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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Springfield Park

petrosino square nycIf you've ever flown into or out of JFK International, you may have noticed green and watery areas right by the airport. I sure have. But I never knew what they were.

Our recent excursion to the eastern edge of southern Queens turned up not only a number of parks and natural areas but a really surprising variety of wildlife. Springfield Park was the first one we visited.

Along with play areas and sports facilities, the park has a big area surrounding a large pond.

springfield park queens nyc

Cormorants are fairly common in New York City waters, but I still get a kick out of the way they dive underneath, swim a considerable way hunting prey, and resurface some distance away.

springfield park queens nyc

A different kind of bird flew overhead, one every few minutes, taking off from Kennedy Airport.

springfield park queens nyc

Back in the pond, a turtle perched. Or a tortoise. Anyway, somebody with a hard shell on his or her back.

springfield park queens nyc

Off the pond runs a channeled creek, where a man who was walking his dog told us he sometimes sees crabs.

springfield park queens nyc

Crabs we didn't see. Fish, yes. Is this prey too small to interest the cormorant?

springfield park queens nyc

After circumnavigating the pond we took one more look around and then headed for nearby Brookville Park – and some much more unexpected wildlife sightings. But we, along with probably many of locals, were glad to read that a 1970 proposal to convert Springfield Park into an industrial complex was nixed.

springfield park queens nyc
springfield park queens nyc

Monday, April 20, 2015

Petrosino Square

Petrosino Square is a small street-intersection park in Soho. It's a prime exhibit for the proposition that even inherently uninteresting parks are always worth checking out, for the history if not the hibiscus.

petrosino square nyc

The former Kenmare Square, actually a triangle (as are so many New York City "squares"), is named for the colorful and truly heroic Police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino.

petrosino square nyc

Born in 1860 in Salerno, Italy, Giuseppe Michele Pasquale Petrosino worked undercover in Little Italy to undermine the Black Hand and Mafia gangs. He also investigated anarchists and founded the bomb squad and the canine squad, the first of their kinds in the U.S., according to the Parks Department website (though Wikipedia's writer doesn't mention them).

petrosino square nycIn 1895 Theodore Roosevelt, then president of the Police Commission board (precursor to today's sole "Commissioner"), promoted Petrosino to sergeant of detectives.

In 1909 Petrosino went to Sicily on a supposedly secret mission to collect the penal certificates of a number of U.S.-resident Italian criminals to help extradite them from the United States. There, in Palermo, he became the only New York police officer ever to die in the line of duty in a foreign country. Yes, the Black Hand had got him. Gangrule.com has lots more information and some great photos.

Seventy-eight springtimes later, this little park was renamed for him.

petrosino square nyc

The plaza is about as boring as can be.

petrosino square nyc

But the flowers and the Citibikes bloom together on a sunny April afternoon.

petrosino square nyc

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Bush Terminal Park

A day in the life of a parks blogger:

Quietly, almost without telling anyone, a big new park opened just last fall on the waterfront in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Absent the kind of fanfare (and controversies) that accompanied the High Line and Brooklyn Bridge Park – the brightest new stars in the firmament of New York City parks – Bush Terminal Park began welcoming visitors a few months ago, after a decade of planning.

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

It happened on the eve of a cold and seemingly interminable winter, during which, naturally, hardly anyone was thinking about parks. I was, of course. But I hadn't heard the news about Bush Terminal Park, also known as Bush Terminal Piers Park.

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

Fast-forward to last Friday morning. We've got the TV news on, and an item appeared on NY1's "Community Calendar" about an event at Bush Terminal Park in Brooklyn. I did a literal double take: There was a park in Brooklyn I'd never heard of? A park big enough to have an event in? Maybe it was a typo – maybe it wasn't a park, but a misprint for "Bush Terminal Armory," or "Bush Terminal Market," or "Bush Terminal Moraine." Or maybe it was a park, but in Brooklyn, Missouri.

