A Place to Watch the Sun Set

October 13, 2006

Sunset Park, one of the highest points in Brooklyn, stands at the corner of 43rd St. and 5th Ave. An essential resource for this crowded, working-class community, the hilly, tree-filled park boasts an art deco recreation center for indoor activities, an outdoor swimming pool (now closed for the season), handball and basketball courts, a baseball diamond and rows of game tables that are usually occupied by older people playing chess, mah-johng, checkers and go. A section known as the Rainbow Playground includes swings, slides, jungle gyms, fountains and other play equipment.

Climb to the top of the bluff and you’ll see the park’s most notable feature – its sweeping views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, the East River, New York Bay, Staten Island and New Jersey. The vista once included a magnificent view the World Trade Center; when the towers were destroyed, residents gathered here to honor and remember the dead. Now this scenic area is the site of the city’s first Living Memorial Grove, a few dozen young trees protected with wire cages and surrounded by thousands of daffodils planted by local schoolchildren.

There wasn’t time to do it today, but this is the perfect place to settle comfortably on a wooden bench, kick off your shoes and watch the sun slowly sink below the horizon.

Boy on a swing Posted by Picasa

Girl hanging from monkey bars Posted by Picasa

Boy in yellow on a swing Posted by Picasa

Boys on the playground Posted by Picasa

Ceiling in Recreation Center Posted by Picasa

Terra cotta tiles on Recreation Center floor Posted by Picasa

Fountain in Rainbow Playground Posted by Picasa

Rear of fountain in Rainbow Playground Posted by Picasa

View from the top of the hill Posted by Picasa

Men photographing the Memorial Grove Posted by Picasa

Looking towards New York Bay Posted by Picasa

Benches facing west Posted by Picasa

  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: Sunset Park
  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: Rainbow Playground
  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: Sept 11th Living Memorial
  • NYC Dept Parks & Recreation: City’s 1st Memorial Grove
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    Strawberry Fields Forever

    October 9, 2006

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peaceYou may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as one

    Had he not been killed by Mark David Chapman in 1980, this would have been his 66th birthday. Today his admirers gathered at Strawberry Fields, the teardrop-shaped space in Central Park created as a memorial, to remember John Lennon.

    Throughout the day, dozens of musicians brought their instruments to the circular black and white mosaic that says, simply, Imagine. There, accompanied by fans from around the world, they sang and played in honor of the man, his music and his memory.

    Imagine mosaic Posted by Picasa

    Musicians gather at Strawberry Fields Posted by Picasa

    Fans sing along Posted by Picasa

    Imagine – click on the arrow above to view

  • Central Park Conservancy: Strawberry Fields
  • John Lennon: Official Site

  • Is That a Smile I See?

    October 9, 2006

    While walking past a house on Manhattan’s Upper East side, I saw something out of the corner of my eye. I stopped, went back and photographed this architectural detail. I think it looks as though the stone is smiling. What do you think?

    In front of 38 West 76th Street Posted by Picasa

    Mirror, Mirror

    October 9, 2006

    Anish Kapoor’s monumental Sky Mirror is now on display in the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center. The massive, tilted piece, assembled from sections of highly polished stainless steel, stands three stories tall. The Indian-born artist describes the work as a “non-object,” a work of art that suggests a window or void and seems to disappear into its surroundings.

    Despite its size, the combination of its reflective qualities, the curving surfaces and the angle at which it is displayed distort the viewer’s perceptions. The closer one stands, the more difficult it is to discern the edges and boundaries and to see where Sky Mirror begins and ends.

    Walk around it and you’ll see the effects of the changing light and angle; one moment the sculpture stands out distinctly from the nearby buildings, the next it appears to blend into its surroundings, and finally it almost completely vanishes.

    Sky Mirror will remain at Rockefeller Center until October 27. See it soon — before it disappears.

    As seen from Fifth Avenue Posted by Picasa

    Reflecting the office towers Posted by Picasa

    Standing close to the base Posted by Picasa

    Banner at Rockefeller Center Posted by Picasa

    Viewed from Fifth Avenue at dusk Posted by Picasa

  • About Sky Mirror
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Public Art Fund: Kapoor

  • The Hidden Garden in the Sky

    October 8, 2006

    Yesterday I participated in the 4th Annual OpenHouseNewYork Weekend by taking a tour of the Wallabout section of Brooklyn. Today I took advantage of the weekend-long event to visit a legendary space that has been closed to the public for more than 60 years: the Rockefeller Center Rooftop Garden.

