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Monday, August 24, 2015

Governor's Island: Liggett Terrace and Hammock Grove

Like a giant utility belt that's just not that useful anymore, Liggett Hall bisects Governor's Island almost all the way across. The story goes that the municipal government was considering turning the island into a commercial airport, so in 1929 the army built Liggett Hall to cut the island in half and eliminate any possibility of a landing strip.

In any case, it sure is a long building – said to have been the longest in the world at the time, and designed by McKim, Mead, and White, architects of the Morgan Library, the Boston Public Library, the original Penn Station, and many other famous edifices.

liggett hall liggett arch governors island nyc

West of Liggett Hall lies Liggett Terrace, newly swirled with paths through beds of greenery and flowers; fountains that, perversely, weren't active on the crazy-hot day we visited; and a hedge maze with "hidden" sprinklers (also inactive).

liggett hall liggett terrace governors island nyc
liggett terrace governors island nyc
liggett terrace governors island nyc

Continue southwest down the narrower part of the island and you come to another new feature, Hammock Grove, named for Lt. Col. Edmund C. Hammock, a hero of the U.S. First Army during the Third War of Attrition.

hammock grove governors island nyc

Sorry, I'm getting word that's not correct. It's called Hammock Grove because it has, well, hammocks. Fifty of them.

I've never had much success with hammocks. When I get into one, it usually tosses me out onto the ground. So I was content to walk through the grove and merely observe the hammock-hangers-on wherever they appeared.

hammock grove governors island nyc

At the far end of the grove you get a view of The Hills. Scheduled for completion in 2016, these four man-made hills made of recycled construction and fill material will "tower" 25 to 70 feet above sea level. From the tallest you'll get a "360-degree panorama of the Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor and the Lower Manhattan skyline," promises the "Future" page of the Governor's Island website.

the hills governors island nyc

I like the whole idea of creating artificial hills on top of an already artificial land mass. This whole end of the island was created during the construction of the New York City subway system. Four centuries ago the Dutch found an island half this size. With no hills.

the hills governors island nyc

Friday, August 14, 2015

Governor's Island: Nolan Park

After my first visit to Governor's Island five years ago, I worried that all the development being planned might ruin it. I liked the charm of its "unfinished, half-ghost-town state."

Since that time, big decisions have been made – it seems there isn't going to be an NYU campus, for one thing – and a great deal of work has been done. There are now so many different accessible outdoor areas and facilities that each deserves its own blog post. And as the ferry service expands for the first time this summer to include weekdays, ruination doesn't seem to be in the cards.

Nolan Park is a grassy area shaded by elm trees on the old part of the island, the part that isn't landfill – the part the first Dutch settlers found in 1611 and planted themselves upon before venturing onto the big scary island across the harbor to the north (i.e. Manhattan) a few years later to found New Amsterdam.

nolan park governors island nyc

I'm beginning my informal Governors Island parks survey at Nolan Park because a concert here by the Imani Winds was the immediate excuse for our most recent excursion to the island.

nolan park governors island nyc
nolan park governors island nyc

The park is lined with 19th century officers' homes from the time when Governors Island was a military installation – actually a military town with some 40,000 residents.

nolan park governors island nyc

Nolan Park is named for one of those officers, Major General Dennis E. Nolan, Commander of the United States First Army. Wikipedia explains that among other accomplishments he "distinguished himself by heading the first modern American military combat intelligence function during World War I." In 1933 he became the First Army's commander, stationed at Fort Jay, Governors Island.

fort jay governors island nyc

We visited other parts of Governors Island that same day, which I'll described in upcoming posts. In the meantime, I recommend The Bowery Boys' recent podcast about the island.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Fort Hamilton Triangle

Alexander Hamilton is much in the news these days. For one thing, at the same time as he's threatened with eviction from the $20 bill, he has a hit musical opening on Broadway. Meanwhile, his old home, Hamilton Grange, peacefully resides uptown in St. Nicholas Park.

Fort Hamilton Triangle, by contrast, is a petite plaza in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn between 94th and 95th Streets, where Fourth Avenue – because of one of the countless quirks of New York City's street-naming scheme and geography – meets Fifth Avenue.

fort hamilton triangle bay ridge brooklyn nyc

The day I walked by, the gate was locked. Had it been open, I could have gone in and had a nice sit, I suppose, my feet kicking the bluestone. Years ago many sidewalks around the city were paved with this beautiful stone. But it's too expensive to replace, so when sidewalks need to be redone the bluestone is replaced by characterless concrete.

