is fraught with the consequences of living in a global military empire the likes of which even the Romans or Turks would gasp and genuflect at, and that to most “standard of living” trumps “individual rights” but the constables have to follow the rules too. That’s what our modern Metropolis operates on, and as the saying in Brooklyn used to go “if I gots to stands in lines, youse gotta stands in da line”.

Psychiatric Hospitals at Hell Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

Often, I fear that someday my darker impulses will take control of me, and I’ll spin off and become some comic book villain like parody of myself, the defeated antihero of a cosmic parable. Perhaps I will be remembered as a cautionary tale, your humble narrative of the man who looked under too many rocks. The Rumpelstiltskin of Newtown Creek, or perhaps just some old man in a shack who talks only to a collection of bottles?

Wards Island from Hell Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

Preoccupations with such bizarre concerns has led me to believe in and visualize conspiracy lurking behind every corner. The attentions of certain malign elements, teenage adherents to some form of the Hip Hop cult, have been noted milling about around headquarters of late. Additionally, strange vehicles not usually parked in the neighborhood have been observed, adorned with mysterious antennae and blacked out windows- even on the windshield, which is unusual in itself due to municipal regulation.

Such bizarre notions, undoubtedly the product of lonely studies and a massive workload, were what led me to seek the solace of Astoria Park. I had hoped (futilely as turns out) to photograph passing Tugboats, but instead grew focused on certain uluations which seemed to be emerging from the impossibly distant Psychiatric hospitals at Wards Island

The President of the United States on Marine 1 over Hell Gate – photo by Mitch Waxman

And that’s when the President of the United States flew by in Marine One on his way to the World Trade Center site to commemorate the death of his arch enemy.

In short, I’m all ‘effed up, and this post hits six points out of seven of the ICD-10 for paranoid personality type.

And the Newtown Pentacle is back in session.

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