Search This Blog

Loading...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Rockaway Beach

When I think about city parks, I don't usually think of the beaches. Maybe it's because I grew up on Long Island, where the obligatory summer rite of going to the beach was its own species of activity, distinct from "parks." Parks meant grass, playgrounds, jogging trails, fireworks on the Fourth of July.

But New York City's beaches are some of its most important parks. I've been to a few of them for this blog: Jacob Riis Park; the iconic New York City beach and boardwalk of Coney Island; Pelham Bay Park in The Bronx which includes Orchard Beach. Today: a quick post on Rockaway Beach, which, thanks partly to The Ramones, is NYC's second-most-famous strand.

rockaway beach queens nyc

Despite its location on a strip of land that looks map-wise as if it ought to be part of Brooklyn, Rockaway Beach is in Queens. You can take the A train there, so you don't need a car. The part of the beach by the Beach 105th St. stop – the second-to-last stop on the line – is, theoretically, less busy than other spots, so that's where we headed on a bright day in early August.

rockaway beach queens nyc
rockaway beach queens nyc
Kites fly at Rockaway Beach

Compared to Coney Island – and compared to my expectations – the water was very clean, and incredibly refreshing.

rockaway beach queens nyc

Other stretches of Rockaway Beach are closer to the good, fun food vendors. But there's food at the concession stand near Beach 105th St., if you can handle long lines on busy days.

The other great thing about Rockaway Beach is that it's tremendously long. Sure, it gets crowded, but not Coney-Island claustrophobic.

rockaway beach queens nyc
rockaway beach queens nyc

So grab a blanket, sunblock, and your MetroCard, pack a sandwich and some fruit and something to drink, and head for the Rockaway Peninsula. You won't find a finer beach than Rockaway for many a mile.

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media, except where noted

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Morris-Jumel Mansion

I had been to the Morris-Jumel Mansion to see concerts, and to visit the museum in the historic house itself, but had never paid attention to the grounds. And they can fairly be said to constitute a park.

morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights nyc

So here they are.

morris-jumel mansion manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc
morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights nyc

Roger Morris built the mansion in 1765, which makes the building today known as the Morris-Jumel Mansion Manhattan's oldest surviving house. It was Morris's summer villa; this milestone once marked "11 MILES FROM N. YORK ON THE KINGSBRIDGE RD."

morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights nyc

His onetime estate, Mount Morris, gave its name to Mount Morris Park, now Marcus Garvey Park, two miles to the south. But, being Tories, Morris and his family fled at the outbreak of war. George Washington took advantage of the house's high elevation to make it his headquarters for five weeks in September and October of 1776, as the museum exhibits inside are happy to explain.

morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights nyc

In 1810, French merchant Stephen Jumel bought the house and married Eliza Bowen. After his death Eliza married Aaron Burr here in the house. Leslie Odom Jr., who originated the Aaron Burr role in Hamilton, made an appearance at the museum's Culture and Arts Festival in 2015.

morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights nyc leslie odom jr hamilton
Leslie Odom Jr. at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in 2015. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

Maintained by volunteers, the garden is a lovely place to spend some time, and hosts lots of organized activities as well. The garden blog notes that local naturalist Gabriel Willow, who leads the NYC Audubon EcoCruises like the one I described here, even led a nature walk through the grounds this summer.

morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights nyc
morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights nyc

So when you pay a visit to the Morris-Jumel Mansion, don't be so distracted by the house's heady history that you neglect to take a walk around the grounds.

morris-jumel mansion manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

Finally, while you're there, take a stroll down adjacent Sylvan Terrace, originally the Morris estate's carriage drive, and part of the historic district that also includes the mansion. The wooden houses from the 1880s are unlike anything else you'll find in Manhattan.

morris-jumel mansion manhattan washington heights sylvan terrace nyc

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media, except where noted

Monday, August 15, 2016

Convent Garden, Donnellan Square, and the Mystery of the Bushman Steps

In the Hamilton Heights/Sugar Hill section of Harlem is a wee public park that feels like a community garden and a park at the same time. Convent Garden (Google always thinks you want to look up London's Covent Garden) is a block-long triangle with its base at 151st St., its apex poking at 152nd St., and its sides along St. Nicholas Ave. and Convent Ave. after which it's named.

convent garden manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

The nearby Convent of the Sacred Heart burned down on August 13, 1888. The institution has since evolved into Manhattanville College, whose origin remains memorialized in the name of the street and park.

