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Monday, April 29, 2013

Chelsea Waterside Park

I only just realized this park by the Hudson River, just north of Chelsea Piers, had its own identity and wasn't simply part of Hudson River Park. Shows you how much I know. And I live half a block from Chelsea.

The Hudson River Park Trust administers Chelsea Waterside Park, which has its own page on the Parks Department website and its name engraved in a wall by the entrance. If you ask me, that makes it a park.

The original parcel became a Parks Department site back in 1915, and when Tammany Hall boss Thomas F. Smith died in 1923 it was named for him. Expanded, renovated, and with its new name, it reopened in 2000 with new facilities. An early spring visit rewarded me with the sight of this blossoming tree.

There's landscaping too, but it wasn't in color so early in the season, so I won't trouble you with a photo. Dog runs are more fun to look at, anyway. In fact they can provide a city explorer with hours of entertainment.

But this dog, like Rudyard Kipling's cat, walks by himself. (Or perhaps, like Bartleby, would just prefer not to.)

Chelsea Waterside Park provides a nice view of the fireboat John J. Harvey and the lightship-turned-bar Frying Pan (where, incidentally, I recommend steering clear of the mixed drinks and sticking with beer).

A sagging section of fence had admitted dozens of springtime revelers the day I came by. On a big undulating swath of grass clearly not intended for present use, frisbees flew, children kicked balls, families picnicked. It was one of those rare occasions in our litigious, nannified society when I observed people getting to play unsupervised, so to speak. A freak event? An oversight? Had the entire universe turned inside out and upside down? I wasn't sure, but it was nice. Incidentally, I'm also a fan of these art deco lamp posts that line the Hudson River parks. They make me want to retrieve my old rubber gorilla from the distant past and climb it up.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

I loved going to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden when I lived in that borough. I went for cherry blossom season, for the chili pepper festival, for special exhibits. I still love the place, but hadn't been there in some years when I paid a recent visit on a cloudy day, before the cherry blossoms, but on one of the spring's first nice weekends.

The place seemed smaller than I remembered, and I covered just about the entire grounds in a determined walkabout of something over an hour. The fact that the cherry blossoms hadn't yet appeared didn't mean there weren't beautiful colors to appreciate:

And plenty of green.

In the above photo you get a glimpse of the water and, to the right, you can just make out the red archway of the Torii (gateway) in the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. This is the first Japanese garden I remember ever seeing, and even though I've now seen other nice ones, I can still sense a certain magic here. Is it the shimmering water? The fish? The lovers?

The Shakespeare Garden grows flora mentioned in the works of the bard.

There's something to be said for a time when only a few trees have flowered. They catch your eye individually and you can appreciate them that way.

Of course, there's the glassy conservatory. This is a botanic garden after all.

I go up to the trees and I look at the little placards stating what they're called. I look, and I forget. This one is called a "tree":

But sometimes I take a photo of a sign so I can later identify the tree in the picture. Half the people you meet in New York came from somewhere else; this gorgeous tree is a Wisconsin weeping willow.

Botanica aficianados come from miles around to check their email in the Rock Garden.

"Poisonous if eaten." Not everything here is thoroughly benign.

And come to think of it, this Oriental Ash tree looks as if it could pick you up and squash you. Like something out of the murky forests of Oz.

And I like spiders, but this giant one might strike fear into the heart of an impressionable young primate even if it really is just an overgrown planter.

There are trees here with so much character, it feels like they belong on stage. Maybe in the Shakespeare Garden.

I finished my circuit and arrived back near the visitors' center and this pink-blooming tree, which now had a little girl perched in it. Shortly afterward, a security man came by and made her get down.

And I paid a closing visit to the Native Flora Garden, where from certain angles you could almost be in an original wilderness. Except for the explanatory placards, of course.

On my way out these flowers caught my eye:

And I spotted something I had never noticed before: an aging sign paying tribute to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden's precursor, an early botanic garden founded in 1825 by Belgian-born Brooklynite Andre Parmentier in a nearby neighborhood. What's at Carlton Street south of Atlantic Avenue now? Train yards and part of the Atlantic Yards development grounds. If that garden was still here, it would be right next door to the Barclays Center. And where better to leave you, as we conclude our tour of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden?

(Hey, only two months until the NBA Draft.)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mount Prospect Park

This little-known park sprawls atop a hill, the highest point in Brooklyn save for Battle Hill in Green-Wood Cemetery. It's sandwiched amid vastly more famous landmarks – the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Prospect Park itself, and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. I must have walked by Mount Prospect Park a hundred times or more when I lived in Brooklyn and never once ventured up the steps.

