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Monday, December 12, 2011

Ilka Tanya Payán Park

I often come upon unexpected parks while heading for known ones. That was how I happened upon Ilka Tanya Payán Park in Washington Heights, a triangle at the intersection of Broadway and Morgan Place between 156th and 157th Streets.

Its trees, benches, and sculptures are what make it more than just a place to walk through to get to the 1 Train. The two chickens below – no, wait, it's a chicken and a rooster, I think – are called "Bantam Pair" and are by sculptor Peter Woytuk, who's also responsible for the huge elephants in Columbus Circle and a whole string of other sculptures along the length of upper Broadway in Manhattan.

Payán was a Dominican actress (Angelica, Mi Vida), lawyer, and AIDS activist who died of AIDS in 1996. Six years later, the park was named for her. I imagine she would have been pleased.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Orchard Alley Community Garden

Here's another exception to my rule about skipping community gardens. Do I need to change the rule? Self-imposed rules are always mutable I guess.

Like the nearby Parque de Tranquilidad, the Orchard Alley Community Garden is worth a stop when on a wander through the East Village.

The name isn't fanciful – the piece of fruit lovingly pictured below (it looks like an actual apple) actually suggests actual orchard action.

The Internet doesn't have a lot of information about this place, but here's a little background from New York Cares. The Garden has been discovered by the folks at Make Music New York among others. But it's nice to stumble in when there's no one else around. This path looks inviting:

And while there's nothing especially remarkable about this tree, sometimes it's nice to just appreciate the appearance of trees and plants against the geometry of a building. To a parks blogger like yours truly, nothing says "New York City" quite like a view like this:

Friday, November 18, 2011

St. Nicholas Park and Hamilton Grange

St. Nicholas Park is notable for among other things its steep terrain, but since Alexander Hamilton's 210-year-old house moved in, there's more reason to visit. Though perhaps that's not entirely fair to the park, which does have its own society and website describing it as "[f]orged by nature in rugged masses of rock."

Those masses of good old New York City rock are on extravagant display in the park's north end:

St. Nicholas of Myra, patron saint of the original Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, gift-bringer, and inspiration for Santa Claus, lent his name to several streets in this part of Harlem as well as to the park. In an interesting twist for the Great Recession era, he's also the patron saint of pawnbrokers and repentant thieves, as well as – according to the Parks Department website – bankers.

If that's true, how appropriate that the house Alexander Hamilton built for his family in 1800-1802 has ended up here (after not one but two local moves). As President George Washington's Treasury Secretary, Hamilton established the system of national credit under which the U.S. has operated since the post-Revolutionary period.

The city originally acquired some of the land that's now St. Nicholas Park for the Croton Aqueduct. That land ended up part of a long 23-acre "ribbon park" that also features a dog run, a playground, sports facilities, and some Revolutionary War history. These photos are from the park's quiet north end.

The National Park Service moved, partially restored, re-opened to the public, and runs Hamilton Grange, giving tours of the house's interior. Among the period furnishings are some of Hamilton's own items. He and his family had a few happy years here at the beginning of the 19th century, before he was killed in the famous duel with Aaron Burr, across the river in New Jersey. This is Alexander Hamilton's desk.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Parque de Tranquilidad

Generally I don't include community gardens in this blog, but coming upon Parque de Tranquilidad on a walk through the East Village was such a lush surprise I couldn't skip documenting it. Built on the site of an 1887 synagogue and founded in 1979, the garden has winding paths, charmingly crumbled seating, and a water supply that keeps the dense vegetation thriving.

It's one of those spaces that feels bigger than it is thanks to the tight spaces, the twists and turns, and the elevated oxygen levels.

And look! Big yellow fruit!

So pay a visit to Parque de Tranquilidad on Far East 4th Street next time you're in the East Village. And if it's summer or early fall, bring insect repellent – this place has its own microclimate.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

South Cove Park

A short walk north of Battery Park lies South Cove, with its small surrounding park. Unlike North Cove with its marina (covered here under World Financial Center Plaza), South Cove is a rectangle of water inhabited by very little other than whatever marine life struggles into existence amid the North River currents.

In the South Cove Park area you may happen upon some unusually impressive (for New York) willow trees:

The lushly landscaped coastal path curves through the area:

Lost? Just walk around and around this circle for awhile, looking now and then at the Statue of Liberty (you can see it in this photo on the horizon), and all is sure to become, if not clear, at least a touch more peaceful:

Poems by Seamus Heaney and Mark Strand are etched around the rim of this fish pond. Whether the pond is technically in South Cove Park, I'm not actually sure—exploring the parks maintained by the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy can be a disorienting day's work—but I do know that "strand" is another word for beach, and that one of Heaney's best-known poems is "A Drink of Water." Coincidence? You decide.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

First Park

Now, I don't want all you other playgrounds getting jealous and agitating to get into this blog. As we said at the beginning, "parks" that have no element of passive enjoyment aren't parks for the purposes of Park Odyssey. First Park, though, gets a pass because of its name – if it's called First Park, it must be important, right? – and its location, at the intersection of First Avenue, East First Street, and Houston Street.