    Located atop the British Empire Building, this garden offers exceptional views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Saks Fifth Avenue, its neighbors across the street. The compact, formal space, smaller than a city block, includes meticulously clipped hedges, a shallow pool with a small fountain, a few perfectly matched cypress trees, a border of pink geraniums and a raised platform of fastidiously manicured sod.

    Peeking around the corners provides rare glimpses of the rest of the Rockefeller Center complex including Radio City Music Hall and the skating rink which just reopened for the season.

    This is a hidden spot of greenery high above the city, a retreat usually reserved for private moments of the rich and powerful, but for four hours today, it was a beautiful space open to all who came.

    Saks Fifth Avenue across the street Posted by Picasa

    The frog fountain Posted by Picasa

    The garden pool and lawn Posted by Picasa

    The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Posted by Picasa

    A glimpse of Radio City Music Hall Posted by Picasa

    A glimpse of the skating rink Posted by Picasa

    OHNY donation box Posted by Picasa

  • OHNY
  • Rockefeller Center
  • Newyorkology: Rockefeller Center Roof Gardens

  • Dancing up Fifth Avenue for 41 Years

    October 8, 2006

    By definition, the word Hispanic refers to people from the Spanish-speaking areas of the Americas and the Caribbean.

    For 41 years, New York’s United Hispanic-American Parade has brought together people whose origins are in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay and Venezuela.

    Dressed in their national and regional costumes, thousands of men, women and children mambo, salsa, merengue, cha-cha and tango up Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. The dancers’ energy and joy is contagious, the drummers hands are frenetic, and the massed spectators smile, sway and wave flags in time to the relentless beat.

    Girl with yellow pom-poms Posted by Picasa

    Girls in orange Posted by Picasa

    Girl with blue eyeshadow Posted by Picasa

    Puerto Rican woman Posted by Picasa

    Dancers waiting for their cue Posted by Picasa

    A dancer and her beau Posted by Picasa

    Men with bells on their boots Posted by Picasa

    Girl in ostrich feathers Posted by Picasa

    Girl in pink and green Posted by Picasa

    Boys and girls in pink and green Posted by Picasa

    Men with skulls on their chests Posted by Picasa

    People in Peruvian costumes Posted by Picasa

    Drummers marching up the avenue Posted by Picasa

  • New York Hispanic Parade
  • Galos Corp.: New York Hispanic Parade History

  • A Walkabout Wallabout

    October 7, 2006

    OpenHouseNewYork (OHNY), a group focused on New York City’s architecture and design, has organized this as the 4th Annual OpenHouseNewYork Weekend. Billed as “America’s largest architect and design event,” the Weekend offers free tours of dozens of sites around the city, many of them usually closed to the public.

    I was unaware of OHNY or the event, scheduled for today and tomorrow, until late last night. When I went to OHNY Web site to investigate the available tours, I found that most of the best-known, least-accessible buildings were already full to capacity. Searching for a tour that I could join, I discovered the Wallabout neighborhood.

    Even if you’ve never set foot in New York, you’ve probably seen and heard of certain iconic locations ― the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, Greenwich Village, Times Square. But even natives are unfamiliar with some areas of the city, and the Wallabout neighborhood is firmly among the obscure.

    The area borders three districts burgeoning with new historic and commercial interests ― Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and the Brooklyn Navy Yard ― but even its closest neighbors don’t know Wallabout’s name or its story.

    The name comes from the location; this section of Brooklyn is built on a parcel of land purchased in 1637 from the Dutch West India Trading Company by Walloon (Belgian) Jansen de Rapeljein. The river inlet bordering his land became known as Wallabout Bay (from Waal Boght, “Bay of Walloons”).

    During the 1700s, Wallabout Bay was the site of one of the greatest tragedies of the American Revolution when 11,000 men died on British prison ships moored in the East River. Most of their corpses were thrown overboard and, for many years afterwards, their bones washed up on the muddy shore.

    Five years after the establishment of the United States, the first shipyard was built on Wallabout Bay. In 1801 the federal government purchased the land and the shipping works and established what would come to be known as the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

    As the shipyard developed, commercial interests related to the docks began to spring up in the surrounding area, resulting in factories and warehouses for the goods being shipped and low-cost housing and taverns for the shipworkers. Those bustling streets, just beyond the walls of the Navy Yard, were dubbed the Wallabout district.