From atop this hill you used to be able to see for miles and miles; in fact the watchful Continental Army used it for that purpose in 1776. One thing I'd never have guessed is that there was a reservoir here from the 1850s until around 1940.

Through the fence atop these steps you can look down into the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Or you can just zoom around on your bikes. There's fun for everyone here.

The side view of the Brooklyn Museum is a nice one. All the way to the right in the first photo below, a young guitarist plucks away. The second photo, through twisted branches, was just an impulse click – I liked the composition.

Cultural note: The parks people in Brooklyn are obsessed with daffodils. So much so that I rarely bother taking photos of the ubiquitous springtime planting. But these looked especially nice, so here you go.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Brooklyn Bridge Park

Still a work in progress, Brooklyn Bridge Park has shaped up enormously in the past couple of years. But I was a little apprehensive on my first visit after Sandy. Sure, months had gone by, but would this picturesque project, one of the city's premiere new parks, bear visible ill effects as springtime arrived and with it the crowds?

If so, they weren't readily evident to my perception, which is, granted, far from perfect.

The park occupies several plots along the waterfront, from Dumbo down to just north of Red Hook, but on this occasion I visited the best known, northern section by the namesake bridge.

The view of the Manhattan Bridge is actually more splendid from here than that of its more iconic sibling.

I'm partial to decayed urban structures, like the warehouse that adjoins the park behind a fence and presents images like this one:

But just so you don't get the wrong impression, people typically come to Brooklyn Bridge Park for the waterfront views…

…the waterfront experience…

…and the outdoor amenities, like the grassy area, the boardwalk, and now, wonders of wonders, the marvelously restored carousel.

And yes, spring was arriving. So I'll leave you with this:

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Triangles of Long Island City

In my other guise as a theater reviewer, I see plays mostly in Manhattan, but sometimes in the outer boroughs, where a trip to the theater can occasion a visit to previously uncharted parks. I used the occasion of a recent excursion to the Secret Theatre in Long Island City, Queens, to document three unheralded Triangles in this rough-edged neighborhood with a modest but active arts scene.

The Albert E. Short Triangle, the most of modest of the three, is conveniently adjacent to the Court Square Diner. For a tiny green space it gets a lot of verbiage on the Parks Department website. For our purposes, suffice it to say that Albert E. Short, who died in 1951, was a Queens Assistant District Attorney who "developed a reputation for prosecuting bootleggers and extortionists," concerned himself with what used to be so colorfully called "juvenile delinquency," and in 1942 served as the Exalted Ruler of the Queensboro Lodge of Elks. I don't know much about Elks, and I definitely didn't know they gave their leaders such grandiose Mason-like titles. But if he was an Exalted Ruler, it's only right he should have a triangle of green named after him.

A bit bigger is Gordan Triangle, named for a Long Island City native killed in World War One. If a space alien arrived and did nothing but visit New York City parks, he or she would probably conclude there had been just one great war on this planet, called the Great War – that's how many parks are named for or feature statues honoring specific soldiers or the Doughboys in general.

Naming this one for Private Edward F. Gordan was clearly an improvement over its previous handle, Cassidy Angle, which honored an early Queens Borough President who at the beginning of the last century "quickly earned a reputation for scandal" and subsequently spent a year in Sing Sing. This amusing information comes courtesy of the Parks Department website (which has the apparently incorrect spelling "Gordon").

My rain-spattered early evening visit rewarded me with some signs of spring.

The most picturesque of today's triumvirate of triangles is Rafferty Triangle, located (alas) not at Baker St. but at the intersection of 44th Dr., Hunter St., and Crescent St., right by that big Citibank skyscraper you can see from Manhattan.

It was looking appropriately windswept on this breezy, drizzly, unusually warm evening in late March.

Across the street is the parklike landscaping of the Citibank tower.

So what do you get when you combine three Triangles in one blog post? Well, geometrically speaking, you might get a Rectangle with a Hat. Geographically, though, and historically, you get a neat little walking tour of a little-appreciated part of Queens. Followed by dinner at the diner. And, if you're of a mind, a show (usually excellent) at the Secret Theatre, which you enter via what looks like a former loading dock – which feels just right for the artfully bare-knuckles aesthetic of the resident Queens Players, and indeed of Long Island City itself.