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Friday, July 3, 2015

Bath Beach Park and Shore Parkway Greenway

Bath Beach Park, also known as Bath Beach Playground, is a utilitarian space at the seaside edge of Brooklyn's quiet Bath Beach neighborhood. A walkway through the park ending at a curved wall is named for Joseph L. Pezzuto, a local community activist who had a major hand in the livelihood of this park and the whole Bath Beach neighborhood through a big chunk of the 20th century.

bath beach park pezzuto walkway brooklyn nyc

Atop the wall is a raised platform with benches.

bath beach park pezzuto walkway brooklyn nyc

Visiting on a warm weekday afternoon in early summer, I encountered a whole lot of not very much, just a scattering of children and their caretakers. From some angles it was easy to imagine I was in an episode of Life After People. The dusty softball field looked like a desert, the bocce courts and chess tables just as empty.

bath beach park bocce brooklyn nyc
bath beach park chess tables brooklyn nyc

It was only the middle of the afternoon, so there wasn't too much going on in the playground itself either.

bath beach park playground brooklyn nyc

But at the back of the playground a strange gate beckoned. Why was it open? Where did the path lead?

bath beach park playground brooklyn nyc

I had to investigate, so, keeping an eye out for poison ivy and goblins, I followed the trail around the corner of the playground…

bath beach park playground brooklyn nyc

…and to the end. Where I found, not to my surprise, nothing.

bath beach park playground brooklyn nyc

Behind the handball courts is another unused grassy area. It all seemed to add up to something strange about Bath Beach Park. In college at NYU, Joseph L. Pezzuto was a member of the Rho Epsilon real estate fraternity – did you know there was a real estate fraternity? I sure didn't – but he died in 1999, so I can't ask him about Bath Beach Park's weird extraneous real estate.

bath beach park hadnball brooklyn nyc

Just across Shore Parkway a pedestrian bridge leads to the long bike path running alongside the Belt Parkway and the edge of Gravesend Bay, the Shore Parkway Greenway.

shore parkway greenway bath beach brooklyn nyc

Looking west you can see the Verrazano Bridge, which upon its completion in 1964 became the longest suspension bridge in the world, a distinction it held for some time. In that great age of accomplishment, the U.S. could boast many firsts, bests, and biggests.

shore parkway greenway verrazano bridge bath beach brooklyn nyc

This pair made a nice silhouette against the span.

shore parkway greenway verrazano bridge bath beach brooklyn nyc

And with them, we bid farewell to Bath Beach, that former fashionable retreat, and, at least for now, to the Shore Parkway Greenway.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Milestone Park

Milestone Park in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn is the site of New York City's oldest surviving milestone, a relic from 1741 now at the Brooklyn Historical Society for safekeeping. A marker explains that the post "stood at the juncture of two colonial roads[,] Kings Highway and Old New Utrecht-Flatbush Road (now 18th Avenue). It also served as a gauge to determine postal rates."

milestone park bensonhurst brooklyn nyc

The milestone indicated distances to "N York Ferry" (8 1/4 or 10 1/2 miles depending on which road you took), "Deny's Ferry" (2 1/2 miles), and Jamaica (15 miles). Today it's all one big fat city, of course. But it's easy to imagine the time when today's Queens neighborhood of Jamaica was a village hours away through farms and forests, and it was a long hike to get a ferry to Manhattan.

Near the marker an old water fountain caught my eye. I thought it might be some kind of historic post as well – it looks like it could have been here since 1741 too – until I saw a man bend over it and take a drink.

milestone park bensonhurst brooklyn nyc

The Chinese immigrants gathered around a gaming table reminded me of Columbus Park in Manhattan, where you can find similar scenes.

milestone park bensonhurst brooklyn nyc

Hexagons, cobblestones. Hexagons, cobblestones.

milestone park bensonhurst brooklyn nyc

On the next block: the New Utrecht Reformed Church.

new utrecht reformed church bensonhurst brooklyn nyc

In front of the church, the New Utrecht Liberty Pole "marks the spot over which the American flag first waved in the town of New Utrecht. The original pole was erected by our forefathers at the Evacuation of the British, November 1783, amid the firing of cannons and demonstration of joy."

new utrecht liberty pole bensonhurst brooklyn nyc

I only learned why 84th Street also carries the name Liberty Pole Boulevard while doing research after my visit to Milestone Park. While there I failed to notice the tall flagpole topped with an American flag and with the original eagle and weathervane from the 1783 pole. The Friends of Historic New Utrecht website has plenty of photos.

