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Saturday, November 1, 2014

High Line, Northern Section

In September we happened to visit the High Line on the weekend the northernmost section opened to the public for the first time. Though the final transformation still awaited some finishing touches, the change from the overgrown trackbed we'd toured in the summer of 2013 to landscaped park was mostly complete.

We headed north and approached the westward turn at W. 30th Street:

high line

Then the view opened up into the guts of the Hudson Yards development, where a whole new mini-city is going up on the West Side of Manhattan – right in the flood plain, of course. Though I don't suppose the waters of the next Superstorm Sandy will reach up to the height of the High Line's glorious bed.

high line

We walked west towards the Hudson River:

high line

The railyard will be completely covered over when Hudson Yards is complete.

high line
high line

The old elevated rail line swings north again for the High Line's final couple of blocks.

high line

This newest and final section of the High Line has a different flavor from the rest. To the south the park spears between buildings and over city streets. Here it's open to the sky and the river.

high line

Finally, the intrepid walker is treated to an excellent view of the picturesque Javits Center.

high line

Now more or less complete, the High Line is and will remain one of New York City's most celebrated, and weirdest, parks.

high line

Friday, October 24, 2014

Juniper Valley Park

Obscure but deliciously named, Juniper Valley Park doesn't look like much in a satellite view, not, at least from the passive enjoyment perspective, as it seems mostly open fields with sports facilities. But the 55 acres of this large park in the Middle Village neighborhood of Queens offers unexpected pleasures. Mostly of the arboreal variety.

juniper valley park middle village queens

The interesting history of the land that became Juniper Valley Park is too complicated to delve into here; the Parks Department website goes into plenty of detail. Suffice it to say WPA workers built the park in the 1940s over land once claimed by a peat bog, a farm, a garbage dump, and the Pullis Farm Cemetery, which still exists, established in the 1840s, restored in the 1990s. Somehow in my circumnavigation of the park I completely missed it. Have to go back sometime, I guess.

The trees are the big visual draw here.

juniper valley park middle village queens
juniper valley park middle village queens
juniper valley park middle village queens

A dense, colorful flower arrangement decorated the 9-11 memorial on the sunny September day of my visit.

juniper valley park middle village queens

The trees fringe tremendous fields dedicated to baseball and soccer.

juniper valley park middle village queens

The minuscule size of the human figures in the next photo will give you an idea how huge these fields are.

juniper valley park middle village queens

If you know what tree bears the fruit in the next photo, please leave a comment! I can't find it in my New York City Trees book. One problem is that the fruit got my camera-eye so excited I took such a closeup that there's no clear look at the leaves.

juniper valley park middle village queens

There's this tree, too – a young ash?

juniper valley park middle village queens

And this one – some kind of pine, I think, but which kind?

juniper valley park middle village queens

Whether there are any juniper or white cedar trees, as were found here when it was the Juniper Valley Swamp, I don't know, but I suspect not. Someone did allow imaginations to run wide in selecting trees to plant in Juniper Valley Park, though.

As far as wildlife goes, this squirrel who found a tree the same color as his fur will have to suffice. A man on a bench who saw me with my camera did ask if I were looking for a falcon. No, I replied. He pointed at a small tree and told me a falcon made a habit of alighting there. For all I know, though, he was making it up. Much like his falcon, he didn't seem to be quite all there.

juniper valley park middle village queens

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bar and Grill Park

When I stumbled upon Bar and Grill Park in DUMBO it didn't occur to me that jan bell between the bridgesthis "empty patch on York Street along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway" had been named to commemorate the Between the Bridges pub, an old longshoreman's bar (and gritty little music venue) I used to frequent years ago when I had a share in a rehearsal studio in the neighborhood.

That was before the DUMBO real estate frenzy turned the Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass zone into the epitome of a trendy, exclusive neighborhood. I've never seen a neighborhood "renaissance" happen so quickly and so completely.

between the bridges dumbo brooklyn
"Podium" by Tony Linberger, a painting of the old Between the Bridges pub

Naturally, this revitalization meant the death of the neighborhood bar. Between the Bridges has been gone for over a decade now. The same thing happened a few years later, and more famously and controversially, to Freddy's, another place where I used to play music and that I had grown attached to, when the Atlantic Yards/Barclays Center development came along.

