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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Minetta Green and Minetta Triangle

Across Sixth Avenue from Father Demo Square sit two little parks named after Minetta Brook: Minetta Green and Minetta Triangle.

Minetta Brook, though long since vanished under city streets and buildings, still bubbles somewhere underground, and its memory is marked by Minetta Lane, the famous Minetta Tavern, and these little parks.

The pavement of Minetta Green is even etched with fish:

image of Minetta Green fish

On a windy early spring day, the Green can feel a bit forlorn. But that can also be conducive to pausing and thinking about history.

image of Minetta Green

According to the Parks Department, "Several families of freed slaves, released by the Dutch, established farms and homes along the Minetta Brook as early as the 1640s. With African Americans continuing to settle here in the 18th and 19th centuries, the area became known as 'Little Africa.'" The Ephemeral New York blog quotes a New York Times report from 1910: "In Minetta Street and Minetta Lane the last of the Cornelia Street colored colony remains entrenched."

The Triangle, a bit larger, feels a lot more expansive. Maybe there's enough vegetation here to make a palpable difference in the air's oxygen content. Or maybe it's all psychological.

image of Minetta Triangle

But signs of spring were abundant when I ambled through the other day:

And this loudly chirping sparrow was enjoying the day as much as I was.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt Park

I thought I knew every sizable park in Manhattan, but I admit I had simply never realized that the familiar old American Museum of Natural History sits in the middle of one. Naturally, it's called Theodore Roosevelt Park (as distinguished from Sara D. Roosevelt Park, Roosevelt Island, the Roosevelt Hotel, Roosevelt Field, Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, and so on). T.R.'s father was a founder of the Museum. Quotes from the 26th President, who was a great naturalist, adorn its walls, and a big statue of him rises right out front. Lest we forget: before becoming President, Roosevelt was a New York City Police Commissioner and then Governor of New York State. His birthplace, two connected houses which are now run as a museum by the National Park Service, is downtown, just a few blocks from our very own Park Odyssey Headquarters near Union Square.

image of Theodore Roosevelt Park

"The nation behaves well," Roosevelt wrote (in The New Nationalism 1910), "if it treats the image of Margaret Mead Greennatural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value." City parks help in a modest way towards this goal by reminding us, as we go about our concrete-and-metal city lives, that we're still products of—and embedded in—nature. As manicured as this lawn and these trees may be, it's a net positive that groups of students visiting the Museum can walk through a park on their way there.

This majestically twisted ent has seen generations of school groups headed for the dinosaurs, the Hall of Mammals, the great dioramas, and the planetarium.

image of Theodore Roosevelt Park

Way back in 1807, long before the creation of the Museum, the area had been designated as a public park and was at one time considered for the site of a botanical garden or zoo. image of starling In a way, it became both, though the Museum's plant and animal specimens are mostly not among the still-living.

The Park was officially named for T.R. in 1958.

Wildlife? Sure. This starling seems content with life, even if it is pavement life. And these domesticated wolves seem to be enjoying the Bull Moose Dog Run, named after T.R. as well—or after the third party formed by the former President after his split with successor William Howard Taft. The Progressives were so identified with T.R. they took on the nickname "Bull Moose Party," after the ex-Prez called himself "fit as a bull moose" after surviving an assassination attempt.

image of Bull Moose Dog Run

All of this is north and west of the Museum, but the park circles around to the south as well, where you can have a snooze by this nice fountain:

image of Theodore Roosevelt Park fountain

So next time you're up by the American Museum of Natural History, or just walking near Central Park, spare a few minutes for the Museum's very own belt of greenery: Theodore Roosevelt Park.