Another historical note: the park is also the site of the 17th century Van Pelt Manor House, which lasted the better part of three centuries before succumbing to history's onward rush. Wikipedia has a capsule history.

van pelt house bensonhurst brooklyn nyc


Friday, June 26, 2015

Musicians of Washington Square Park

I walk down to Washington Square Park frequently and often hear very good music there in the open air, especially jazz. Sadly, sometimes a loud drummer accompanying a dance or acrobatic act ruins the whole park's aural atmosphere for everyone else. It was not so late yesterday afternoon, when I heard an unusual variety of music.

washington square park music nyc

This act included a bass banjo, or banjo bass (take your pick). Outdoors and with no amplification, the instrument was barely audible, but it sure made a visual statement as Coyote and Crow played "House of the Rising Son." Here they are doing an original.

There are a few different pianists who wheel full-sized pianos, even grand pianos, out to the park to entertain the crowds on nice days. There's also the Sing for Hope piano project, which sets out "brightly colored" pianos at outdoor locales around the city. This piano isn't "brightly colored." But people were taking turns playing it, and I got to hear this gentleman playing Schubert's Impromptu in A-flat minor, one of my all-time favorite pieces to play when I was a piano student (and still today, once in a great while).

washington square park music nyc

There's a long tradition of guitar "circles" in the park where ad hoc groups of players and singers gather to play favorite songs, usually classic rock and folk. I've taken part myself now and then. This gang was pushing out Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" as I swung by.

washington square park music nyc

So it was a good day for music in Washington Square Park. As the sound of a lone sax player piping under the arch caught my ear, the visual music of a tableau of flowers with one of NYC's iconic brass water fountains caught my eye. The water of life.

washington square park music nyc

Come to think of it, that's almost a Dire Straits song too: "Water of Love," one of my favorites, from their first album.

Finally, this seems a good spot for one of the best Washington Square Park images I ever captured, from September 2013.

washington square park fountain rainbow nyc

Talk about serendipity.

I mean, talk about consummate skill and artistic vision.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Green Central Knoll

The quaint word "knoll" isn't one you hear too often around New York City. Aside from Greywacke Knoll, the site of Cleopatra's Needle, the Central Park obelisk – and be honest, did you know that was called "Greywacke Knoll"? – Green Central Knoll in Bushwick seems to stand pretty much alone.

miss rheingold 1945 Specifically, it stands alone on the site of an old Rheingold Brewery, according to the Parks Department – though recent real estate news identifies a different Bushwick location for the historic suds factory. Maybe there were multiple Rheingold buildings or sites. Anyway, the park is called Green Central Knoll because it's bordered by Evergreen Avenue, Central Avenue, and Noll Street. (As to the derivation of the name Noll Street, your guess as is good as mine. Maybe a neighborhood historian can clue us in.)

Bushwick, the name given to the area by Peter Stuyvesant in 1661, comes from Boswijck, meaning "little town in the woods," "refuge in the woods," or "heavy woods" (depending on whom you ask) in 17th-century Dutch.

bushwick brooklyn nyc

For modern times, I'd pick the "refuge" sense, since that's what city parks are. Most of Green Central Knoll is occupied by a large ball field.

green central knoll brooklyn nyc

At a lower level there's a sitting area, complete with cuddle benches.

green central knoll brooklyn nyc

The park's striking feature is an artificial rocky stream bed, complete with artificial (brass) fish and a painted landscape with white birds (ducks?) flapping by.

green central knoll brooklyn nyc
green central knoll brooklyn nyc

Because of a disabled L train, I was running late for the show I was reviewing that night, so I didn't have time to go down to the park's lower corner where, according to the Parks Department website, "the water pours into a catch basin adjacent to an area adorned with spray showers."

I did have time to observe, though, that there wasn't any water in the stream bed, leaving the metal fish just as dry as the artificial frog up at Highbridge Park in The Bronx. So I guess it would have been moot.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Keltch Park, Subway Stained Glass, and the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse

If the Parks Department bestows a name upon a tree-lined sitting area by a subway station, it's a park.

keltch park bronx nyc

Keltch Park along Jerome Avenue in The Bronx is a narrow, oddly shaped triangle with the elevated 4 Train above. It's been Parks Department property since 1899, but in 1944 it got the unusual distinction (unusual among NYC parks) of a name honoring a hero of World War Two rather than of World War One. Robert Keltch was serving aboard a navy ship in 1943 when a German U-boat torpedoed it "just 90 miles east of Elizabeth City, New Jersey," as the Parks Department website details. The war did get closer to our shores than most of us who weren't alive then usually imagine.

keltch park bronx nyc

Upstairs at the 170 St. station, there's more than the 4 Train. These striking stained glass windows are well worth a visit. They're by Dina Bursztyn, as the invaluable blog Scouting New York helpfully informs me.

