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Finding beauty at Newtown

Could there be such a thing as a highbrow perspective on the rusting industrial world on the banks of the toxic Newtown Creek?

There is now, thanks to an Astoria man with a keen shutterbug’s eye, the gift of language and a penchant for long walks.

Mitch Waxman started newtownpentacle.com in May 2009. It includes his photography and an exploration into the history of the waterway in question. His examination of the Pulaski Bridge includes artistic shots of the aging architecture, close-ups of the grisly-looking gears, shots of marathon runners and a promotional advertisement from 1954.

It also includes a bit of friendly advice: “I make it a point of not touching the Pulaski Bridge with anything other than the soles of my shoes,” Waxman wrote. “There is a thriving colony of pestilential fowl living in its rafters, and they delight in painting the bridge according to their own fecund taste.”

Such is the florid prose that distinguishes the Pentacle from other blogs exploring the forgotten and weird corners of the borough.

“I’m trying to stay away from the pictures of the floating poop and the pictures of the prophylactics, because I think that’s really easy and I believe that’s also counterproductive,” he said. “If you say it’s the most polluted body of water in North America, the conversation stops and people just give up. The thing is, there are remedies down there.”

The blog was born after Waxman, an advertising retoucher, suffered a heart attack in December 2006. As part of his recovery regimen, Waxman began to take long walks around the neighborhood.

“At first it was just a penitential sentence that had come down from the doctors, and then I kind of got into it,” he said, noting that his curiosity about the old buildings took him to the Greater Astoria Historical Society, the Web site Forgotten NY and the Newtown Creek Alliance. “Next thing I know I’m out walking for eight, nine, 10 hours through East Williamsburg and going, ‘Oh, my god, that manhole cover is significant.’”

Waxman grew up in Brooklyn and chalks up his take on history to a museum he visited as a child that depicted the Revolutionary War Battle of Long Island through painted windows looking out over the borough.

“Now it’s like I’m walking through a place and I’m seeing an overlay of the Victorian world on it,” he said, pointing out that Newtown Road and 45th Street was where British Gen. Charles Cornwallis had his headquarters during the Battle of Long Island. “You find out all these little gems about the neighborhood, and it’s like, whoa.”

Take Calvary Cemetery, for instance. Waxman learned during his research of the abandoned Penny Bridge Long Island Rail Road station that the stop’s major function was to allow mourners to visit the graves of loved ones.

“Every day of the week there would be New Orleans-style marching bands on Review Avenue,” he said. “That’s why they call it ‘Review Avenue.’”

Waxman ultimately hopes the blog will spark renewed interest among residents of the area in rehabilitating the waterway, contending that an interested constituency must exist to call for major changes. He noted that as early as the mid-19th century proposals existed to build a subterranean tunnel from Flushing Bay to Newtown Creek to enable fresh water to circulate and dissipate the pollution.

“This would be an enormous municipal project and it would all happen underground, but by creating a flow of fresh water to the creek, it would allow the pollution to evacuate the creek,” he said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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