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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Cadman Plaza Park

Part of the big green space between Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights is Walt Whitman Park, but most of it is the 10 acres of Cadman Plaza Park.

cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

On the late April day of my recent visit, part of the park had been transformed into a fairground, though with, at least as yet, only a smattering of revelers.

cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

Avoiding the festivities, I didn't get close to the statue of William Jay Gaynor, reformist mayor of New York City from 1910-1913. Next time.

william jay gaynor statue cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

Under a long avenue of plane trees, patchy grass fades into a dirt trail.

cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

The park's most striking feature is a 24-foot-high memorial designed by sculptor Charles Keck and dedicated in 1952 to the Brooklyn soldiers who fought in World War Two, "especially those who suffered and died. May their sacrifice inspire future generations and lead to universal peace."

war memorial cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

Big dreams.

cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

Hard by rises my favorite specimen of the borough's architecture, the Main Brooklyn Post Office, aka Conrad B. Duberstein U.S. Bankruptcy Courthouse – a New York City landmark that's also on the National Register of Historic Places.

cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

Back in the park, never mind the carnival, there's plenty of room for a soccer pitch too.

cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

So who was Cadman? I lived in Brooklyn for 14 years and never knew. Well, Samuel Parkes Cadman (1864-1936), born a Shropshire lad, was a Brooklyn Congregational minister, radio preacher, newspaper columnist, author, president of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, and co-founder of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (now the National Conference for Community and Justice) which arose during the heyday of the KKK to oppose antisemitism, anti-Catholicism, and racial intolerance. In other words, aiming for – here it is again – universal peace. I remember the NCCJ's public service announcements – or were they requests for contributions? – on TV when I was a kid.

cadman plaza park brooklyn nyc

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Walt Whitman Park

There's a surprising amount of open space in downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights. Across Cadman Plaza East from the larger Cadman Plaza Park is Walt Whitman Park, a nearly three-acre rectangle of grass, trees, curved paths, and a fountain kids can stomp around in.

walt whitman park cadman plaza brooklyn nyc

Don't try to drive in here. Security measures are evident, probably because of the proximity of the New York City Emergency Management center – which, per Google Maps, one intrepid citizen has actually reviewed. (Five stars, in case you were wondering. Sadly, no commentary.)

walt whitman park cadman plaza brooklyn nyc

There wasn't much action in Walt Whitman Park on a sunny Saturday in spring.

walt whitman park cadman plaza brooklyn nyc

Only a few people had brought their kids to the fountain.

walt whitman park cadman plaza brooklyn nyc

Walt Whitman, as readers of this blog and Brooklyn-history buffs know, spent a good part of his life in the Borough of Churches, even editing for a time in the 1840s the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, for which he wrote a poem called "The Play-Ground," which begins:

When painfully athwart my brain
   Dark thoughts come crowding on,
And, sick of wordly [sic?] hollowness,
   My heart feels sad or lone—

Then out upon the green I walk,
   Just ere the close of day,
And swift I ween the sight I view
   Clears all my gloom away.

For there I see young children—
   The cheeriest things on earth—
I see them play—I hear their tones
   Of loud and reckless mirth.

walt whitman park cadman plaza brooklyn nyc

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Liberty Park

Parks don't have to be green. The brand new Liberty Park, built atop the agonizingly named World Trade Center Vehicle Security Center and Tour Bus Parking Facility in lower Manhattan, is an acre of modernist walkways, weirdly angled wooden benches, and planters overlooking the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

liberty park manhattan world trade center nyc

When it opened on June 29, 2016, Gothamist called it "sparkling". The New York Times extolled its "touches of whimsy" and predicted it was "sure to become a popular destination, particularly when a half-dozen young honey locusts and other trees mature into a dappled canopy over an exposed, hard-edged expanse."