Dina Bursztyn subway stained glass bronx nyc
Dina Bursztyn subway stained glass bronx nyc

Coincidentally, it was an art exhibition that led us to happen upon Keltch Park in the first place. We'd come to The Bronx to see the crumbling Old Bronx Borough Courthouse, open until July 19 for an art show presented by No Longer Empty.

old bronx borough courthouse no longer empty nyc

It's a double whammy: a rare look inside a fine building left to decay for decades, and a superb show, some of whose art incorporates the debris from the building itself.

"Alien Souvenir Stand" is by Ellen Harvey:

old bronx borough courthouse no longer empty nyc

And this installation, which includes sound, is by Daniel Neumann and Juan Betancurth:

old bronx borough courthouse no longer empty nyc

Beth Campbell and Adam Helms were among the other artists whose work impressed us. I know, I've strayed pretty far from the park theme – this isn't an arts blog. But this exhibition, in this building, is so extraordinary I had to cover it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The High Bridge, Newly Reopened, and The Bronx's High Bridge Park

Despite its large size, dramatic terrain, and numerous facilities, Manhattan's High Bridge Park (which we last visited in 2013) has for a long time been a dead end in one important sense: the High Bridge itself was closed. high bridge nyc" Ever since 1960, the historic tall arched bridge over the Harlem River, built in the 1830s and '40s to host the aqueduct that carried upstate water across to Manhattan from The Bronx, has been sealed off.

Finally, two years later than originally planned, and with Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver in attendance but spoilsport Mayor de Blasio conspicuously absent, the High Bridge reopened to pedestrians and bicycles.

See the High Bridge Park Development Association website for a great 1879 drawing of the bridge from the Bronx side. It shows how the bridge looked before the middle section was replaced with a steel arch in 1927-28 so wider ships could get through. For a view from 2013 from Manhattan, showing the Bronx end of the bridge, with the original Roman-style stone arches, see the next photo:

high bridge nyc

And in June 2015: now, with people!

high bridge nyc

The Highbridge water tower on the Manhattan side is still inaccessible. The Urban Park Rangers at one time led occasional tours of the tower, but I can't find a current listing for any such.

high bridge tower nyc

For a bridge that's so high its very name attests to the fact, you have to descend a lot of stairs to get to the Manhattan-side entrance.

high bridge nyc

At this lower level a pleasant greenway runs parallel to the river below and offers a nice jungly view of the tower.

high bridge nyc
high bridge nyc

And there it is up ahead: the red-tiled walkway across the Harlem River.

high bridge nyc
high bridge nyc

The High Bridge may not span the most picturesque stretch of New York City's vast system of waterways, but it still provides some nice views. Wise planners even picked out fencing with a pleasing geometric pattern.

high bridge nyc

A series of plaques outline the High Bridge's long history…

high bridge nyc

…in contrast to this vintage manhole cover. Does it go down to the aqueduct beneath? I'd sure like to know.

high bridge nyc

I especially like the depiction of these workers. The guy inside the pipe looks Chinese. Is the guy on the ladder from Mexico? Whatever the case, the illustrations on these plaques deserve praise.

high bridge nyc

It's a pretty long walk in the hot sun, but at last: the Bronx side. And a lot fewer stairs at this end.

high bridge nyc

I'd be very interested to learn traffic numbers through the summer. Residents of the Highbridge neighborhood of The Bronx will be crossing to use Manhattan's big Highbridge Park. Going the opposite way will be Harlem residents who see the bridge as an extension of their park, as well as tourists from near and far who want to traverse the historic span and will mostly arrive from the Manhattan side. I hope someone's counting.

We've arrived at Highbridge Park, Bronx version. But there isn't much to this little park.

high bridge nyc

The handsome building on the left is the old Carmelite Monastery, now housing a Samaritan Village drug rehab center.

high bridge nyc

This frog is equipped to spit water from his mouth. Nothing was flowing at the moment. But he sits in a little channel that runs toward the aqueduct and suggests the original purpose of the magnificent High Bridge, now at last open again to the public.

high bridge nyc