The Brooklyn Papers reported back in January of 2007 on the greening of this patch across the street from where the old watering hole was replaced by a gleaming tower. DUMBO NYC has photos taken just after the trees were planted. They've grown richly since.

bar and grill park dumbo brooklyn

The wall mural by CAM (Craig Anthony Miller) is part of the DUMBO Walls public art project.

bar and grill park dumbo brooklyn
bar and grill park dumbo brooklyn

No one said the neighborhood stopped being artsy. It just stopped being affordable. And of course, lost its old-time flavor. Such is the way of the City.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thomas Paine Park and Foley Square

If you ever have jury duty in Manhattan, or need a marriage license, or have any other court business there, thomas paine park nyc foley squarepleasant or unpleasant, you've probably seen Thomas Paine Park. Right by the Federal and New York City Supreme Court buildings in lower Manhattan, this old park contains Foley Square, which is so much better-known by name than the park itself that the Parks Department web page for the Park is actually all about the Square.

Approaching the Foley Square side from a certain angle provides a dramatic view of the new One World Trade Center in the distance. The courthouse at the left of the photo below, at 60 Centre Street, designed by Guy Lowell and built between 1913 and 1927, is home to the New York State Supreme Court – which, confusingly, is not the state's highest court, a fact I remember learning in elementary school.

thomas paine park nyc foley square

This is not an architecture blog, of course. But something about the light on the sunny afternoon I visited lent itself beautifully to appreciating the surrounding buildings.

thomas paine park nyc foley square

There's not too much going on in the pleasantly-laid-out park in the middle of a weekday afternoon. I imagine hordes of suits huddled on the benches over their smartphones and sandwiches during lunch hour.

thomas paine park nyc foley square

I mentioned marriage licenses. Well, because we're by the courthouse, it only makes sense there's a Wedding Garden. And because this is the Digital Age, it only makes even more sense said garden is sponsored by The Knot. And given this week's big marriage news, it seems only right to pay the garden a digital visit.

thomas paine park nyc foley square wedding garden

The park has two detailed medallions on the ground commemorating aspects of the city's history.

thomas paine park nyc foley square

Walking through the park away from Foley Square and turning around, I got a nice view of the courthouse through the trees.

thomas paine park nyc foley square

It wouldn't be an Olde Manhattan site without a reminder of the city's Dutch heritage. I stopped by the statue of Abraham De Peyster, a city official in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Mayor from 1691-1695, he later became Treasurer of the Provinces of New York and New Jersey. Imagine how much money he'd be overseeing with a post like that today.

His bronze statue has wandered from park to park – Bowling Green, Hanover Square, and as far afield as Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, where it was too often victimized by student pranksters – since it was erected for Battery Park in the 1890s.

Given the peripatetic history of his statue, it seems appropriate that De Peyster has a direct descendant named William Ambler. An art historian, Ambler told the Tribeca Trib in an interview, after the statue had been in storage for some years:

"Quite aside from any family pride, I think it's just a good idea to get it back on view. He is most famous for being mayor but he was also the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in what was then the colony of New York. So putting him in front of the courthouse is also an appropriate spot. And he did live on Pearl, then Queen Street, so it's nearby there as well."

thomas paine park nyc

Federal Hall on Wall Street, a former city hall, is on land De Peyster donated to the city in about 1699. He had a generous spirit in another way too, credited with promoting the use of public money to aid the poor. So you could say he was an early liberal. All the more reason to put his effigy at the heart of a liberal city – and in a park named after the revolutionary agitator Thomas Paine. (Though it's a mite confusing to have De Peyster here and not Paine himself.)

How in the world I visited Thomas Paine Park and Foley Square and completely missed the Triumph of the Human Spirit sculpture, which honors the New York City African Burial Ground and Commons District, I couldn't possibly tell you. My guess is that it had been removed for cleaning that day.

Not all the surrounding buildings are beautiful. But Thomas Paine Park is a really nice green oasis amid all the granite. Even if you don't have any business with the law.

thomas paine park nyc

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wards Island Park

Wards Island Park is part of the Wards Island-Randalls Island landmass, which used to be two islands in the Harlem River at the intersection of Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx but were combined into one by landfill decades ago. Both names persist.

It's not clear to me what parts of the island(s) are officially parkland, but the name "Wards Island Park" is associated with the southern section and "Randalls Island Park" with the big sports and recreation facilities in the northern part. This post describes my exploration of the southern half of the 480-acre combined island.