There was no sign of the gangs of pigeons whose presence resulted in a temporary, unofficial name change to "Pigeon Park."

fort hamilton triangle bay ridge brooklyn nyc

But this isn't Vanishing New York, so let's take a look at what's actually here, which will come as no surprise to readers of this blog: It's a memorial to the men of Fort Hamilton "who died in the World War" and "those who answered their country's call."

The Great War, that is. The War to End All Wars.

Specifically, these are the names of the soldiers who trained at nearby Fort Hamilton and served during World War I. Fort Hamilton itself dates from the 1820s, and is still in active use, housing "over 200 Army Reserve and National Guard units" according to the Parks Department website. Entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, it's also the only currently active military post in New York City.

fort hamilton triangle bay ridge brooklyn nyc
fort hamilton triangle bay ridge brooklyn nyc
fort hamilton triangle bay ridge brooklyn nyc

The name "Fort Hamilton" designates the fort's surrounding neighborhood, too, though the area is also considered part of Bay Ridge. And speaking of the neighborhood, in case the memorial and the nearby military base don't inspire enough patriotism, take a walk by the stupendously flag-draped Engine 242 firehouse nearby. While you're there, notice the quirky, Coney Island-style signage on the storefronts, which contrasts with the banner hawking trendy "Craft Spirits & Cocktails" at the bar next door to the firehouse.

fort hamilton triangle bay ridge brooklyn nyc

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

John J. Carty Park

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nycI've been servicing my car in Bay Ridge for at least a decade, and only just now discovered that there's a park a few blocks away.

The location of John J. Carty Park, affectionately known as "JJ Carty," under the Verrazano Bridge feeder ramps doesn't make for a pastoral landscape. But its history is tied to the great bridge's, as the Parks Department asserts: "The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority developed both the Verrazano Narrows Bridge (1965) and this park concurrently thanks to a 1956 federal grant."

It's also known as Rubber Park because, according to Wikipedia, it was one of the first city parks with rubber matting under the children's play areas. (Not for the other reason any number of city parks could be called that.)

Rubber matting probably isn't needed under the Fort Hamilton Senior Recreation Center, which is in the southern tip of the park by 100th Street.

John J. Carty, who lived nearby, was a longtime First Deputy City Comptroller, and not to be confused with engineer and inventor John J. Carty, though the latter also had a New York City connection, becoming Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Telephone and Telegraph Company in 1889.

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc

The park is really a row of separate spaces devoted to different activities. The best greenery comes from some lush trees just outside the park's northern end. Are these hickory trees? Ash? If anyone knows, please leave a comment below.

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc
john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc

A peaceful sitting area contains a monument to the explorer Giovanni da Verrazano himself.

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc
john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc

The lawns are thin and parched-looking right now, but the water jet was spraying enthusiastically on a happy toddler. After sinking into a state of relative neglect for awhile, JJ Carty got a bit of a touch-up during a recent spruce-up event.

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc

Step south, and an expanse of barren concrete sweeps up to a bridge ramp.

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc

The tennis courts are not terribly well maintained – their Global Tennis Network listing has a blank space after "amenities" – but they look usable.

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc

The farther south you go, the bleaker things look. If I'd approached from the lower end and walked up, this post might have a different aesthetic arc, even with the exact same photos.

In any case, given the location, it's nice there's a park here at all.

john j carty park bay ridge brooklyn nyc

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Cunningham Park and the Vanderbilt Motor Parkway

Exploring Alley Pond Park last summer, I came upon the historic old Vanderbilt Motor Parkway, also known as the Long Island Motor Parkway. According to the Parks Department, this 48-mile road was America's first limited-access all-elevated road for cars. Built for racing and leisure in 1908 by William K. Vanderbilt Jr. (Cornelius Vanderbilt's great-grandson), it ran from Queens to Suffolk County. A surviving section in Queens has been lovingly turned into a biking and walking path that runs for two and a half miles between Alley Pond Park and Cunningham Park.

vanderbilt parkway queens nyc

The parkway itself is a mostly flat, featureless straightaway. Two things make it remarkable. First, its history of innovative roadbuilding, racing and rumrunning, and the continued existence, albeit transformed, of sections of this roadway from another time. Second, the heavy vegetation that has grown up along both sides since the toll road was shut down in 1938, which give it the atmosphere of a country road right here in Queens.