As it turns out, Bush Terminal Park is very real and definitely in Brooklyn. I headed there that very same day, as the sunny afternoon faded into evening and a blustery wind made the upper-50s temperatures feel brisk.

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

The new park was built on a former brownfield site, which means it was contaminated by hazardous or toxic substances ("oils, oil sludges, and wastewaters" according to Wikipedia). The former Piers 1-4 now hosts restored tide ponds and beautiful blue water. Everything looks and smells nice. Still, the grassy rises near the water made me think about what might lie, or have lain, beneath.

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

Athletic fields take up big chunks of the park's 22 acres, but they're closed off and separate from the waterfront areas.

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn
bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn
bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn
bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

I wasn't surprised to see geese and ducks. In the next image, the strip of earth covered with netting is part of the fenced-off "Protected Natural Area No Access" – a part, I guess, of what the Parks Department website refers to as "a nature preserve that allows a fun glimpse into Brooklyn's wild side." Which is, as things look now, really pushing the point. But nature will take time to take its course!

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

I did hear and see some unexpected wildlife here, two kinds of non-urban-typical birds. One songbird flew into a high tree before I could get a good look or a photo, but these black birds were less shy, though hard for me to identify in this faraway image. Might they be rusty blackbirds?

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

One thing I didn't expect, after looking at the site on a map, was this great view of the Lower Manhattan and Jersey City skylines.

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

Another skyline view, from the south end of the park, takes in a small fraction of the enormous quantity of grey rocks that were employed in the construction and landscaping of the park. I'd be interested to know where they came from.

bush terminal park sunset park brooklyn

So what's Bush Terminal, and who was Bush?

Irving T. Bush began freight and warehousing operations here in 1895. After some struggles, his Bush Terminal Company became very successful. Wikipedia has a good history on its page about Industry City, the modern name for what the complex has become. The company headquarters, complete with a statue of Bush, still stands, just outside the entrance to the park.

bush terminal company sunset park brooklyn

Though today Industry City is noted for artists' studios and modern businesses, new york cross harbor railroad sunset park brooklynI gather from the Trainweb website that the modern-day New York Cross Harbor Railroad still floats goods, including steel and biosolids (fertilizer made from treated sewage), on rail cars between Brooklyn and New Jersey.

I habitually looked both ways before crossing these disused tracks. The local stray cats take no such cautions.

bush terminal company sunset park brooklyn

Not everything here has been preserved or refurbished.

bush terminal company sunset park brooklyn

But after seeing all the businesses closing up shop for the day, I didn't need Prosperity Noodle, way back up on Fourth Avenue, to tell me there's a lot more going on in Sunset Park in 2015 than Sunset Park.

sunset park brooklyn

One of the best things about my quest to visit every park in New York City is the history I uncover as a by-product, including recent history. If Bush Terminal Park had not come into being, nobody who doesn't work in the Industry City area would pass by this firefighters' memorial.

bush terminal company sunset park brooklyn industry city

The editor in me feels they deserved a possessive apostrophe and a correct spelling of "heroes." But the explorer in me is glad to know that it's here – along with all the rest of the history of Bush Terminal, which in its heyday had thousands of employees, its own police force and fire department, two power plants, restaurants, a bank, a trolley for commuting workers, and a longshoremen's hall. (I wonder what the longshoremen did in their hall. Did they drink mead?)

Don't be fooled by looking at a Google map: the only entrance to Bush Terminal Park is via 43rd Street. Take the R train to 45th or the N to 36th and walk west through the extremely un-park-like industrial district separating the neighborhood's commercial area from the waterfront and the new park. Enter through a gate that looks like it might be private, but isn't (you can tell from the bike-path markings).