Flower density gives Convent Garden a community-garden feel. That and the presence of a local gardener. But there were kids at play too on the warm afternoon when I paid a visit.

convent garden manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc
convent garden manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

Harlem One Stop notes that the Board of Estimate (the city's ruling cabal of earlier times) designated the property a public park back in 1909, but the city neglected to officially transfer it to the Parks Department until 1985, at which time Parks developed Convent Garden into a landscaped sitting area. And a darn nice one at that.

convent garden manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

Just one block south is a more humdrum Parks Department property called Donnellan Square. Naturally, being in New York City, this square is a triangle. And it's one of the city's many places that honor New York soldiers who died in World War I.

donnellan square manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

Private First Class Timothy Donnellan emigrated from Ireland in 1916 and enlisted in the 69th New York Regiment, the "Fighting 69th." He was killed in action two years later. His chaplain, notes the Parks Department website, was Father Duffy of Duffy Square fame, "the most highly decorated cleric in the history of the United States Army" according to Wikipedia.

donnellan square manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

The little park was enlarged and reconstructed at the beginning of the 21st century. A fair number of locals were hanging out when I stopped by. Some of the younger ones looked at me suspiciously when they saw me taking pictures.

donnellan square manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

The blooming planting bed at the north end paid me no mind.

donnellan square manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

A few blocks north and just off Edgecombe Ave. are the Bushman Steps, a small Parks property that used to serve as an entry point to the Polo Grounds, home of the old New York baseball Giants. In a European or South American city, they'd probably just be called 157th St., for which they substitute for a short stretch. Now they take you up to the 157th St. subway station on the No. 1 line. Neighbors tend to the plants.

bushman steps manhattan harlem sugar hill hamilton heights nyc

It seems neither the Parks Department nor anyone else knows why they're called the Bushman Steps.

 

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Saturday, August 13, 2016

NYC Audubon Birdwatching Cruise to North and South Brother Islands

new york water taxi nycA New York City Audubon Sunset EcoCruise was a great opportunity to get a closer-than-usual look at North and South Brother Islands in the upper reaches of the East River. Located between The Bronx, Rikers Island, and Queens, both are now bird and wildlife sanctuaries under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department.

Setting out from South Street Seaport in a New York Water Taxi boat, we motored north, under the Brooklyn Bridge (pictured below), the Manhattan Bridge, and the Williamsburg Bridge.

brooklyn bridge nyc

We got a good look at the new high-rises in Long Island City, Queens. The Pepsi-Cola sign on the far left was just landmarked by the city after years of whining. It's right by Gantry Plaza State Park.

long island city queens nyc

The first island we passed was tiny U Thant Island (officially Belmont Island), named after the former United Nations Secretary General. This artificial island made of landfill from an early subway tunnel is home this summer to gaggles of birds, mostly cormorants but also some great black-backed gulls.

u thant island nyc
u thant island nyc
u thant island nyc

The real excitement was in the air. According to our guide, New York City has 16 pairs of peregrine falcons, more than any other place in the world. When diving for prey, they're the fastest animal in the world. I think this is a family of them:

peregrine falcons nyc

Also in the sky: the Roosevelt Island tram.

roosevelt island tram nyc

Mill Rock was a perch for lots more cormorants. We also saw two kinds of egrets: great egrets and snowy egrets. This, I think, is a great egret.

egret nyc

I lost track of all the species we saw – at least a dozen. They included fish crows, grackles, and ospreys.

I don't recall what our guide identified these as:

bird nyc
bird nyc

The sun was truly setting as we approached North and South Brother Islands.

east river sunset nyc
brother islands nyc

North Brother Island is best known as the location of the old Riverside Hospital. Smallpox victims and others, most famously Typhoid Mary (who wasn't sick, just a carrier, but refused to believe it and behave appropriately), were quarantined on the island for many years. The buildings are now in ruins, the island off-limits to human visitors.

On one of the ruins, our guide was very excited to spot a previously unknown osprey nest.

osprey nest north brother island nyc

The osprey family, two adults and a juvenile, were flying about very fast. This was the only shot I was able to get of one of them. A peregrine falcon was buzzing about, too, harassing the larger ospreys. Apparently birds of prey of different species don't really get along.

osprey north brother island nyc

You can also find listings for the Audubon EcoCruises at the New York Water Taxi website. But since New York Water Taxi failed in its bid to run the new ferry service Mayor DiBlasio recently announced, the service's future in the city seems uncertain. Here's hoping it stays in business here and keeps making its boats available to Audubon – or failing that, that someone else steps in.

