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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Roosevelt Triangle

New York City's Greenstreets program has turned many street-side and intersection locations into patches of green. These aren't really parks, but sometimes I come across one that, for one reason or another, seems to merit a mention here. One such is Roosevelt Triangle in Harlem, a space at the intersection of W. 125 St. and Morningside Ave. distinguished by the 5,500-pound bronze sculpture "Harlem Hybrid" by Richard Howe Hunt.

The Parks Department acquired the triangle and dedicated it to FDR in 1941. The Peter Putnam-Mildred Andrews Fund donated the sculpture in 1976, and Roosevelt Triangle was renovated in 2000.

The sculpture is said to resemble "a natural outcropping and also is inspired by the architecture and design of neighboring buildings," but elsewhere I've read that Hunt's work is entirely abstract. To me it looks (from the north side) like a stiletto-heeled shoe. (See the right side of the photo here.

With its constant tearing down and rebuilding, New York City is a difficult place to position an artwork to suggest the forms of nearby buildings. After all, a sculpture of this size and heft might last a lot longer than those buildings!

Regardless, stop by and admire it when you get a chance – perhaps in honor of Black History Month.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Riverside Park (North) and Grant's Tomb

I don't know if Riverside Park is the longest park in New York City, but it sure feels like it. I chronicled the southern section in an earlier post; my recent visit to Riverbank State Park provided a good chance to also explore the northern section of Riverside, where the first thing I spotted was this funny little house. Anyone know what it is?

The northern section of Riverside Park bucks back and forth between grit (tracks, for example) and green (like a curiously arched trunk of a plane tree).

You're never more than steps from the streets…

…but on the other side you'll find a number of opportunities to descend into…madness?

Walk south over this long, bleak stretch, which provides a great view of the big red electronic Fairway sign that's dangerously distracting to West Side Highway drivers…

…and your surroundings will eventually return to something resembling "park." An inviting detour led me to an ambiguous non-invitation:

But how can you not want to go through an inviting archway like this?

As you approach Grant's Tomb, the spaces open wider, with undulating stairways, stretches of grass, and even chess tables.

And there it is: Grant's Tomb, where Ulysses S. Grant and his wife lie in large wooden sarcophagi beneath a grand dome. The mausoleum's exterior is modeled after Mausoleus's tomb (that's where they get the word, in fact) in the ancient Greek city of Halicarnassus in Turkey. The memorial inside focusses on Grant's Civil War career rather than his later, less successful Presidency. A ranger/guide will answer your questions, or you can just wander the dark space, which contains very little actually: a map showing the sites of Grant's Civil War actions, banners of various companies that served under him, and on the lower level, circling the sarcophagi themselves, busts of other generals. Surrounding the grounds are whimsical benches designed by Pedro P Silva, an artist inspired by Antoni Gaudí.

Note: I've updated this post in reference to the comment below about the church in the photo.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sakura Park

Uptown near Columbia University and just east of Grant's Tomb is a peaceful rectangle called Sakura Park, named after the cherry blossoms ("sakura" in Japanese) the bloom on a batch of trees Japan donated to the city a century ago. (No, you won't see any cherry blossoms in my photos. It's January.)

It's peaceful here partly because there isn't much in the park, really – a small pavilion at the north end, a Japanese lantern donated by the City of Tokyo in 1960, a playground with a sandbox, and the cherry trees themselves.

And, bearing no relation whatsoever to the Japanese theme, there is a statue by Gutzon Borglum (of Mount Rushmore fame) of the generously mustachioed Civil War general Daniel Butterfield, who is credited with composing the bugle call "Taps."

The park's only really striking feature is the exterior wall on its eastern side, an ivy-festooned copy of Kenilworth Abbey's wall in England, built in the 1930s as part of a park redesign by the Olmsted Brothers firm. Verdict: Park – nice. Wall – bravo.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Riverbank State Park

Ever since Riverbank State Park opened 20 years ago on the Hudson River, uniquely situated atop a sewage treatment plant, I've meant to pay a visit. But knowing that the park was most known for its athletic facilities, I didn't expect there'd be much of interest to report for this greenery-focused blog. Sure enough, Nature isn't the big reason to visit Riverbank. And yet, arriving on a misty and exceptionally mild January day, I had a fantastic time just walking around the grounds.

Yes, it's mostly an athletic complex. But with the 28 acres mostly deserted for the winter, the generous spread of sports facilities reminded me much more of ancient Olympia in Greece than of the grubby, uninviting blacktops of my un-athletic childhood. Beyond lofty, green, arched gates, the sweeping entry road crosses the roaring highway far below, on this foggy day providing a strangely sublime view of the New Jersey buildings reflected in the grey river.

After a long crossing you reach the park itself and if you stay to the right you'll find open spaces and picnic areas with nice riverside views. Here's the view north towards the George Washington Bridge:

And here's the Charles B. McAllister nosing its way into some sort of business:

Up in the park, the previous night's rain had left puddles in the brick walkways reflecting the bare trees of January:

While it's no Greek ruin, the Waterfront Amphitheatre furthered my sense of walking through a modern iteration of an ancient plan. The shapes at the top are more of those New Jersey building reflections in the Hudson River:

Outdoor swimming facilities speak more starkly when they're closed. This one echoes the shape of the amphitheatre too.

A few people were using the track or kicking around a soccer ball.

And I discovered that softball season can extend into the middle of the winter if the weather cooperates.

This garden was awaiting warmer days:

But these geese have their own calendar.

The busy facility here this time of year is the ice skating rink, which also has the park's most distinctive architectural feature in these arches:

In the park's early days, people reported nasty smells pervading the grounds, but evidently those problems have been fixed. Mostly it's easy to forget you're on top of a sewage treatment plant. An elevated section at the southern end felt like its own world, where kids were playing basketball, and the waterfront stretches on this lonely winter day felt truly peaceful. But back near the entrance, giant organ pipes loom high above everything else, attended by buses-in-waiting.

Wherever you walk in Manhattan, the hidden life of the city pulses beneath you, popping up here and there and now and then – when transformers explode in a cascade of lights during a superstorm, or where giant stacks watch over ballfields, gardens, grazing geese, chattering children, a cultural center, even a restaurant, as they do here at Riverbank State Park.