The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Verrazano Narrows Bridge

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Happy Birthday Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One will not assert that the Verrazzano is in fact a giant cage designed to contain a Lenape earth monster submerged in NY Harbor. Instead, the focus is on the engineering achievements of Othmar Amman and the organizational prowess of Robert Moses – the two fellas who are primarily responsible for the Verrazzano opening on November 21, 1964.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A humble narrator will avoid rattling on about how in just five years Moses’ crews of more than 12,000 laborers constructed the thing, nor about its various statistics and cyclopean size. One will mention that the 228 feet of clearance over high water offered by the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge is the governing height used by maritime engineers for how high to build all sorts of shipping. Sooner or later, every ship on the planet will theoretically enter NY Harbor, and the Verrazzano is the gatekeeper.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The only mistake in this fairly sublime structure’s design was the omission of a mass transit trackway between Brooklyn and Staten Island, in my opinion. The upper deck opened on this day in 1964, but the lower roadway was still under construction and wouldn’t be available for use until June 28 of 1969.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My pal Kevin Walsh of Forgotten-NY, whose childhood in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge section was framed by construction of the Verrazzano, gave a talk last night at the Bay Ridge Historical Society about the span. I wasn’t able to attend, but I’ve also been privileged to receive his remembrances about the thing in person.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It seems that the towers of the Verrazzano are fairly infested with nesting Peregrine Falcons, so it can rightfully be referred to as an aerie. Down below, on the water, it’s a maritime superhighway, as the Ambrose Channel leads commercial shipping into NY Harbor towards Port Elizabeth Newark under the bridge. Suffice to say that a significant number of sensors and scanners are secreted and secured to the span, searching for various security threats which might be carried in to the inner harbor on these ships.

Friends in the maritime industrial world have opined, regarding these devices and technologies which they can’t talk about, that “it’s like Star Trek.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Today marks 55 years for the Verrazzano. As far as the “mythological” senses shattering behemoth that the Lenape whispered of as being “the grandfather of turtles,” which the Verrazzano’s great weight keeps locked in a primeval prison, the less said the better.

There are also things dwelling in the waters on the… Staten Island… side of the narrows which we must not ever talk about, lest they arise.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

November 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

no business

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It’s National Pasta Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Before I offer a conspiracy theory in today’s post, lets instead start with a bit of NY Harbor trivia – the height of all ships doing business within the Port of New York and New Jersey is governed by the height of the Verrazano Bridge’s span, as relative to the water. All cargo, military, and cruise ships which can be anticipated to someday enter NY harbor are actually designed with the Verrazano’s height in mind.

That means, ultimately, that this last exemplar of the House of Robert Moses erected in 1964, which sets a maximum height limit of exactly 228 feet over the water (at high tide), controls the design of a good chunk of the planet’s shipping fleets (although you’d be scraping the Verrazano’s deck at 228′ so they build them a bit shorter). A somewhat contemporaneous counterpart to the Verrazano is the Puente de las Américas (Bridge of the Americas) over the Panama Canal, which also plays a major role in the design of maritime vessels, setting a height limit of 201 feet over high water for any and all vessels using the crossing. The other approach to the Port of New York and New Jersey is governed by the Goethals Bridge over the Arthur Kill, which offers 135 feet of clearance, just to be entirely anal retentive about things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Verrazano Bridge is startlingly enormous, with a main span over the narrows stretching out for nearly a mile at 4,260 feet. Engineer Othmar Amman always liked to point out that his team had to take the curvature of the Earth itself into account when designing and placing the towers, which are off parallel to each other by 1.625 inches. When you add in the approaches on either side to the bridge, the entire thing is some 13,700 feet in length – roughly 2.6 miles. It’s now the 11th largest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest found on either American continent.

There are 143,000 miles of wire incorporated into its cables, enough to wrap around the earth’ equator 5.74 times or stretch half way to the moon. Its towers are 649.68 feet tall, making them the tallest structures outside of Manhattan in all of New York City. It carries nearly 190,000 vehicle trips a day, 69.35 million annually. The best estimates I’ve been able to find suggest that the combined steel of the bridge weighs some 1,265,000 tons.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Verrazano Bridge, due to its position and height, is affected by weather more heavily than any other span in New York Harbor. The roadway will actually sag down about a dozen feet during the summer months due to heat expansion, and the winds one encounter on the upper roadway preclude any discussion of pedestrian or bicycle paths being established. One can personally report that while driving over the thing during storms, my automobile was being rocked from side to side by heavy gusts of wind. The bridge is owned and operated by the MTA Bridges and Tunnels division, which is what Governor Nelson Rockefeller turned Robert Moses’s old Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority into.

