03/20/14 11:00am

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As mentioned, I spend an atrocious amount of time studying century-old publications and journals found on Google Books. These periodicals, both trade and municipal in nature, often discuss the origins of the Newtown Creek as it exists today.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when the Creek was at its arguable worst (environmentally speaking), there was a popular sentiment that engineering could fix all of its problems.

Hindsight suggests that they just made things worse, of course, but there’s the human condition for you. Pictured above is the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge in modernity, while below is a shot of the 1910 version. In both shots, Brooklyn is on the left and Queens on the right.

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- photo from Engineering magazine, Volume 38, 1910 — courtesy Google Books

This is the bridge that burned away in the 1919 Locust Hill Oil Refinery disaster, a swing bridge which is not altogether dissimilar to the relict Grand Street Bridge found further up the Creek.

I’ve done a few Q’stoner posts on the environs around the modern structure – the Tidewater Building, the nearby SimsMetal Yard, a former Standard Oil gas station, even the old Van Iderstine properties.

Whenever such “Now and Then” shots come into my hands, especially images which are considered to be in the public domain, they will be eagerly shared.

Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman lives in Astoria and blogs at Newtown Pentacle.

03/17/14 11:00am

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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 sojar@dep.nyc.gov.

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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.

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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.

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03/13/14 11:00am

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Like Thoreau, I occasionally need to escape it all and commune with the beasts of the field on their own terms, and experience the freedom of natural situ. Especially at the end of long and difficult winter season.

Journey toward nature and you will become as one with it, all that stuff.

Accordingly, a recent perambulation was embarked upon whose destination would reward me with the presence of creatures for whom such freedom is no abstract notion nor temporary distraction, rather it is their daily experience.

From Wikipedia:

Walden (first published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods) is an American book written by noted Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. The work is part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self reliance.

Published in 1854, it details Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, amidst woodland owned by his friend and mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts.

By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. Simple living and self-sufficiency were Thoreau’s other goals, and the whole project was inspired by transcendentalist philosophy, a central theme of the American Romantic Period. As Thoreau made clear in his book, his cabin was not in wilderness but at the edge of town, about two miles (3 km) from his family home.

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03/06/14 11:00am

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For a few years, I lived on one of the many blocks occupied by yellow brick row houses, here in Astoria. The block pictured above is 44th street between 30th and 31st avenues, for the curious. It’s the same block that Robert Deniro shot part of “A Bronx Tale” on. These are “barbell tenements” essentially, six railroad units on three floors with an air shaft in the middle.

This particular stretch of Matthews Model Flats in Astoria is just over a hundred years old (1911), as is a lot of the building stock in an area which I’ve been told was once called “the German Section” – “back in the day”. Model tenements are what they were built as, the affordable housing of its time, and while walking my little dog Zuzu one morning I began to ponder those bricks.

Those yellow bricks, with the little specks of glittery iron in them.

Everywhere you go, from Ridgewood to Maspeth to Astoria – you see those yellow bricks. Realizing that I had never thought about where bricks come from led to a bit of primary research about the history of brick manufacture in these United States, but don’t worry, that’s not what this post is about.

From an excellent illustrated history of brick manufacturing in the New World at brickcollecting.com:

The first bricks in the English colonies in North America were probably made in Virginia as early as 1612. New England saw its first brick kiln erected at Salem, Massachusetts in 1629. The Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam imported yellow bricks from Holland, which imparted a Dutch character to the architecture of the city. The excellent quality and abundance of local clays in the colonies made it unnecessary to import bricks from across the Atlantic. Brick-making centers developed in Fort Orange (what is now Albany), New York; near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Burlington and Trenton, New Jersey, as well as along the Raritan River.

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This is a more evolved form of the Matthews Flats, found over in Maspeth.

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02/11/14 11:00am

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What’s the most unusual street in Queens?

For me, it’s a one-block street near the southern limit of Forest Hills, running between 70th Drive and 71st Avenue just north of Union Turnpike and Forest Park. There’s a nearby stables, or at least there was until recently — I haven’t checked for awhile.