    There was never a reason for tourists to flock to this modest, hidden neighborhood. This was never a fashionable location. The houses, while often attractive and comfortable, were never populated by socialites or bankers; the shops, while serviceable, never included fine jewelers or chic dressmakers; the amenities, while adequate, never featured museums or theatres.

    The houses here were always, in every respect, in the shadows of the shipyards, warehouses and factories. Because the district was defined by industry, not ethnicity or economic status, it lacks a clearly defined culture and identity.

    Two major events transformed Wallabout and led it even deeper into obscurity: first, in the 1940s, World War II, great swathes of the industrial area (including most of the Dutch-style marketplace) were torn down to make way for America’s urgently expanded shipbuilding efforts; secondly, in the 1960s, the construction of the massive Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), during which block after block of housing was razed in the name of “progress” and “slum clearance.” The building of the BQE not only destroyed streets and houses, it eliminated an source of public transportation, bisected the area and cut neighbor off from neighbor.

    Today, a small band of activists and advocates are working to have Wallabout named as a Landmark district. This designation would help homeowners restore some of Brooklyn’s oldest wood framed houses, which today are often decaying and crumbling, while preserving more of the area’s rapidly disappearing industrial landscape.

    Ironically, the most neglected houses in Wallabout are also among those most likely to still retain their original architectural details; their owners, either through neglect or lack or resources, failed to follow the lead of neighbors who have stripped away delicate ironwork, hidden carved stone under vinyl siding, replaced stained glass with factory-made windows and, strangely enough, covered solid bricks with brick veneers and layers of stucco.

    Today’s tour, led by an historic preservationist from the Pratt Institute, working with the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership, took us past former candy factories and cold-storage warehouses, charming cottages and crumbling churches, tidy homes and neglected gardens, empty lots, litter-strewn housing projects and well-maintained apartment buildings.

    At the end of the program, the group turned onto Ryerson Street, site of the last surviving home of America’s greatest poet, Walt Whitman. There, we were greeted by representatives of the Walt Whitman Project, who ― to the surprise and delight of the tour group and the area’s residents ― read to us from the 1856 edition of Whitman’s masterpiece, Leaves of Grass.

    The sum of all known reverence I add up in you, whoever you are;
    The President is there in the White House for you–it is not you who are
    here for him;
    The Secretaries act in their bureaus for you–not you here for them;
    The Congress convenes every twelfth month for you;
    Laws, courts, the forming of States, the charters of cities, the going and
    coming of commerce and mails, are all for you.List close, my scholars dear!
    All doctrines, all politics and civilisation, exsurge from you;
    All sculpture and monuments, and anything inscribed anywhere, are tallied in you;
    The gist of histories and statistics, as far back as the records reach, is in you this hour, and myths and tales the same;
    If you were not breathing and walking here, where would they all be?
    The most renowned poems would be ashes, orations and plays would be vacuums.

    All architecture is what you do to it when you look upon it;
    Did you think it was in the white or grey stone? or the lines of the arches and cornices?

    All music is what awakes from you, when you are reminded by the instruments;
    It is not the violins and the cornets–it is not the oboe nor the beating drums, nor the score of the baritone singer singing his sweet romanza–nor that of the men’s chorus, nor that of the women’s chorus,
    It is nearer and farther than they.

    Heading into the ‘hood under the BQE Posted by Picasa

    The grandest house in the neighborhood Posted by Picasa

    The shabbiest house in the neighborhood Posted by Picasa

    Few awnings remain in the old marketplace Posted by Picasa

    A warehouse with an awning and terracotta tiles Posted by Picasa

    77 Clinton Ave., former bakery building Posted by Picasa

    Site of the Rockwell Candy factory Posted by Picasa

    The site of former stables on Waverly Ave. Posted by Picasa

    Vinyl siding covers a wooden house Posted by Picasa

    Left, brick & ironwork; Right, brick veneer Posted by Picasa

    The last remaining tenement Posted by Picasa

    A brick & brownstone doorway Posted by Picasa

    Apartment building doorway carved with dragons Posted by Picasa

    An original doorway and glass-paned door Posted by Picasa

    A rotting front stoop Posted by Picasa

    99 Ryerson Street, Walt Whitman’s house Posted by Picasa

  • OHNY
  • Prison Ships In Wallabout Bay
  • Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn Partnership
  • Pratt Institute
  • Fort Greene & Clinton Hill Places of Interest
  • Andrew Cusak: Wallabout Market
  • Gowanus Lounge: Wallabout Update
  • The Walt Whitman Project
  • Fort Greene Park Conservancy
  • Clinton Hill Blog
  • NYC Roads: Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

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