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Friday, May 31, 2013

Red Hook Park

Red Hook Park, otherwise known as Red Hook Recreational Area, is a large park devoted to playing fields, but there are a few green walkways and spaces between the fields. More important, it's alongside this park that the famous Red Hook food vendors line up their trucks full of deliciousness.

Our Memorial Day walk took us past the abandoned Columbia Street Grain Terminal.

Reaching the park, we fueled up on Salvadoran pupusas and a cool horchata. Most Park Odyssey excursions don't include food destinations too; this was a happy exception.

Some people, like these picnickers, bring their own food.

Because of our focus on eating, we didn't go deeply into Red Hook Park itself, but it's borderline for this blog anyway, being all athletic and stuff.

But it's big. You could do a lot of walking between the fields if you set your legs to it.

Under the burning sun, though, we saved our energy for the walk to the much smaller, much more picturesque Louis Valentino Jr. Park (next post).

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Erie Basin Park

After discovering the curious sidewalk plantings known as Mannahatta Park on our way to the free-on-weekends Water Taxi off Wall Street, we boarded for Brooklyn. A look back provided a good view of the lower Manhattan skyline…

…while a look forward as we approached our first stop showed us the waterside flank of the recently reopened Fairway supermarket, which features long-ago-decommissioned trolley cars languishing picturesquely by the water.

Docking here made me wonder at the whole idea of taking a ferry to a supermarket. In New York City, no less.

It is Ikea, though, that sponsors the line, which makes a lot more sense, as nothing the size of an Ikea store could be built in Manhattan. Overcoming a lot of local opposition, the store went up in 2008, after obliterating the Todd Shipyard which, as described in this Curbed photo essay, was an active repair facility that dated back to the Civil War.

And around the fringes of its parking lots, along the waterfront, Ikea created Erie Basin Park, a ribbon of pavement with semi-secluded seating areas and displays of artifacts from the site's industrial past.

I didn't see the torrents of litter, discarded condoms, or misbehaving teenagers the Curbed article complained of; everything was clean and quiet. Creepily quiet, in fact. It was Memorial Day, and I was in a park on the waterfront. Behind me, hundreds of people, if not thousands, were shopping at Ikea. But practically no one was venturing into Erie Basin Park. Which suited me just fine.

I remember years ago spending a few hours in Sunny's Bar, one of Red Hook's longest-surviving businesses, looking through the anti-Ikea literature scattered through it. Those protests were no more successful than the anti-Atlantic Yards forces that centered in another bar, the much-lamented old Freddy's, since stamped out by the Barclays Center development (and reopened in another location). I wonder what the denizens of Red Hook – the old hands, and the newcomers – think now. Has Ikea put the neighborhood back on the map? Or is it the destructive blight we were warned of?

From here we headed to Red Hook Park, the next target on this Park Odyssey and a food destination too.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Mannahatta Park

Sometimes I come upon a place with a sign that calls it a park, and I think to myself, Oh, come on. Really?

Over the past few years the city has landscaped the eastern end of Wall Street and named it Mannahatta Park (also called Wall Street Triangle Park), after the old Lenape Indian name for the island. It looks nice and makes sense. This end of Wall Street, approaching the East River, has a much more open, sunlit quality than the canyon-like main stretch of the street.

And the flowers are nice.

But is this really a park?

The following angle makes a slightly better case for the designation:

At the far eastern end, the fountain, dedicated by Deutsche Bank to its employees who perished in the 9/11 attacks, was dry this Memorial Day. Not the season for water yet? Or is it awaiting repair of its broken panes?

We discovered this new "park" on our way to take the free Ikea-sponsored Water Taxi to Red Hook, Brooklyn, which leaves from Pier 11 at Wall Street. In Red Hook we neither explored the dystopia that is Ikea nor shopped at the recently reopened Fairway supermarket, but instead visited four (yes, four) parks, which I'll write about over the next several days.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Queens Botanical Garden

I freely admit I didn't know there was a Queens Botanical Garden until a couple of weeks ago. I was looking at a Google map to see how to get to Flushing Meadows Corona Park by subway, and there it was, just off the big park's eastern border: a botanical garden of Queens' own. Naturally, a visit was in order, and it became the first stop on our Cinco de Mayo visit to what is popularly known as the most ethnically diverse county in the nation.

