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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Soundview Park

The South Bronx has made great strides since its 1970s nadir. Approaching Soundview Park from Colgate Avenue, though, a little-used sidewalk shows enough lingering urban decay to trip you up if you tried to make any literal "great strides."

soundview park bronx nyc

Soundview Park's 205 acres run along the east bank of the Bronx River where it opens out into the East River. The East River was once called the Long Island Sound, hence the name of the Soundview neighborhood.

Once open water and tidal marsh, the area was acquired by the Parks Department in 1937, built into a park (by Robert Moses, of course), and expanded in the '50s and '60s.

soundview park bronx nyc

Today, Soundview Park is one of those green spaces where you can wander and feel like you've left the city completely behind.

soundview park bronx nyc
soundview park bronx nyc
Weird purple mushrooms? Alien invasion pods? No – someone had discarded a bunch of eggplants at the base of a large tree by the river. Go figure.

It's a big park, and we'd already done a lot of walking and exploring that day, so we elected to stick to the path that hugged the river, where some very old trees stand guard.

soundview park bronx river nyc
soundview park bronx river nyc
soundview park bronx river nyc
A drummer (far right) sets up to provide a soundtrack to a baseball game in Soundview Park

Strangely – and at times, a little spookily – the baseball crowd was the only large group of people we'd encounter in the park on this beautiful late-summer weekend day.

soundview park bronx river nyc

It's easy to picture the park's marshy origin.

soundview park bronx river nyc

The waterfront offers some really nice views.

soundview park bronx river nyc
soundview park bronx river nyc
soundview park bronx river nyc

A feeling of isolation enshrouded us during much of our walk. We were glad to reach the pleasant sitting area at a spot called Soundview Point.

soundview park bronx river nyc

Towards the far southeast tip of the park, you can get a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline.

soundview park bronx river nyc

The river views are nice, but the payoff for us came at the park's southernmost reaches, where a completely different environment, one of sand, beachgrass, and flowers, suddenly takes over.

soundview park bronx river nyc
soundview park bronx river nyc
soundview park bronx river nyc

Across a tract of salt march recently restored at a cost of over $9 million, a row of houses lines the waterfront in the little neighborhood of Harding Park, which is "dominated," says Wikipedia, "by detached bungalows very closely set, many of them built off the grid." Forgotten NY has some good photos in this decade-old post: The neighborhood, it says, "seems independent from the rest of the Bronx, since its street pattern is different and it's cut off by water from the rest of the borough. It's very, very odd."

soundview park bronx river nyc

Well, here at Park Odyssey we're always in search of the "very, very odd." Especially if it's "off the grid."

There's more to Soundview Park than one lonely walk along its waterfront. There's a soccer field, a track and field area, a brand new dog run, and a Facebook-only group called Friends of Soundview Park that sponsors events. There's a "massive boulder" called Black Rock that, according the Parks Department, "may have been a glacial erratic transported to the South Bronx by a glacier about 10,000 years ago. Mistaken for a meteorite by early settlers, the boulder was moved to Soundview Park, where it can be seen today."

We half-heartedly looked for the notable stone, but were too hot and hungry to scour the park's entire acreage and found neither the boulder nor the other sports facilities. In fact, our excursion was one of weird isolation. After passing the baseball game, we ran into only a handful of people the rest of the way. And on a hot summer's day, the way seemed long.

Speaking of odd, we did come across a little two-dimensional amphitheater. According to Broadway World – a website I'm pretty sure I've never before cited on this blog – there was a free screening of Yogi Bear at the ribbon-cutting in August 2015. And a free yoga lesson for children. Yogi and yoga: coincidence? I think not. The mysteries multiply at Soundview Park.

soundview park amphitheater bronx river nyc

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Monday, October 3, 2016

Concrete Plant Park, ABC Waterwash, and Colgate Close Park

A number of New York City parks are imaginative reframings of archaic infrastructure and industrial facilities. The High Line in Manhattan is the most famous example. For another, just last week we posted an account of a visit to a former reservoir in The Bronx, now a park called the Williamsbridge Oval.

Guess what Concrete Plant Park, also in The Bronx, used to be?

But first, speaking of archaic infrastructure: When you come out of the Whitlock Avenue subway station you're greeted by an almost medieval-looking ruin. This is part of the long-abandoned Westchester Avenue train station.

whitlock avenue station bronx nyc

Forgotten NY has some pre-ivied pictures of this once-handsome structure.

Now, into the park.

concrete plant park bronx nyc

The Parks Department joined forces with the Bronx River Alliance and community groups to revitalize a half-mile-long stretch of Bronx River waterfront at the start of the new century. In 2009, the park opened.