I walked over from Harlem via the Wards Island Bridge, also called the 103rd Street Footbridge (though you actually approach it from 102nd or 105th Streets).

wards island bridge

The bridge is for pedestrians and bicycles only. Walking across it on the day of a bike event can be hazardous.

wards island bridge

Looking down onto the Harlem River Drive I couldn't help grabbing a shot of the on-road signage. Exactly what bridge this warns drivers of, I'm not sure.

wards island bridge

The crossing also provides a pretty good look at Mill Rock, a tiny eight-acre island with an interesting (and explosive) history. Technically it's a park. Whether this writer will ever uncover a way to get there, only time will tell.

wards island bridge mill rock

I arrived on Wards Island and turned south onto a really nice tree-lined waterfront walkway.

wards island park

With apologies to the artist: This has to be one of the most unappealing – or at least out-of-place-looking – public art installations I've ever come across.

wards island park

A little further along, as I curved left and began to walk east along the southern coast the island, the Triborough Bridge (recently renamed the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge) came into view. Pictured is the span that crosses to Queens.

triborough bridge from wards island

Next I came to a big expanse of soccer fields pushed up against a gigantic Triborough Bridge support structure.

wards island park

Bridges are everywhere here. I zoomed in to get a good look at the handsome archway of the Hell Gate Bridge. (See Astoria Park for a look at it from the Queens side.)

hell gate bridge from wards island park

There's a strong presence of community services here on Wards Island, including the wards island park volunteers of americaVolunteers of America's Charles H. Gay Shelter Care Center for Men, and Help USA's Wards Island Supportive Employment Center.

Also, dominating the landscape of a big hunk of the island is the Manhattan Psychiatric Center, the beige building visible to the right in the photo below. I'd seen this building any number of times from across the water in Manhattan, specifically from the car while driving down the Harlem River Drive, but never knew what it was.

According to Wikipedia, it was once the largest psychiatric hospital in the world, though today it houses only a couple of hundred patients. The size makes it plausible that, as Wikipedia relates, it once had 4,400 beds. If a building that can house that many people now holds only some 200, imagine the huge closed-off parts. Almost makes me want to believe in ghosts. The hospital (though not this building) dates back to 1848 when, before the Ellis Island era, immigrants were routed through Wards Island – another piece of interesting New York City history stirred up by a visit to Wards Island.

wards island park

The Help USA building sits behind a huge grassy expanse, a "waste of space" unimaginable in Manhattan.

wards island park help usa

Speaking of ghosts, an eerie landscape presents itself under this Triborough Bridge ramp. While this is far from what anyone would think of as parkland, it impressed itself on my senses in a big way.

wards island park
wards island park

Walking north up the road through the center of the island took me past this Manhattan Forestry site. I can't find much information on this, but I'm guessing it's a place where plants meant for planting in Manhattan are stored and/or cultivated.

wards island park manhattan forestry

But before we return to proper parkland, here's one more image of a bridge-related structure. Seeing this reminded me that Robert Moses in his capacity as head of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority – which was and still is named after this bridge, after all, even though it now manages a number of other major crossings – used to have his headquarters here on the island. Though the Authority is now called "MTA Bridges and Tunnels," it is still, according to Wikipedia, officially the "Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority."

wards island park

Where exactly you used to be able to find ol' Robert Moses squirreled away, I couldn't say. (If you know, please add a comment below!) Meanwhile, here's something he didn't live to see – and probably wouldn't have had the slightest interest in:

wards island park

What a joy to come upon this while walking up the hot and more-or-less barren road. And I wasn't the only one enjoying the native plants of the Randalls Island Freshwater Wetland, once part of the channel that separated Wards and Randalls Islands.

wards island park
wards island park

Beginning in 1992 the Randalls Island Sports Foundation (RISF) and the Parks Department's Natural Resources Group (NRG) restored a small area of wetland here, planting native species that provide feeding for insects (like grasshoppers, dragonflies, and the butterfly shown above), birds, even muskrats in the nearby salt marsh. The wetland is supported by water from storm drains located just to the south.

wards island park
wards island park

The red growth above is a burst of sumac berries.

The path through the Native Plant Garden dead-ends, but on retracing my steps, crossing the road and heading up the paved path – again fighting zooming bicycles for a short stretch – I quickly came to a footbridge that leads you across the beautiful salt marsh, the true highlight of my day.

wards island park
wards island park
wards island park
wards island park
wards island park

I left the salt marsh and walked south along the coast, back towards the bridge, finding more vistas and surprises along the way.

wards island park
wards island park

Humans, of course.

wards island park

But also horses. Did you know the NYC Riding Academy was on Wards Island? I didn't.

wards island park

With all that, I still have to plan another visit, this time to delve into the combined island's northern, Randalls Island section. Exactly what counts as "park" in this little-explored part of New York City is unclear to me. But it's full of unusual and surprisingly beautiful spaces to investigate. Who knew? I sure didn't.

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