On Friday, the 11th of July, I found myself at the very edge of Queens in a very special place. At the end of Vernon Boulevard in LIC, where the old Vernon Avenue Bridge and the Newtown Creek Towing Company were found, is a facility which is engaged in the hands-on work of the Superfund process. The Anchor QEA company operates out of here, carrying out the collection of samples and scientific tests which will determine the exact nature of what’s wrong with Newtown Creek. These samples and tests are overseen and directed by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency, and is an effort conducted by the so-called ”Potentially Responsible Parties” (PRPs).
These “Potentially Responsible Parties” have organized themselves together as the Newtown Creek Group, and they invited a small group of community members and representatives to their LIC facility to describe what they actually do at the Vernon street end and discuss the future of Newtown Creek.
As a disclaimer, the shot above was captured back in 2009, and it depicts a Hollywood crew dressing the set for the Angelina Jolie movie “Salt.” The sequence they were filming was located under the Queensboro Bridge, and since I was one of the Parade Marshals for the centennial parade, I made the most out of the unique vantage that a traffic free Queensboro Bridge offered.
Of course, if you live in Western Queens, sights like this are fairly common. People drive wildly around this densely trafficked area, something I’ve always chalked up to drivers being so close to their Manhattan destination.
You see A LOT of accidents around these parts, more often than not it’s just a fender bender, but sometimes… sometimes you see things that just confound…
Nightlight is a co-production offered by the Flux Factory and the LIC Community Garden which is described as “an interactive light-based outdoor installation that investigates public and private land use after dark.”
Jack Eichenbaum grew up in Bayside in the 1950s. He left for academic and vocational reasons in 1963, and when he returned from completing his doctorate in urban geography in 1976, he found a completely different borough. The mostly white, working class neighborhoods of his youth had transformed into multi-ethnic enclaves, creating the world’s most diverse county. Fascinated, he started giving walking tours of his beloved hometown in the 1980s, and in 2010, Eichenbaum was designated the official historian of Queens, as per the borough president’s office. The former city assessor has five upcoming tours, which are famous for the amount of local trivia he shares and the great restaurants he hits afterwards with participants. For more information, please see below.
Willets Point, Sunday, May 25th, 4 pm: East of Citi Field is a sewerless, hardscrabble area of auto junkyards and related businesses that has twice beaten back recent attempts at redevelopment. But since it’s located between the world famous baseball stadium and booming Flushing, public and private interests are again trying to transform Willets Point. Eichenbaum will walk from central Flushing to the area, while discussing political, economic and ecological issues and explaining why “Willets Point” is a misnomer. $20.
The World of the 7 Train, Saturday, May 31st, 10 am: Eichenbaum calls this full-day program his “signature tour,” although it’s actually a series of six walks (Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing) and connecting rides. He focuses on the 7 train’s influence on surrounding neighborhoods. Lunch is in Flushing. Pre-register via firstname.lastname@example.org.
On and Off Jamaica Avenue, Sunday, June 8th, 10 am: After decades of dedication, redesign, and redevelopment, Downtown Jamaica is undergoing a renaissance as the borough’s major transportation center. Eichenbaum promises historic buildings, commercial activity, culture, and a surprise ending. $20.
More Space and New Arrangements in Western Queens, Sunday, August 3rd, 10 am: During the first third of the 20th century, Western Queens nurtured developments where traditional open space/building area relationships were altered to create new urban architecture. Sunnyside Gardens and the Jackson Heights Historic District anchor this tour, which includes Phipps Garden Apartments, various Matthews Flats, the Metropolitan Life houses, and early truck-oriented industrial buildings.
The single-family townhouse located at 21-33 45th Avenue, in Hunters Point, just sold for a noteworthy price: $2,150,000. It first hit the market in August 2013 for $2,100,000. The interior (currently configured as two duplex apartments) really is lovely, with exposed brick, wooden ceiling beams and a fireplace. There is also a landscaped garden. It’s located on a landmarked block lined with similarly charming townhouses.