The people at Bridges and Tunnels have a set of rules and customs governing the bridge during harsh weather conditions, which all depend on whether or not the roadways are wet or not, and whether the winds are either sustained or gusting. Speed restrictions begin to apply at 30 mph sustained winds and wet roads, while wet conditions coupled with sustained wind over 40 mph might trigger restrictions on crossings by motorcycles, mini buses, tractor trailers and other types of vehicles.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve noticed, over the years, that all of NYC’s bridges are possessed of a certain and unique to the span harmonic. Partially, it’s how the structure of the bridge interacts environmentally and also because of the sound of the vehicles running over it cause a vibration as their tires spin against the decks. To my hearing, the Verrazano makes a “wmmm-mmm-mhoooooosh-shhh” sound, but that could just be the particular interaction with the roadway of the vehicles which a humble narrator crosses the thing within, which have always been passenger cars. It’s efficacious to close your windows on the bridge no matter what, lest a torrent of air suddenly swirl into the passenger cabin, causing disarray and a tumult. I’ll leave it to musicians to tell you what key the Verazzano Bridge is in.

Like all MTA Bridges and Tunnel crossings, certain types of vehicles are forbidden. These types of vehicles (amongst others) include steam rollers, vehicles loaded with unconfined animals or poultry, wheelbarrows, and velocipedes.

Yes, they specifically mention velocipedes in the rules.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I’ve always thought, with the born and raised in Brooklyn perspective that I am possessed by, that the bridge is actually some sort of giant shackle forcing the former City of Richmond or… Staten Island… not to secede from the City of Greater New York and join up with New Jersey instead. A mass exodus of Brooklynites, including my own parents, occurred during the late 1980’s and 90’s to Staten Island over the thing. Most of them, to quote my Dad, were “sick of this shit, and wanted to get the ‘eff out of here,” referring to the colloquialized “old neighborhood” which was “better back then.” I still don’t believe the old adage about being able to leave your door unlocked at night. Rent was a bit cheaper on Staten Island however, my parents perception of crime was far lower, and the semi suburban lifestyle encountered on Staten Island appealed to them in their retirement and dotage. They were also one step closer to Atlantic City where they liked to go on weekends away.

Staten Island is “car country,” unlike the city center neighborhood of Astoria, Queens where I now live. Mass transit (other than the ferry, I mean) exists but… you kind of need to have a car on Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Now for the conspiracy theory: A humble narrator is an idiot, of course, and has always cherished a personal theory that Robert Moses knew something more about NYC than he was letting on. Famously, before beginning his government career, Moses wandered the countryside on foot. Robert Caro suggests that even at a young age, he was planning highways and parks. Pffft… who does that at an early age? Moses was monster hunting, obviously, and he must have found something terrifying during his wanderings. I mean… c’mon… that’s fairly obvious, right?

Why else would he have built a steel and concrete cage around New York Harbor? Would old Bob Moses really have gone out of his way to destroy the coastal wetlands, swamps, and tidal marshes (which are precisely the sort of places you’d find monsters like “Grendels Mother” lurking) of New York Harbor for no reason other than malice? After conquering the human/fish hybrids at Hells Gate with his mighty Triborough, he set about the process of creating the world’s biggest padlock here in the narrows to close the door on his monstrous gate.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Who can guess, all there is, that might be imprisoned down there beneath the 1,265,000 tons of steel? Is the arterial highway and bridge crossing system of New York City actually some sort of great barrier designed to keep slime dripping colossi in check? Is there some dark secret which will be held forever unknowable and immobile by the Verazzano Bridge?

What hidden and occult knowledge did Robert Moses take to the grave with him?