As this 1915 Belcher Hyde atlas plate shows, Walnut Street is part of an old street grid that survived, despite having a newer one (the Forest Hills grid of alphabetized streets named alphabetically from Austin through Wanda — the names survive only through Olcott, with Sybilla lasting as well). The older grid featured a Northern Boulevard, well south and several miles shorter than its northern Queens namesake. As you can see here, it’s a pleasant tree-lined street that’s shaded on both sides.

What sets apart Walnut Street from most other streets in Queens is not that it carries a name… rather, its house numbers are a vestige of the Queens that existed previous to its present street numbering system.

Queens house numbers are immediately recognizable. They carry a hyphen that separates the street number from the house number. Thus, 77-25 105th Avenue (I’m just making this address up) would be between 77th and 78th Street. This system applies for named streets as well; 77-25 Union Turnpike will be between the same two streets.

But Walnut Street breaks the rules, and breaks them in a way that makes it nearly completely nonsensical to people who don’t live in the neighborhood. In Queens, house numbers get higher the further east you go, because the numbers begin at the East River. On Walnut Street, however, the house numbers begin at Number 98 at 71st Avenue, and get bigger as you go west toward 70th Drive…for only half the block. At that point, the normal Queens numbering system takes over, and you have the 70-XX numbering system, in which the numbers decrease as you go west.

But wait… that’s not all! The exact reverse takes place on the north side of Walnut Street, as No. 112 can be found at the western end of the street. The numbers decrease as you go east until you arrive at the middle of the block…where the 70-XX numbers take over and increase until you arrive at 71st Avenue!

What’s going on here?

Here’s my guess: Walnut Street’s older homes probably maintain their older numbering system that was in effect before the new numbering was imposed on Queens in the 1920s. Walnut Street’s newer homes, built after the twenties, carry the ‘new’ numbering system with the hyphens. And Walnut Street is so small, it probably was overlooked.

02/03/14 11:00am

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The whole Newtown Creek thing causes me to spend a lot of time traveling back and forth to Greenpoint. Famously, I walk everywhere, and one of my regular routes (from Astoria) carries through the neighborhood of Blissville. Named for Greenpoint’s Neziah Bliss, the place was originally meant to be a sort of utopian workers community which would eschew liquor and sin – a very 19th century idea. That didn’t work out, mainly because of Calvary Cemetery getting dropped into the middle of the town.

It was because of Calvary, however, that St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church was built on what was then Greenpoint Avenue at the corner of Borden. Borden is now the Long Island Expressway, but Greenpoint Avenue and the church are still there.

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35-20 Greenpoint Avenue is where you’ll find it.

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01/30/14 11:15am

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A dizzying display of industrial and architectural might, on display above, distracts the eye from the subject of this post.

Empire State, Chrysler, the entire shield wall of Manhattan – even the sapphire spire which distinguishes modern Long Island City – are all screaming for attention. At the sapphire tower’s base is a white building, a former printing plant and later an Eagle Electric factory, which has long been converted over to luxury condominiums and is known as the Arris Lofts. At the bottom of the shot is Skillman Avenue, and the tracks of the Sunnyside Yard A show a train transiting along. In the midst of all this manifest wealth and ambition, it is easy to overlook the subject of today’s post. The lower right hand corner of the shot depicts a viaduct structure, one which allows trains to pass beneath a vehicular roadway which it supports.

An enormous concrete and steel bridge, 500 feet long and 100 feet wide, it is hidden in plain sight.

That’s the Thomson Avenue Viaduct.

From 1877′s “Long Island and where to go!!: A descriptive work compiled for the Long R.R. Co.“, courtesy Google Books:

Long Island City is the concentrating point upon the East river, of all the main avenues of travel from the back districts of Long Island to the city of New York. The great arteries of travel leading from New York are Thomson avenue, macadamized, 100 feet wide, leading directly to Newtown, Jamaica and the middle and southern roads on Long Island, and Jackson avenue, also 100 feet wide, and leading directly to Flushing, Whitestone and the northerly roads.