This comes in as the second highest townhouse sale for the neighborhood. First place goes to 531 51st Avenue, which set the record over the summer after it sold for $3,000,000.
A big part of being involved with the Newtown Creek story is attending an endless series of meetings.
There’s a Newtown Creek Monitoring Committee over in Greenpoint that provides community input and problems to DEP about the sewer plant, the Newtown Creek Alliance which spans and advocates for both sides of the Creek, and a Kosciuszko Bridge Stakeholders Committee as well. There’s a bunch of other groups and organizations, but these are the three which I always pay attention to and publicly identify myself with. The good thing about these meetings is that I get to know what’s happening, and get my camera pointed in the right direction at the right times.
Today’s big news is that a dredging project, which is anticipated to last around six weeks, is beginning on Newtown Creek. I’m afraid that I was unable to locate a live link to the pdf hosted at nyc.gov, but this is the official story as received. Here’s the text of the NYC DEP announcement.
From NYC Department of Environmental Protection:
OFFICE OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS, BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
NEWTOWN CREEK DREDGING UPDATE MARCH, 2014
Beginning the week of March 17, 2014 and continuing for approximately 6 weeks, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be dredging Newtown Creek. The following is a brief overview of the work scheduled and potential community impacts and mitigation measures.
WHY IS THIS WORK NECESSARY? The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is the largest in the City and operates, like most plants, through an activated sludge process. In order for this treatment process to work, waste sludge must be removed every day. Presently, waste sludge is piped to a storage tank near the East River in Greenpoint and then transferred to a sludge vessel (boat) for delivery to Wards Island for further processing. DEP needs to demolish the sludge storage tank to make way for new affordable housing. A new sludge dock has been built at Whale Creek, adjacent to the Newtown Creek plant, and sludge vessels will soon receive waste sludge there instead of the existing East River tank and dock. However, to navigate to the new dock, maintenance dredging must be done along Newtown Creek to remove sediment and debris which accumulates in the waterway.
HOW WILL THE WORK BE PERFORMED? Dredge operations are expected to start in Whale Creek and then move west along Newtown Creek towards the Pulaski Bridge to the mouth of Newtown Creek. Operations will be performed initially in 12-hour shifts, 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. As operations move into Newtown Creek, work will run 24 hours per day in order to minimize impacts to marine traffic. All work will be performed from barges located on the water with all required Coast Guard lighting and signage for safe boating.
COMMUNITY IMPACTS During the dredging operations, hydrogen sulfide gas trapped in the sediment may be released. This gas has a strong odor of rotten eggs. DEP will monitor for odor and take preventive measures to control the releases.
FOR MORE INFORMATION Please contact Shane Ojar, Director of Community Affairs at 718-595-4148 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
This is a shot of dredging equipment at work over on Staten Island’s Kill Van Kull, another industrial waterway found across the harbor, just to give you an idea what to expect. I can tell you that sound and smell are going to be a common complaint over the next six weeks, based on personal experience. The NYC DEP told us that anyone experiencing discomfort due to this necessary activity should report it to 311, so that they can take steps to alleviate the odors.
If you smell something, say something, and call 311.
Word has also reached me that a tree removal process will shortly be starting up in West Maspeth and Blissville, as well as parts of Brooklyn, in anticipation of the forthcoming reconstruction of the Kosciuszko Bridge.
Hunters Point Library — rendered above — isn’t being built anytime soon. And when it’s finally built, it won’t look much like the rendering, either. In response to the library’s delayed construction time, residents started a petition for mobile library services around Hunters Point. Here’s what they have asked for: “In lieu of a brick and mortar library, we request long-term book mobile service until the library is fully constructed, staffed, and operational. Hunters Point has been without taxpayer-subsidized public library service for far too long. While a stop-gap measure, book mobile service will provide the Hunters Point neighborhood with limited access to books, DVDs, and other library materials, as well as the chance to make use of the expertise of librarians and library staff.”