A day that unfolded into a celebration rooted in Mexican heritage actually began with a very slow walk through the packed sidewalks of the heart of Flushing's Chinatown.

After we charged our batteries on some doughy Chinatown snack foods…

…we arrived at the Promised Land.

The QBG doesn't have the size, the grandeur, or the fame of its Bronx and Brooklyn brethren, but it's got spring colors, and trees with character.

The origin of the QBT lies in a "Gardens on Parade" exhibit created for the 1939 World's Fair, which was preserved and then, in preparation for the 1964 Fair, moved to its present 39-acre site east of Flushing Meadows. The open, western part retains an "unfinished" quality (though additional landscaping and development are planned) that contrasts with the tight cluster of gardens near the Main Street entrance. The latter include bee, herb, rose, and vegetable gardens along with a beautifully landscaped area called – no beating around the botanical bush in Queens – the Wedding Garden.

One thing I've never seen anywhere else is a Parking Garden.

When we first saw this on the QBG map I thought it might just be a botanical-garden joke, akin to calling your toilet a "porcelain throne," but no: It's a parking lot that uses "innovative building techniques and materials to manage storm water on site, conserve electricity, and reduce our global footprint by fighting urban heat island effect." (That's according to an informational video on the QBG website.) I don't know if it works, but if you've ever returned to the city late on a summer day after spending most of it somewhere closer to nature, you may have noticed "urban heat island effect."

This is a pretty good place to escape anything like that.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

We picked a sunny spring Sunday to visit Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the second-largest park in New York City. We had also, without realizing it, picked Cinco de Mayo. And where does the big Cinco de Mayo celebration in these parts take place? You guessed it: Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

In the next photo you can see the Unisphere in the distance behind the revelers. The little circle above and to the left of it isn't a newly acquired moonlet; it's a volleyball. (I carefully snapped this shot just as the ball arced into the air. Feel free to appreciate my extra effort to get the "action shot.")

And speaking of things arcing into the air and me reacting: the movie Iron Man 2 features a splendid fantasy re-creation of the Unisphere and the New York State Pavilion, the most famous of the structures that linger here from the 1964 World's Fair in various states of decrepitude. The Unisphere has been refurbished and looks fantastic, but it seems it hasn't made economic sense to do anything with the Pavilion and its famous floor mosaic. Presumably it will just crumble to ruin eventually.

Promoted by Robert Moses, the New York World's Fairs of 1939 and 1964 birthed this 1,255-acre park on what had once been a big expanse of more-or-less undeveloped meadows, then a dumping ground (F. Scott Fitzgerald's "valley of ashes"). Though it lacks the artistic landscaping of the great Olmstead and Vaux parks (like Central and Prospect), it's huge, heavily used, and highly valued by the people of Queens. Visitors from elsewhere find themselves on park grounds when they visit Citi Field to see the Mets, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to see the U.S. Open, the New York Hall of Science, the Queens Museum of Art, or the Queens Wildlife Center (more humbly known as the Queens Zoo).

It's no surprise, then, that a proposal to build a new Major League Soccer stadium on the grounds has met with (I suspect futile) opposition from park lovers. So much of the space has already been eaten up by large facilities.

We entered from the east side, walking under the thundering traffic of the Van Wyck Expressway and the higher thunder of the jets out of LaGuardia Airport. A relatively peaceful strip of parkland greeted us, before we encountered the Cinco de Mayo crowds.

Special day or no, soccer players were everywhere.

The southern section of the park, with Meadow Lake (NYC's largest lake) and Willow Lake, seemed to be inaccessible, or in any case we couldn't get to them through the festival crowds. We'll have to visit them another day. Industry Pond, from the World's Fair, was the only body of water we managed to visit.

The 43-foot Rocket Thrower, by Donald Delue, also dates from the 1964 World's Fair.

Here's a springtime view of the towers of the Pavilion through the trees:

Famed architect Philip Johnson designed the Pavilion, but his honored ghost has no power to get you into it or up into the towers any more. (Not if you're a civilian, anyway. A friendly NYPD officer told us she'd once been assigned to a police post up there during the U.S. Open tennis tournament.)

The round building on the left is the Queens Theatre, with the rusting rings of the Pavilion behind.

And this is just about as close as you can get to the Pavilion now:

Forgotten NY has more information on the past and present of the Pavilion. But you can see it for yourself, and the rest of this huge park, any day – even Cinco de Mayo.