As you enter from the north, images of abandonment quickly give way to pretty, if not quite bucolic, waterfront views.

concrete plant park bronx nyc
concrete plant park bronx nyc
concrete plant park bronx nyc

To the north is the bridge that carries Westchester Avenue across the river.

concrete plant park bronx nyc

As you continue south, the structures that give the park its name loom into view.

concrete plant park bronx nyc

These are the remains of the Transit Mix Concrete Corporation's concrete batch mix plant.

concrete plant park bronx nyc
concrete plant park bronx nyc

Painted a dusty red, they rise like titanic modernist sculptures against the sky.

concrete plant park bronx nyc

A million trees? Piece of cake. A billion oysters? Now that would really be something.

concrete plant park bronx nyc

In the meantime, you can fish here. There's even a boat launch – this is part of the Bronx River Blueway.

concrete plant park bronx nyc
concrete plant park bronx river blueway nyc

As you continue south, the park ends (unless you count the undeveloped, fenced-off strip between the bike/walking path and the river) and the path leads out toward Bruckner Boulevard and the Bruckner Expressway. Parallel to the path, colorful graffiti lines an overgrown railroad track.

concrete plant park bronx nyc

Gazing north from Bruckner Boulevard gives a view of the whole long, narrow park strung along the river.

concrete plant park bronx nyc

On the east side, ABC Carpet and Home sponsored a environmental wetland art project called Waterwash ABC by the artist Lillian Ball, which opened in 2012. "Through innovative design, the project will construct a wetland park to filter storm runoff, improve habitat, and increase Bronx River public access," the plan stated. "Outreach will educate community about watershed issues through an aesthetic nature experience."

waterwash abc bronx nyc

There was no public access when we passed by; it was locked up tight. Was it still being maintained in the summer of 2016? We couldn't tell. There are some nice photos from the opening at Ball's website.

As we headed to Soundview Park (covered in the next post), we walked by Colgate Close Park, a onetime "unused concrete lot" now mostly occupied by a playground and athletic field but also a garden and nice ironwork fences that are very New York.

colgate close park bronx nyc
colgate close park bronx nyc

The Parks Department website explains the name "Colgate Close" and describes this fanciful design on the backstop as Cubby the Catcher. A Google search for "Cubby the Catcher" (in quotes) turns up exactly one result: the Parks Department website. Cubby's origin, then – or at least the derivation of his name – will have to remain obscure, at least for now.

colgate close park bronx nyc

The bigger mystery of Colgate Close Park is John Cloes (later spelled Close), whom the Parks Department knows only as "an early pioneer in New York." Financier James Boorman Colgate (1818-1904) was a founder and president of the New York Gold Exchange. In a money- and trade-centric city like New York, that's plenty to get a street and park named after you. But as for Cloes, the "early pioneer" who gave his name to Close Avenue and now Colgate Close Park, a quick web search doesn't help us much.

Also, I object to the redundant phrase "early pioneer." Just saying.

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Williamsbridge Oval

Williamsbridge Oval in The Bronx is a repurposed reservoir. Like a number of other New York City parks, among them Highland Park on the Brooklyn-Queens border, Silver Lake Park in Staten Island, and Bryant Park in Manhattan, it sits where the city once stored drinking water.

The 17th-century farmer John Williams was reputed to have built the first bridge across the Bronx River. The ancient span was named for him, and the surrounding community acquired the name "Williamsbridge."

The city opened the Williamsbridge Reservoir in 1889 and used it as such until the 1930s. At that point its floor was raised to just 12 feet below street level and it was repurposed as a park, opened with fanfare by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses in 1937.

williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc
The Bainbridge Avenue entrance, near the Valentine-Varian House

Inside, parents and kids were lined up for something – face painting, possibly, we couldn't tell – outside the Recreation Center.

williamsbridge oval recreation center norwood bronx nyc

It was a warm, muggy day, but only one kid was playing in the sprinkler.

williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc

A lot more were on the field, including teams of big kids playing football in uniforms.

williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc

We walked around the oval's quieter, tree-lined, but slightly nerve-inducing edge.

williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc

An impressive pink fungus stared up at us from the base of a sturdy-looking tree.

williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc

Not all the facilities were in use, and some aspects of the park don't appear very well maintained. There's no Williamsbridge Oval Alliance to supplement the Parks Department's limited budget. This isn't a rich part of town.

williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc

At the northern end it's easy to perceive the difference in elevation between the park and the street, and imagine the space's past as a reservoir.

williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc
williamsbridge oval norwood bronx nyc

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Valentine-Varian House

The historic Valentine-Varian House in The Bronx houses the Museum of Bronx History. The museum is small and humble, worth a visit as part of a bigger expedition. And the 1758 farmhouse sits on a green plot that counts as a park.

valentine varian house museum of bronx history nyc
valentine varian house museum of bronx history nyc

Revolutionary War history is everywhere around here. For just one small example, we crossed Rochambeau Ave. while walking here from Moshulu Parkway. But the Bronx River Soldier statue depicts a Union soldier from the Civil War, a conflict to which this place has no connection whatsoever.

valentine varian house museum of bronx history nyc

The sculpture by John Grignola was moved here in 1970 after being scooped out of the Bronx River, into which it had tumbled from the pier where it had been standing guard. There's an impressive monument to Grignola at his final resting place in Woodlawn Cemetery, the graveyard where the Soldier had originally been meant to stand.

Behind the house is a small garden.

valentine varian house museum of bronx history nyc

The house is adjacent to the Williamsbridge Oval, a large oddball of a park which we shall visit next.

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media