There are already more than 100 signatures in support, and the goal is to reach 200. If you are interested in signing the petition, just go here.
The many-windowed Blanchard Building, its U changed to a V by stonecarvers under orders to make the “U” the Roman “V” to impart majesty and permanency, stands sentinel on Borden Avenue near 21st Street, the old Van Alst Avenue. Its upper floors look out on the noxious and noisome Newtown Creek. It’s one of the brick hulks around town that I ceaselessly admire, whether they are factories or warehouses (as almost all of them once were) or converted into residential apartments. In this part of Hunters Point, that fate is still largely unlikely, as the residential fever that has taken over the west side of the neighborhood near the East River hasn’t reached its business side. The Blanchard looks across the street at a Fresh Direct depot on Borden, one of the handful of main streets allowed to keep its name after many were given numbers in the early 20th century.
In a former life the Blanchard was a factory that made fireproof doors and shutters. Some years after a fire started in the Columbia Paper Bag company engulfed it in flames, Blanchard rebuilt, only to merge with the John Rapp Company, becoming the United States Metal Products Company.
Today the Blanchard hosts many businesses and offices, with a deli on the bottom floor. Its type of brick construction is timeless.
Queens Boulevard is possibly the fastest and furious-est, most pedal-to-the-metal, grade-level road in Queens, other than an expressway. It roars from the tangle of elevated train tracks at the east end of the Queensboro Bridge through Sunnyside, Elmhurst, Rego Park, Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, finally petering to a close as a modest two-lane road at Jamaica Avenue after running ten lanes for much of its route and having acquired the nickname the “Boulevard of Death” for its pedestrian-unfriendliness.
Before the arrival of the Queensboro in 1909, Queens Boulevard was a modest country road known as Thomson Avenue and then Hoffman Boulevard, and before the coming of the white man to Queens it was likely a trail used by the original residents. The bridge brought new residents to the borough, and finally the overwhelming popularity of the auto spurred its widening and redevelopment in the Roaring Twenties, development which was also applied to Trotting Course Lane (to become Woodhaven Boulevard) and Kings Highway in Brooklyn. The country lane became a 10-lane megaroad.
Between Hillside and Jamaica Avenues at the edge of Briarwood and Jamaica, Queens Boulevard is reduced to much the same condition as its ancestral roads, narrowing to two lanes. It’s mostly a nondescript stretch with collision and auto body shops.
There’s also a handsome apartment house, with Flemish-style steps on the roofline and a rounded corner, which would put it more at home on the Bronx. But an inscription on the Jamaica Avenue side makes it indubitably clear that we’re not in the Bronx.
… Queen’s House. Are we looking at a marvelous coincidence — was the building constructed before Hoffman Boulevard became Queens Boulevard? Or, was the house at the end of Queens Boulevard built and inscribed with an apostrophe the name of the boulevard doesn’t have?
In the early 1990s, John Healy was an English media sensation. Born in 1943 to Irish immigrants in London, he left school at age 14 and ended up living on the streets for 15 years, fighting and stealing to survive, while drinking anything that contained alcohol. During a prison stretch in the 1970s, he quit booze, took up meditation, became a rated chess player, and wrote the award-winning autobiography The Grassy Arena. Then he disappeared, fueling a wrath of rumors about his mental health and violent nature. Filmmaker Paul Duane followed those rumors and found Healy in 2006. The result is Barbaric Genius, a documentary that will screen at the New York Irish Center tomorrow. Duane will attend and participate in a Q&A about the film and Healy, a brilliant man who can be angry, articulate, paranoid, hilarious and incoherent at the same time.
Details: Barbaric Genius, New York Irish Center, 10-40 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, January 17th, 7:30 pm, $11/$6 students, seniors unemployed.