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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Pier 57 Rooftop Park

Exhausted from a jostle through the tourist-thronged Little Island? You'd never know it, but right next door is a quiet new oasis with great views and far fewer people.

As of this writing, to reach Pier 57 Rooftop Park you have to follow crude signs a long way around to the side of huge Pier 57.

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks

Privately financed by arrangement with Hudson River Park, the pier's redevelopment is to result in "a mixed-use development with retail, office and public open space, among other uses."

Google's new offices are already here. City Winery has settled in. And perched atop it all is a weird new two-acre park.

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks
pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks

Not too much green space up here. But folks are colonizing what there is.

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks
pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks

Not a lot of shade either.

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks

A few springs of color liven the place up.

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks

But it's mostly a place from which to look at the river, the lower Manhattan skyline...

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks
pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks

and Little Island.

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks little island

You could definitely get in your stair-climbing exercise here. (There are elevators to the main level, though.)

pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks
pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks
pier 57 rooftop park hudson river park manhattan new york city parks

Pier 57 is a huge blocky building with, to my amateur eye, no redeeming architectural value. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, however. In the 1950s it was the terminal for the Grace Line's ocean liners and cruise ships. Later the Transit Authority used it, but it was closed up in 2003. It's nice to see places like this come to life again.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Manuel Plaza

I was walking to the Kraine Theater recently to see and review the excellent 2022 edition of The Fire This Time Festival. Along a stretch of East 4th Street that I've probably walked down a hundred times in my years of covering NYC theater, I stopped short. There on the north side of the street was something that hadn't been there before: a flat tract with a sparkling new Parks Department sign telling me that this was Manuel Plaza.

manuel plaza manhattan east village new york city parks

But is this a park? Evidently it's now a Department of Parks and Recreation property. Wisely they've designated it a "plaza" and not a park.

It does have a few park-like features, though, including landscaped greenery around the fringes and a central turf oval topped by what I at first took to be a lifelike sculpture of a dog.

manuel plaza manhattan east village new york city parks
manuel plaza manhattan east village new york city parks

It was a real dog. But what are those big flat stones? In fact, as of now, pretty much everything about this plaza is a mystery to me.

Which "Manuel" is it named for? At whose urging was this recently empty lot converted to a public space? (See the "before" photo below, courtesy of Google Street View.) Is the graffiti on the surrounding walls to be cleaned off, or preserved as cultural artifacts?

manuel plaza manhattan east village new york city parks
manuel plaza manhattan east village new york city parks

A web search for "Manuel Plaza" yields no useful information at present. Not about this place, anyway. I did learn a little about Manuel Plaza, the person Рa Chilean Olympic long-distance runner from the 1920s. Manuel Jes̼s Plaza Reyes served as his country's flag bearer at both the 1924 and the 1928 Olympics, where he competed in the marathon and won the silver medal on his second try. Not too shabby. (There's also a newsworthy Manuel Plaza in the Philippines; he's legal counsel to new president Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. So there's also that.)

I'm sure more information about Manuel Plaza will be available at some point. Meanwhile, you heard it here (almost) first.

manuel plaza manhattan east village new york city parks
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Thursday, June 23, 2022

Gowanus Waterfront Park and Gowanus Canal Sponge Park

The waters of the Gowanus Canal may never be pristine. But the neighborhood around it has sure shined up. Case in point: along the canal's west bank, abutting sparkling new condo buildings, now lies Gowanus Waterfront Park.

gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks

This two-block stretch of walkways, plantings and benches has already suffered some weathering in its few years of existence. But it's quiet and peaceful, with waterfront views that are actually quite nice, and even a few young oak trees blazing bright green on a sunny day in June.

gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks
gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks
gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks
gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks

New residential development has erased most signs of the immediate area's industrial past, though graffiti in sight reminds us of the rough edge that remains. (Though also not to hate.)

gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks
gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks

Still, the retractile (or retractible) Carroll Street Bridge at the park's northern end, though currently closed for testing and repairs, vividly reminds us of Brooklyn's history. The bridge opened in 1889. An official city landmark, it is, according to Untapped Cities, the oldest of the three remaining retractable bridges in the United States. Seeing it in operation is a real thrill for an infrastructure-history buff. I really hope it returns to working order eventually.

gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks carroll street bridge
gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks carroll street bridge

And speaking of infrastructure, at the south end of Gowanus Waterfront Park is another little "park" called the Gowanus Sponge. It is, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects, "a multifunctional public open space system that slows, absorbs and filters surface water runoff to remediate contaminated water, activate the private canal waterfront, and revitalize the neighborhood."

The idea, I gather, is to sponge up dirty water from the streets and buildings so it doesn't flow into the canal and further muck it up. (I'm not sure what is meant by "private canal waterfront" as this is a public park, but let that go.) Anyway, here's what the "sponge" looks like:

gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks
gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks
gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks

One block south of the park, you can walk or drive across the canal via the (intact) Third Avenue Bridge to a new Whole Foods Market, complete with a covered parking lot with wind-powered lighting. Here is old Brooklyn, this place seems transplanted from an alternate universe.

gowanus waterfront park gowanus canal sponge park brooklyn new york city parks

From a real estate point of view – and New York City is all about real estate, after all – Gowanus Waterfront Park is "the dynamic waterfront park at 365 Bond...the living center of the new canal ecosystem and the Gowanus community."

Take that for what it's worth, but do visit Gowanus Waterfront Park and its spongy appendage. The water is still murky and green, but the evolution continues.