No, it wasn't the actual first park, not by any means. That honor goes to Bowling Green. First Park didn't even get its name until a 1997 renovation. But it has the benefit of its location at the First street and the First avenue in the First city. (We New Yorkers do like to think of our city as the First – in importance.)

The New York City Parks Department website uses its entry on First Park as an opportunity to expound upon the history of playgrounds in the city. The phrases "Robert Moses" and "years of neglect and disrepair" figure in the description, as they seem to everywhere in NYC history. I'd like to take this opportunity to mention my appreciation for the anonymous scribes who create the Parks Department park descriptions, which are posted on the website and also, often, on signs in the parks.

In fact, First Park isn't all playground. The southern tip features this attractive expanse of asphalt where people can sit, far enough from the play areas that you know they're not here keeping an eye on their children. Passive enjoyment, then; there you go. To the left is a typical London plane tree with particolored bark.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pumphouse Park

This park is a mystery. Listed neither under the New York City Parks Department, nor under the Battery Park parks website, Pumphouse Park is just…there, with no explanation.

Adjacent to World Financial Center Plaza and the North Cove Marina in lower Manhattan, the park is a vaguely foot-shaped expanse of trees and flowers, surrounding a modest central lawn with plenty of room for small children to cavort. Lots of benches and lots of oxygen make it a very pleasant place to while away a free half hour.

This isn't the only Pumphouse Park in the world. There's one in Richmond, Virginia, although it's often spelled Pump House Park. Perhaps in preparation for invasion aliens have planted a sinister network of Pumphouse Parks in various cities around the world as nexi for their nefarious forthcoming attack.

Well, it's possible. This woman pretending to read a book might actually be an alien scout.

There's a feeling of health here in the summertime. Even the pigeons look sleek and slim—a clear sign that something unnatural is going on.

Dogs, however, aren't welcome. Probably because of the carefully landscaped flora. Or, more likely, because their superior olfactory sense might suss out traces of the aliens.

Things were pretty quiet on a recent summer evening…

…and construction was finished for the day on the new One World Trade Center, just steps away from this little mystery park. (No, it's no longer being designated the Freedom Tower, but many of us are still thinking of it that way.) As of this writing, the concrete workers are on strike. But how could you have a big city without some kind of strike going on or being threatened? In any case, the tower's looking good. If you head downtown to check on its progress, take a detour through Pumphouse Park. And if you know anything about the park—who maintains it, what pumphouse it's named for and where that pumphouse was, anything—please leave a comment!

Monday, August 1, 2011

World Financial Center Plaza

A sojourn to the southern tip of Manhattan provides the urban explorer a welcome break from the miles and miles of grid covering most of the island like a giant screen door laid over the land. There's the waterfront, of course, and large well-known spaces like Battery Park, plus smaller surprises like the Irish Hunger Memorial and Rector Park.

These outdoor spaces aren't always official city parks. The World Financial Center is a set of three large buildings immediately west of the World Trade Center, surrounding a landscaped plaza called the World Financial Center Plaza, adjoining the picturesque North Cove Marina. I saw an outdoor concert here on the Saturday just prior to the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and for that reason this area, which was more or less undamaged by the collapse of the towers, resonates weirdly in my memory, especially since it's so pristinely clean and shiny.

The plaza has lots of open space as well as grass and trees.

Here's where you'd go to learn sailing skills, too:

And if you're lucky (and rich) you can keep your yacht here at North Cove, whose chairman is none other than America's Cup champ Dennis Conner.

What, you don't have a yacht? Well, at least you can watch plenty of boats go by from here. Or take a ride on one of these:

All of this just goes to show that parks are where you find them—even when they're not called parks. Stay tuned: the next entry, about Pumphouse Park, will include a great photo of the rapidly rising 1 World Trade Center (formerly designated the Freedom Tower).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Irish Hunger Memorial

Look, up in the sky. It's a park…it's a garden…it's a sculpture…No, it's the Irish Hunger Memorial! This park-on-a-platform seems to cantilever up and away from the corner of North End Avenue and Vesey Street, aiming at the Hudson River.