Long Island City is also the concentrating point upon the East river, of the railway system of Long Island.

The railways, upon reaching the city, pass under the main avenues of travel and traffic, and not upon or across their surface.

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01/27/14 11:00am

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This past Saturday, the 25th of January, Ridgewood Democratic Club held its Annual Membership Brunch meeting at their HQ. Found at 6070 Putnam Avenue, a block off Fresh Pond Road, the RDC building has been home to the club since 1917. My colleague Kevin Walsh presented a short history of the building in this Brownstoner Queens post from September of 2013.

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NYS Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan is one of the two Democratic District Leaders in this part of Queens, along with Tom Bornemann, and she has an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of this building and club. She’s a lifelong Queensican, and lives with her son and husband in Ridgewood.

From assembly.state.ny.us:

Catherine Nolan represents the 37th Assembly District in Queens County, which includes the historic New York City neighborhoods of Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Long Island City, Queensbridge, Ravenswood, Astoria, Woodside, Maspeth, Dutch Kills and Blissville. She was first elected to the Assembly in 1984.

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01/16/14 11:00am

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St. Michael’s Cemetery is 88 acres of manicured ground, and is an island of calm in the middle of Astoria. Unlike Calvary, St. Michael’s is a nonsectarian burial ground, and exhibits the legendary diversity of populations – for which Queens is renowned worldwide – within its loamy depths.

Despite being surrounded by highways and the antics of the neighborhood, it’s a very quiet place. People jog along its roads, ride bikes, or like me – just come here to take a contemplative walk once in a while.

From St. Michael’s:

St. Michael’s Cemetery is situated in the borough of Queens in New York City. Established in 1852, St. Michael’s is one of the oldest religious, nonprofit cemeteries in the New York City metropolitan area which is open to people of all faiths. It is owned and operated by St. Michael’s Church, an Episcopal congregation located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

The original property for St. Michael’s Cemetery was purchased in 1852 by the Rev. Thomas McClure Peters and occupied seven acres. Over the years St. Michael’s gradually acquired additional land to its present size of approximately eighty-eight acres. Because it was Dr. Peters intention to provide a final dignified resting place for the poor who could not otherwise afford it, areas within the cemetery were assigned to other free churches and institutions of New York City. These areas are still held for the institutions they were assigned. As a service to its diverse constituency, St. Michael’s continues to this day provide burial space for individuals and families from all classes, religions and ethnicities. St. Michael’s reflects the demographic and historical trends of New York City. Walking through the older sections of the cemetery, you will find burials representing the 19th and early 20th century immigrants.

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On one of these solitary walks, I discovered an odd fruit which had fallen onto the loam.

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01/13/14 11:00am

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As much as I love LIC, a fellow has to spread his wings now and then, and wet his beak.

I grew up in south eastern Brooklyn, in particular the Flatlands and Canarsie area. Our nearest neighbors in Queens were in Howard Beach and the Rockaway Peninsula villages of Rockaway and Breezy Point. A significant portion of my wastrel youth was spent riding an Apollo 3 speed bicycle along the coastlines of Jamaica Bay and it’s various inlets, as I’ve always been drawn to the water by some primeval urge. Whenever the chance presented itself, I would ride my bike over to Rockaway Beach via a bridge found on the less commonly travelled side of Flatbush Avenue.

Much of this coastline is administered today as “Gateway National Park,” incidentally, which sounds a lot better than “Horsehead Bay,” I guess.

From Wikipedia:

Gateway National Recreation Area is a 26,607-acre (10,767 ha) National Recreation Area in the Port of New York and New Jersey. Scattered over Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, New York and Monmouth County, New Jersey, it provides recreational opportunities that are rare for a dense urban environment, including ocean swimming, bird watching, boating, hiking and camping. Ten million people visit Gateway annually.

Gateway was created by the US Congress in 1972 to preserve and protect scarce and/or unique natural, cultural, and recreational resources with relatively convenient access by a high percentage of the nation’s population. It is owned by the United States government and managed by the National Park Service.

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