In closing, here's a pump by the building with the fire department memorial. I have nothing to say about it. It just looks cool.

bush terminal company sunset park brooklyn industry city

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Doughboy Park

There are lots of “doughboy parks” in New York City – parks with memorials to the young Americans who fought in World War I. Nine of them, according to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, including those at DeWitt Clinton Park and Abingdon Square. But only one is actually called Doughboy Park (the name Doughboy Plaza is also used), and if any place deserves the name, it’s this former WWI mustering ground in Woodside, Queens.

“doughboy

The monument itself features Burt W. Johnson’s sculpture of a soldier standing in a peaceful, almost devotional pose that’s unusual for this sort of statue. In my opinion it’s more affecting than the more active poses of other doughboy memorials.

“doughboy

Dedicated in 1923, the memorial has since acquired a very specific character, with a list (added in 2006) of the soldiers from the neighborhood who died in the Great War. According to the Parks Department, the American Federation of Arts named the Woodside Doughboy (originally called the Returning Soldier) the century’s best war memorial of its kind, and community members still gather here every Memorial Day.

“doughboy

Doughboy Park is adjacent to P.S. 11 and was originally a play area for the school, but after being judged too steep it became a city park. “doughboyThat doesn’t keep kids out, though, especially for an Easter egg hunt on Easter Sunday.

Aside from the somber doughboy himself, the park’s most striking feature is a large brick compass rose annotated with the names of the ancient Greek wind gods (the Anemoi), including my favorite, Zephyrus. Which Greek wind god is your favorite?

“doughboy
“doughboy

I love the design impulse behind features like that. It’s rare today. A Google Maps image shows that the points of the compass in fact do indicate north, south, east and west.

“doughboy

Getting a different kind of direction was a group of costumed young people rehearsing or videoing a performance of some kind.

“doughboy

One corner of the park hints at natural landscape and even wilderness. Cutting through this undeveloped area is a dirt trail that drew me inexorably along it as if I were hiking through the woods, even though it doesn’t really go anywhere at all.

“doughboy

Monday, April 6, 2015

Triangle Parks of Woodside

The Queens neighborhood of Woodside makes good use of its traffic triangles where streets cross at oblique angles. Several of these contain small memorial parks. Woodside Memorial Park and John Vincent Daniels Jr. Square honor war dead, and John Downing Park memorializes a firefighter.

“woodside

Woodside Memorial Park, also called Woodside Plaza, is a general war memorial honoring local residents who died in World Wars I and II, Korea, and Viet Nam. Its notable features are its blocks of schist which, unlike most such rocky New York City outcrops, are trimmed like hedges to fit in the sculptured landscaping. It’s a weird effect.

“woodside

I don’t imagine the water fountain gets much use. I always take note of these, though, because I’m glad they still exist amid the enormous bottled water scam that’s bamboozled our whole misguided nation.

“woodside

One stop away on the #7 train you’ll find John Vincent Daniels Jr. Square and John Downing Park. Daniels was a Woodside resident who died near the end of World War I. His triangle is a relatively large one, large enough for its own page on the Parks Department website, and his memorial is a relatively new one, which is clear from its mention of “World War I.” Most such memorials around the city refer to the Great War. Who in the 1920s imagined that after the horrors of the “war to end all wars” another such conflict could ever happen?

The Board of Alderman named the site in 1933, “to pay tribute to a son of Queens County who made the supreme sacrifice in the World War.”

“John

We have Maurice E. Connolly, Queens Borough President from 1911 to 1928, to thank for the parcel’s initial development as a park. Connolly was later convicted for his part in a sewer graft scandal, despite being represented by Max Steuer of Triangle Shirtwaist Fire fame. Do ill-begotten sewers run underneath John Vincent Daniels Jr. Square (which is, in fact, a triangle)? Maybe. But the upshot, a nice little park, is nicer to think about.

“John

The much smaller triangle of John Downing Park honors Firefighter John Downing, who died in the line of duty on June 17, 2001.

“John

This park is so small the benches are on the outside. But no park is too small to show signs of spring.

“John