If it's daytime, you're sure to spot some flocks of young homo sapiens, delivered via Magic Bus.

image of American Museum of Natural History

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Ciccarone Park

Most online references to Ciccarone Park call it "Ciccarone Playground," and here at the Park Odyssey we're ignoring "parks" that are really just playgrounds. But if a park has some element of green, and if an adult can enjoy the space passively (and take a few photos) without being eyed warily by suspicious parents, it's a park as far as we're concerned. And so we present Ciccarone Park.

ciccarone park

Located off Arthur Avenue, the famous Italian-American cultural center in the Belmont section of the Bronx, this half-acre park owes its existence to a post-World War I War Memorial Fund, which Robert Moses made use of in 1934 to create a series of playgrounds. Given the traditional ethnic character of the neighborhood, this park/playground is appropriately named: for an Italian-American soldier who died of wounds sustained in the Argonne Forest in 1918. In the picture at right, you can see the dirt of a bocce court in the foreground; Ciccarone Park has one of at least 10 public bocce courts in the Bronx. (Whatever you do, just don't confuse bocce with p├ętanque, another adult game of balls-on-the-ground which you can find at places like Bryant Park.)

If you aren't a Child-American, another thing you can do here is play chess. Or, even more quietly, you can just sit on a bench, whiling away the front of the funeral home.

ciccarone park

Talk about passive enjoyment.

Seriously, though, you can't miss Ciccarone Park if you're walking from the subway to check out the many pleasures of Arthur Avenue's Italian eateries. So go forth, experience the Bronx—and pastry thyself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bronx Park: New York Botanical Garden

Bronx Park is huge, over 700 acres, yet you never hear about it. Why? Because most of it is taken up by the Bronx Zoo and the subject of today's post, the New York Botanical Garden.

I visited NYBG in the off-season (mid-March, to be exact), thinking that there might not be much going on other than the much-ballyhooed Orchid Show. After all, isn't a Botanic Garden all about flowers in bloom, trees in full leaf, and warm summer sunshine?

Well, no. It certainly doesn't have to be. For one thing, on a nice off-season day it can be about finding secluded paths and ponds and woods with practically nobody else around.

New York Botanical Garden

By contrast, inside the grand Haupt Conservatory the Orchid Show was packed with people:

Orchid Show

And, of course, with orchids. I'm no orchid expert, nor especially an orchid fan, but this show went some way towards converting me. They sure are sexy little buggers.

A few human souls took a break from the turgid flora and heavy humidity for some refreshing cool air by the pool in the courtyard:


But for a true escape, you need to break out of the glassy domes of the conservatory and wander the vast grounds. There are some fine buildings here, like the Mertz Library…

…and the Lillian and Amy Goldman Stone Mill, formerly known as the Lorillard Snuff Mill, a National Historic Landmark which dates from 1840. (That's right, we're talking about the tobacco Lorillards. They once owned most of this land. The City purchased it back in 1884.)

But this is, after all, a botanic garden. Plants rule here. Tobacco doesn't grow too well in these climes, but I spotted these perky little guys, who looked like they were just coming up. Are they wild onions? Wildman Steve would know, but where's Wildman Steve when you need him?

And then there's this never-logged patch of forest, some 50 acres dotted with trees some of which are over 200 years old. I didn't have much company on my March march through the woods, and had to wait a bit for some fellow humans to hike by so I could snap this photo:

Just because we're in New York City doesn't mean everything's paved over. Evidence of long-term geological processes is never far out of sight. Glacier tracks on the rocks are easy to spot:

And while we New York drivers are quite familiar with the Bronx River Parkway, we rarely if ever stop to think that it's named after an actual river: the Bronx River, the only fresh-water river New York City has. We ought to respect it. We ought, at least, to know it exists! And you can look at it, and listen to it rush roughly by, right here in the Botanical Garden.

No doubt I'd get more colorful pictures from a summertime visit. The rose garden would be in bloom; there'd be a lot more flowers all over; the trees would be in full leaf; and the quantity of brightly clad children would be a lot higher. But if we wait till summer to enjoy the outdoors, well, that's a lot of sitting around inside. Way more than I can handle. I'll leave you with this shot of yours truly, rocking out as the sun goes down.