As yet, the hard edges still dominate, and on a pleasant early spring day as the workday came to a close, only a few people were using the park for anything but a route from one place to another.

liberty park manhattan world trade center nyc
liberty park manhattan world trade center nyc

At the western end, the new St. Nicholas National Shrine, designed by Santiago Calatrava, was taking shape (more rapidly than the honey locusts). It will replace the original St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was destroyed by the September 11 attacks.

st nicholas national shrine liberty park manhattan world trade center nyc

The planters were looking nice – perhaps an augury of urban-bucolic things to come.

liberty park manhattan world trade center nyc

And the views of One World Trade Center and the other shiny new buildings are unbeatable.

liberty park manhattan world trade center nyc
liberty park manhattan world trade center nyc

All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Jane Street Garden

I don't give community gardens much attention on this blog, as they're not usually very park-like. Jane Street Garden in Manhattan's West Village neighborhood is an exception, and more than a community garden anyway, notable for its long history (it was established in 1973) and relatively permanent status as well as its landscaping and carefully maintained condition.

Even on a cloudy February day, the garden looked inviting through the fence, geometrically speaking at least.

jane street garden west village manhattan greenwich village nyc

But when I read in a Gardener's Eye blog post from 2016 that it's open weekends from 9AM to 1PM "or whenever the gate is open weather permitting," I made a point of returning in April. And sure enough:

jane street garden west village manhattan greenwich village nyc
jane street garden west village manhattan greenwich village nyc

According to WestView News in a brief piece from January 2017 titled "Jane Street Garden Remains Resilient as Ever," "The garden is now being prepared to accommodate a new iron fence with a corner entrance. It is being funded by Councilman Corey Johnson and will be installed by the Parks Department in 2017." If a City Councilman and the Parks Department are involved, and there's no looming threat of development overrunning it, I say it's a park.

Plus, tulips.

jane street garden west village manhattan greenwich village nyc

For a detailed – maybe too detailed – account of the complexities behind the park's birth, plunge into this 2007 account in The Villager by Patricia Fieldsteel. Here's just a bit of her dizzying yarn:

New York was in decline, sliding toward bankruptcy; people were leaving in droves for safer, greener places. The Jane St. Block Association raised money to buy trees for the then-treeless street. A chicken-wire fence was put around the garden; benches and seats added. The dress designer Mollie Parnis recognized the garden with a Dress Up Your Neighborhood Award in 1974.

Then in 1975, a catastrophe of cosmic proportions occurred. The plot, now known as “36 Jane Street, Block 625, Lot 34,” was bought at auction by a novice real estate developer, 26-year-old Gregory Aurre, Jr., of W. 12th St. Overnight, the garden was neck deep in mud. Aurre hired architect Stephen Lepp to design a four-story combined apartment/commercial building for the site. Jane Streeters charged the plan wasn’t in keeping with the street. Rumors circulated that quickly became accepted as fact: The building was to be a high-class brothel.

Sure enough, there's definitely some seedy love happening in this tiny triangular oasis.

jane street garden west village manhattan greenwich village nyc

The layout of paths and the angles of the benches make it seem bigger than it is.

jane street garden west village manhattan greenwich village nyc

There's an endearing kind of honor system at work too. How often do you see a display of trust like this on city streets?

jane street garden west village manhattan greenwich village nyc

Monday, April 24, 2017

Father Giorgio Triangle

We came across this modest triangle on an excursion to the new Museum of Food and Drink at the edge of McCarren Park straddling the neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn-Queens Expressway looms above, but the beech trees offer a modest reminder of why we build columns and towers.

father giorgio triangle brooklyn nyc

Father Giorgio Triangle honors Captain Edward J. Giorgio, a local priest and marching band founder who became an Army chaplain during World War Two. Having lost a leg in Europe, he died back home, of blood poisoning, at just 36. The local post of the Catholic War Veterans is named for him as well.

father giorgio triangle brooklyn nyc

The original 1951 bronze plaque, stolen in 2008, was replaced in 2010 by the shiny graphite one we see today, proving Father Giorgio is still remembered all these years later.