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Cooper Square

Cooper Square, actually a narrow, two-block-long triangle, is a junction of streets in Manhattan's East Village that's finally starting to take shape as a park in accordance with a City reconstruction plan published at the beginning of 2011.

Approaching from the southern tip of the "square," you cross what will be known as the Village Plaza, "with diverse seating options and tree planting; serving both students and local residents." North of that will be Cooper Triangle, a "[s]hady, enclosed park." Behind the trees you see the Cooper Union Foundation Building of the The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art.

cooper square manhattan nyc

That's the building where in 1860 William Cullen Bryant introduced presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, who then delivered the famous Cooper Union speech that established his reputation as a national-level statesman and an eloquent, dogged crusader against slavery. (Full text here.)

Let us be diverted by none of those sophistical contrivances wherewith we are so industriously plied and belabored – contrivances such as groping for some middle ground between the right and the wrong…Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."
cooper square cooper union manhattan nyc

A statue of Peter Cooper, founder of the college, will retain pride of place in the redesigned plaza.

cooper square manhattan nyc

And lest anyone doubt that Cooper Square is – or will be – a park:

cooper square manhattan nyc

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Friday, August 5, 2016

Highland Park and Ridgewood Reservoir

There's a marvelous hidden treasure in Highland Park.

On a plateau on the border between Brooklyn and Queens sits a beautiful piece of city history: Ridgewood Reservoir, built in 1859 with three basins that provided drinking water to both boroughs. The reservoir functioned as such until the 1980s.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

highland park ridgewood reservoir nycTwo basins have been filled in, but one remains, and the whole area is being allowed to naturally reverted to a forest where native plants, birds (more than 150 species according to the Parks Department website), and other wildlife – even accidentally imported Italian Wall Lizards (we saw some) – can make their home.

The place's water-supply past is preserved outside the park, too, in the name of Force Tube Avenue, which cuts diagonally across the Cypress Hills street grid for a few blocks until it runs into the park. A pipe called a force tube or force main brought water along this route from the reservoir to a nearby pumping station.

Best of all, you can walk all the way around the basin on nicely maintained paths that offer lovely views.

Enter Highland Park at Jamaica Avenue and Highland Boulevard and the first thing you see is a rolling tract of nice-looking but unremarkable city parkland.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

To reach the reservoir, you can walk up the bike path alongside Highland Boulevard, parkland on your left, the road and Cypress Hills National Cemetery (behind a screen of trees) on your right.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

Cross the road where it bends, head up one of the staircases (we took the one to the left), climb to the top of the plateau and voilà.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc
highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc
highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc
highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

You can get an even closer look at the water on a guided tour to the normally closed West Causeway. But the views from the other paths are worth a visit anytime. Brokelyn has some really nice photos from a different, even more picturesque season: fall.

We visited on a beautiful but hot summer day.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

This leftover building had some reservoir-related function.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

The pathway along the east side of the basin overlooks the 160-year-old Cypress Hills Cemetery. Among the notables buried here are Mae West and the painter Piet Mondrian, one of whose paintings stared down at me in poster form from my wall when I was in college.

highland park cypress hills cemetery ridgewood reservoir nyc

No, you can't go swimming in the reservoir, and I don't think you'd want to. Highland Park is more than the reservoir, though. Among its attractions are a kind of sprinkler circle (who needs fancy suburban water parks?) and tennis courts – a lot of tennis courts.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc
highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

A stairway leads up to Highland Boulevard, which bisects the park. Cross the road and there's more park, with plenty of space for picnicking and just hanging out.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc
highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

On the way out, we stopped to watch a soccer game.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

Through a locked gate we viewed a verdant, wild-looking garden. The Parks Department web page mentions a swamp being reclaimed for a flower garden during the main period of the park's construction, between 1901 and 1905. Maybe that's this one.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

Walking back to the subway, I couldn't resist grabbing a photo of the Don Juan Tax & Ice Cream Parlor. No, I'm not the first blogger to discover it. But what to make of it? Your guess is as good as mine.

highland park ridgewood reservoir nyc

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media