Entering from the river side and wandering through, you get a look at a reconstructed Irish cottage and stone walls dating from the era of the great famine of 1845-52.

But what makes this a park, even if they don't call it one, is the greenery, which includes Connacht wetlands flora (blackthorn, ling heather, burnet rose), and the paths and views.

Each of Ireland's counties is acknowledged with its own inscribed stone:

As a unique, intriguing fusion of park and art object, conceived by artist Brian Tolle, this place works well. As a memorial to the victims of the Irish famine, not quite as well in my opinion. Aside from the rather grim-looking county stones, the park is lush (in summer, at least) and inviting and certainly doesn't make you think of hunger or any kind of suffering. Even the cottage suggests picturesque ruins, not a devastated society. Nor does the whole thing seem particularly Irish, at least not to the un-clued-in.

Perhaps the park's thrust into the sky is supposed to evoke hope, or rising above adversity. But whatever its symbolic or iconographic significance, the Irish Hunger Memorial is unlike anything else in the city and well worth a visit. Stop by next time you're downtown.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Riverside Park

Riverside Park: a superb spot for a summer sunset.

The jutting hump of grey schist in the photo above might look more like ice than rock, but it's part of the unchanging topography of this long, thin park, which stretches for some four miles along the Hudson River from West 59th Street all the way north past Grant's Tomb along the western fringe of Harlem.

This view north along the bike path shows the George Washington Bridge in the distance. (For a view of the bridge from the opposite direction—the distant north—check out Wave Hill.)

A pretty sunset with boats is always nice:

But it isn't in too many places where you can get tunnel vision like this at the very same time:

All these pictures come from a section of the park just north of the 79th Street Boat Basin (which explains the sailboats at rest above). But Frederick Law Olmstead, the mastermind of Central Park and Prospect Park, was involved in the original design of Riverside Park, which now extends over 266 acres, and there's plenty of this kind of scenery as well:

It was nice to have a reason to visit Riverside Park (a friend's birthday party) besides biking through, which is how I normally see it. It's a favorite treasure for thousands of Manhattan west siders, and New Yorkers of all ages.

And the flowering plants are sweetly colorful in spring and summer.

Of course, it would take a number of visits to fully explore Riverside Park. Miles to go before I sleep... UPDATE: Click here for a visit to the northern section of Riverside Park, which includes Grant's Tomb.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Green-Wood Cemetery

Cemeteries usually fall outside the purview of this blog, but as New York City's great historic rural cemetery, Green-Wood (you can tell it's old because of that archaic hyphen, like the New-York Historical Society's) easily deserves an entry here.

Loaded with beautiful landscapes, Revolutionary War history, and—oh yes—quite a few dead people (including a good number of famous ones), Green-Wood Cemetery dates from 1838. Its 478 acres became one of the nation's most popular tourist attractions in the mid-19th century, with half a million visitors a year, and according to its official website its "popularity helped inspire the creation of public parks, including New York City's Central and Prospect Parks." Like those parks, Green-Wood is enormous, lush, and topographically varied, as you can see even in these early-spring pictures before the full green of summer has descended:

Re-enactors took over the cemetery last summer for a commemoration of the Battle of Brooklyn (also called the Battle of Long Island), which took place in 1776 and resulted in George Washington and his army's dramatic escape to fight another day (considered a "victory" for the colonists at that difficult early stage of the Revolutionary War). It all happened here and in the surrounding area.

The cemetery also contains the remains of and memorials to Civil War dead.

This female re-enactor is dressed in the spirit both of Revolutionary times, and of this place, one of gaudy death as well as life standing tall.

A quieter day lends itself to more solitary reflection:

The cemetery is still very much an active place, home to any number of the freshly deceased...

…along with the long-dead, including (deep breath):

"Boss" Tweed, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Henry Ward Beecher, Leonard Bernstein,
Samuel F. B. Morse, Lola Montez, Elias Howe, Fred Ebb, Horace Greeley, "Bill the Butcher" Poole, various Steinways, Tiffanys, and Roosevelts, both Currier and Ives, and the Wizard of Oz himself—Frank Morgan.

Summertime again, on the slopes of Battle Hill, which also happens to be the highest point in Brooklyn:

The photos here don't really convey the impressive beauty of the setting. Americans don't make cemeteries like this any more; there are only a handful like it in the country (another is Mount Auburn in Cambridge, MA). I've been here in almost every season, at many times of day, for all kinds of events and non-events (including getting locked inside once after closing...). Without a doubt Green-Wood Cemetery is one of New York's great outdoor spaces, and if you haven't been there, go. Just go on any nice day, or pick a day when there's an event—but leave time for exploring.