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mad spaces

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

An upcoming walking tour, the Kill Van Kull walk for the Working Harbor Committee on June 30th, has called for repeated journeys to… Staten Island… to be undertaken by a humble narrator. Operations of the Staten Island Ferry make this possible, of course, and provide ample opportunity for the wandering photographer to gather interesting maritime shots.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Goliath hulks like the fuel tanker in the shot above are commonly seen awaiting favorable tide or berthing around this boundary between Upper and Lower Harbors, but off in the distance is one of the true monsters of the sea.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Dockwise Heavy Lift Ship Swan, which is basically a floating dry dock, and those are tugboats on its deck.

Far Eastern correspondent Armstrong, who has been writing the Working Harbor Committee blog for a while now, offered:

A heavy lift ship is designed to move large loads that can’t be handled by normally equipped ships. They are two types: semi-submerging – able to sink down into the water to lift ships and other heavy cargo onto deck for transport; and vessels that supplement unloading facilities at ports with inadequate equipment.
Swan is a semi-submersible heavy load vessel. The ship is 592 feet long (180.5m) and 105 feet wide (32.3m). The Swan’s massive deck is 416 x 103 feet (126.8m x 31.6m) and can handle a deck load of 56.616-20 tonnes/sq.m which translates to about 25,000 tons of heavy cargo.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Apologies are offered for Image fidelity outside of the normal mean, but this ship was FAR away, and these are actual pixel, 100% pixel size and highly “cropped in” shots which represent less than a 10th of the total image originally captured. It was also kind of misty.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Surprises like the Swan often lurk just off the shore of… Staten Island… The waters surrounding it provide egress to the cargo docks of Port Elizabeth Newark, especially the busy Kill Van Kull.



June 16th, 2012- Newtown Creek Alliance Dutch Kills walk (this Saturday)

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Newtown Creek Alliance has asked that, in my official capacity as group historian, a tour be conducted on the 16th of June- a Saturday. This walk will follow the Dutch Kills tributary, and will include a couple of guest speakers from the Alliance itself, which will provide welcome relief for tour goers from listening to me rattle on about Michael Degnon, Patrick “Battle Ax” Gleason, and a bunch of bridges that no one has ever heard of.

for June 16th tickets, click here for the Newtown Creek Alliance ticketing page

June 23rd, 2012- Atlas Obscura Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Additionally- the “Obscura Day” Thirteen Steps around Dutch Kills tour proved that the efficacy and charms of the Newtown Creek’s least known tributary, with its myriad points of interest, could cause a large group to overlook my various inadequacies and failings. The folks at Atlas Obscura, which is a fantastic website worthy of your attentions (btw), have asked me to repeat the tour on the 23rd of June- also a Saturday.

for June 23rd tickets, click here for the Atlas Obscura ticketing page

June 30th, 2012- Working Harbor Committee Kill Van Kull walk

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My various interests out on the sixth borough, NY Harbor, have brought me into association with the Working Harbor Committee. A member of the group’s Steering Committee- I also serve as the “official” group photographer, am chairman and principal narrator of their annual Newtown Creek Boat Tour, and occasionally speak on the microphone during other tours (mainly the Brooklyn one). This year, the group has branched out into terrestrial explorations to compliment the intense and extant schedule of boat tours, and I’m going to be leading a Kill Van Kull walking tour that should be a lot of fun.

The Kill Van Kull, or tugboat alley as its known to we harbor rats, is a tidal strait that defines the border of Staten Island and New Jersey. A busy and highly industrialized waterfront, Working Harbor’s popular “Hidden Harbor – Newark Bay” boat tours provide water access to the Kill, but what is it like on the landward side?

Starting at the St. George Staten Island Ferry terminal, join WHC Steering Committee member Mitch Waxman for a walk up the Kill Van Kull via Staten Islands Richmond Terrace. You’ll encounter unrivaled views of the maritime traffic on the Kill itself, as well as the hidden past of the maritime communities which line it’s shores. Surprising and historic neighborhoods, an abandoned railway, and tales of prohibition era bootleggers await.