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Sunday, April 17, 2022

J. Hood Wright Park

It's Lin-Manuel Miranda's world now, and we just live in it. That's why everyone knows about Washington Heights by now, right? Well, as it turns out, this northern Manhattan neighborhood, which I thought I knew pretty well after all these years in New York City, has a large park I wasn't aware of – a park where scenes from the film version of In the Heights were shot.

J. Hood Wright Park lies in the West 170s, overlooking the Hudson River and across the island (which is quite narrow up here) from the High Bridge.

This view of the George Washington Bridge from the overlook at the northwestern corner of J. Hood Wright Park will situate you:

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

Movie fame aside, the park's most notable features are its outcroppings of Manhattan schist.

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks
j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks
j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks
j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

This mysterious gentleman (yes, it's yours truly) can't resist schist outcroppings.

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

This rock bed even has room for a tiny pond:

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

And then there are those that just refuse to get paved over. Schists that resist.

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

Aside from that, the park is mostly gently undulating terrain of grassy fields and trees. (Bare, since it was February, except for the occasional evergreen.)

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks
j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks
j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

I demanded Mrs. Odyssey pose with this wriggling tree:

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

Up at the overlook towers the sculpture 3000 A.D. Diffusion Piece by Terry Fugate-Wilcox. Installed in 1974, it bides its time here for the year 3000, by which point its magnesium and aluminum plates are expected to have diffused – that is, fused together. As Radiolab's Jad Abumrad described the piece back in 2011 (when it was slightly less diffused):

"It’s about 30 feet tall and it’s driven down about 150 or 200 feet into this hard, ancient bedrock that can survive a nuclear blast." He added, "There’s something about living in a city like New York where the only constant is change, and then sitting in this park and looking at this sculpture with a quality of timelessness."

True. But to me, it's the schist itself, the bedrock, that suggests timelessness.

Because it's so high and narrow, the sculpture is tough to get a picture of. Even the artist's own website almost throws up its hands at the task. But that's OK – it's not exactly a thing of beauty.

Beautiful, though in their humble way, are the stone structures that house bathrooms, park offices, and recreation centers in many New York City parks. Like this hexagonal one, here at J. Hood Wright.

j hood wright park washington heights manhattan new york city parks

Part of the J. Hood Wright Recreation Center, it dates from 1936, 11 years after the city acquired the land for a park. (Its cupola was restored in 2013.) The acreage had been owned by Hood, a banker (Drexel, Morgan & Co.), philanthropist, and "railroad reorganizer" (whatever that is), who had begun as a dry goods clerk in his native Philadelphia. He lived in a mansion at 175th Street and Haven Avenue, according to the Parks Department website.

Hood applied some of his wealth toward the public good – a library, a hospital – but arguably even more important was his donation of his land, so that it could eventually become this nice 6.7-acre park with really fun terrain.

All photos © Critical Lens Media

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Sunday, September 12, 2021

Nameless SoHo Park (Bobby Boles Park)

Down in SoHo, at the convocation of Watts, Broome, and Thompson Streets just west of West Broadway, sits a small triangular park – a sliver park, as these tiny oases are sometimes called. As near as my research can determine, it's part of the Parks Department's Greenstreets program, though I didn't notice a Greenstreets sign.

nameless triangle park soho manhattan new york city parks

Forgotten New York explains that the island is a "result of latter-day street engineering, as prior to 1905 or thereabouts, Watts ended its eastern progress at Sullivan, but then it was extended to meet Broome just west of W. Broadway, creating the triangle."

Forgotten New York doesn't explain, and I can't tell you either, why the little park didn't get a name when, around the turn of the 21st century, it was landscaped with patterned stones, pleasant plantings (including a beautiful crape myrtle), a circle of benches, and a central sculpture. I think it deserves one.

nameless triangle bobby bolles park soho manhattan new york city parks
nameless triangle park soho manhattan new york city parks

Fortunately, every neighborhood has its chroniclers, you sometimes just have to hunt for them. Soho Memory tells us that the park has been unofficially called Bobby Bolles Park, because before it was turned into a park, sculptor and pro welder Robert S. Bolles, sometimes known as Bob Steel, installed his works here – without permission.

As amNY reported back in 2003, "For years, Bolles' sculptures covered what was then an asphalt traffic island. Bolles, a Gypsy, carved the 'Tree of Life' on the site with a blowtorch from a large metal pipe. It was his last major work before he died in 1980." By then, though, he had received official permission to install his works, according to a 1979 profile by Francis X. Clines in the New York Times. Bolles and his work were notable enough to get a mention in the Fifth Edition (2010) of the AIA Guide to New York City.

nameless triangle park bob bolles soho manhattan new york city parks

The city removed the sculptures when it made the park, but it seems one was re-installed, and in a place of honor. From what I've read of the "Tree of Life" sculpture, this isn't that one, but it does look like his work:

nameless triangle park soho manhattan new york city parks
nameless triangle park soho manhattan new york city parks

The little park narrows to a point at its eastern end where it stabs West Broadway.

nameless triangle park soho manhattan new york city parks
nameless triangle park soho manhattan new york city parks

No, the passions of current politics haven't bypassed this obscure little spot.

nameless triangle park soho manhattan new york city parks

But it's good to be reminded that continuity can sometimes be found if you look hard enough. Sometimes a locally legendary character will, decades on, be memorialized, even if unofficially, in the urban landscape on which he had at one time a notable influence. Bob Bolles didn't live to see the world brought to its knees by COVID-19 in 2020, the Twin Towers fall in 2001, or even the Mets win the World Series in 1986. But in this unnamed little park in SoHo, he lives on.

All photos © Critical Lens Media

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