The strip between the modern pavement and the leaves looks like the original roadbed.

vanderbilt parkway queens nyc

Some of the original roadside posts remain, too.

vanderbilt parkway queens nyc

Here's the entrance from the eastern end, in Alley Pond Park.

alley pond park queens nyc

Back in Cunningham Park, there wasn't much action when we visited, though evening concerts, movies, and Shakespeare are all on the schedule.

cunningham park queens nyc
cunningham park queens nyc

The Clearview Expressway bisects the park north to south. You can walk from one side to the other through an underpass.

cunningham park queens nyc

Some nice woodsy paths wind about.

cunningham park queens nyc

The Parks Department website notes that the British soldiers who occupied New York during the Revolution clear-cut the area's forests for firewood, so you won't find many fat trunks around here. The vines are back, though, happy to get a hold on younger trees.

cunningham park queens nyc

When I see a dirt path through the woods I instinctively want to follow it. It's the way some people feel about the smell of bacon. According to the Friends of Cunningham Park, "more than two-thirds of the park remains undeveloped natural land lush with greenery and wildlife." But experience with marauding mosquitos has taught me caution around the unmaintained trails of New York City's large outer-borough parks.

cunningham park queens nyc

The city began to acquire the land that would become Cunningham Park in 1928. arthur cunningham cunningham park queens nycOriginally called Hillside Park, it was renamed in 1934 for W. Arthur Cunningham, a lawyer and World War One veteran who was elected City Comptroller under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia in 1933, only to perish of a heart attack while horseback riding on Long Island the following year.

Sculptor Emil Sieburn was already at work on this bronze bust of the rising political star at the time of Cunningham's death. It was dedicated in 1941. But when vandals cut off one of its ears, Cunningham's widow was so upset that she asked that the repaired statue not be put back in the park. It has been kept safely indoors since the 1940s.

And so we take our leave of Cunningham Park, but with one burning question on our minds: Where's Cunningham's ear?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Cooper Park

Just a few weeks after walking through Stuyvesant Oval at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, I learned that Brooklyn has a park named after Peter Cooper, the 19th century inventor, industrialist and philanthropist. Cooper also founded Cooper Union, "the first private college open to all classes, races, and genders" according to the capsule biography on the American Society of Mechanical Engineers website, where you can also learn that as a by-product of one of his glue technologies he invented Jell-O.

In 1838 Cooper relocated his Manhattan glue factory to a strategic shipping location in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn near Newtown Creek. The City of Brooklyn bought the site in 1895, and behold: Cooper Park.

cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc

Cooper Park seems to get a fair amount of use, and is in a decent if not glorious state of maintenance. It can be fun to find pockets of wild neglect, though. Just across Maspeth Avenue is a stretch of overgrown sidewalk, with a plastic bag on the pavement playing the the role of The Tumbleweed.

cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc

Cooper Park's dog run is actually one of the nicer ones I've seen in the city, with wood chips and wide open spaces. With a natural look, it hardly even looks like a dog run. Though I don't suppose that matters much to the dogs.

cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc

Ices, anyone?

cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc

Early evening shadows turn the landscape into a lushly striped panorama.

cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc

Lying in the grass seems to get some people's creativity flowing. One woman looked to be writing something on old-fashioned "paper" with a stick-like "pen" or "pencil" device, while some kids were putting the grass to a different but equally productive use.

cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc
cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc

On the other hand, there was this:

cooper park williamsburg brooklyn nyc

Two nearby community gardens looked to be well tended.

red shed community garden williamsburg brooklyn nyc
Red Shed Community Garden
olive garden east williamsburg brooklyn nyc
The Olive Garden, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn

It seems intuitively obvious that a walk in the park, or any time spent in natural surroundings, is good for you. But now there's scientific evidence that walking in the park changes your brain. One of the authors appeared on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show yesterday talking about it:

Next up: a study of whether reading a blog about parks has relaxing and recharging effects too.