The tour will start at 11, sharp, and you must be on (at least) the 10:30 AM Staten Island Ferry to meet the group at St. George. Again, plan for transportation changes and unexpected weirdness to be revealed to you at

for June 30th tickets, click here for the Working Harbor Committee ticketing page

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 14, 2012 at 12:15 am

glassy flatness

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Odd and solitary even as a child, amongst my few friends in public school was a fellow named Brian. Despite the occasional beatings he would administer to me, which long experience has taught me to expect when interacting with others, he was an amiable kid. Brian was wont to propagate an urban legend which once permeated Brooklyn, a story which goes like this (phonetically spelled, as Brooklyn patois is critical to the telling):

“So, yooz knows about de Verryzanno Bridgde, rights? When deys wuz bilding its, and pourinz de cement- workers who fell intadee cements would just sinks rights down, and dheres nuttin that could get dones to saves ’em, so’s da bahdeez are still in da bridge. My grandfather’s brudda died dat way, my Uncle Mike…”


So, you know about the Verrazano Bridge, right? When they were building it, and pouring the cement- workers who fell into the cement would just sink in, and there was nothing that could be done to save them, so the bodies are still in the Bridge… As far as the Grandfather’s brother, versions of the story told by others involved every possible male acquaintance or familial description possible.


The foundations, which support the 264,000-ton weight of both the towers and the suspended deck, as well as a design live load of 16,000 tons on the deck, were dug 105 feet below the water on the Staten Island side, and 170 feet below the water on the Brooklyn side. Conventional foundation design called for sand islands that kept water, as well as provided working and storage space. However, because the currents were swift and the ground was unstable in the area, sand islands were not constructed. Instead, “cofferdams,” or vertically interlocking steel sheet pilings, were driven below the surface to protect the caissons. Above each 13-foot-high caisson base, muck and sand were dredged out of 66 vertical concrete shafts. When the caissons reached their predetermined depth, the shafts were filled with water, and caisson tops and bottoms were sealed with concrete. The two tower piers, which contain a combined 196,500 cubic yards of concrete, were completed in less than two years at a cost of $16.5 million.

Two anchorages were then constructed at either end of the Narrows. Each anchorage stands 130 feet high, 160 feet wide and 300 feet long. However, because of the differences below ground, the Brooklyn anchorage contains 207,000 cubic yards of concrete, while the Staten Island anchorage contains only 171,000 cubic yards of concrete. On their inshore ends, they support the two decks of bridge approaches. On their outshore ends, they carry four massive, roller-mounted saddles that support, and move with, the four cables as they change length, either because of temperature changes or because of load changes. The hand-polished concrete exteriors have diagonal patterns that continue the path of the suspension cables. Inside the anchorages, forces from the suspension are transferred at two points: the front of the anchorage (where the compacted cables bend around saddles that rest on inclined steel posts), and near the heel of the anchorage (where eyebars transfer force to inclined girders buried within the concrete). The anchorages cost $18 million to construct.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This urban legend- and yes, it is– was once omnipresent in the land of Egg Creams and really good Pizza.

So much so that it actually made it to the movies, as you’ll observe in the clip from “Saturday Night Fever” presented below, courtesy of youtube. For a great first person description of the building of the bridge, and the remembered effects of building the Brooklyn pierage in Bay Ridge- check out the inestimable Forgotten-NY’s “Bridge in the Back Yard” posting from 2003 here.

I can tell you that the old guys in Canarsie and Flatbush who worked on the thing always “beamed” a little bit when driving down the Belt Parkway toward the City and seeing it rear up.

from youtube

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Officially, there were three deaths associated with the building of the Verrazano, and the bodies were all recovered. Brooklyn legends notwithstanding, that is actually an incredible number given the size and scope of the project.

But what else would you expect from the maestro, Othmar Amman, on his final project?

from wikipedia

The bridge is owned by New York City and operated by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, an affiliate agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Interstate 278 passes over the bridge, connecting the Staten Island Expressway with the Gowanus Expressway and the Belt Parkway. The Verrazano, along with the other three major Staten Island bridges, created a new way for commuters and travelers to reach Brooklyn, Long Island, and Manhattan by car from New Jersey.

The bridge was the last great public works project in New York City overseen by Robert Moses, the New York State Parks Commissioner and head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, who had long desired the bridge as a means of completing the expressway system which was itself largely the result of his efforts. The bridge was also the last project designed by Chief Engineer Othmar Ammann, who had also designed most of the other major crossings of New York City, including the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Bronx Whitestone Bridge, the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge, and the Throgs Neck Bridge. The plans to build the bridge caused considerable controversy in the neighborhood of Bay Ridge, because many families had settled in homes in the area where the bridge now stands and were forced to relocate.

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