The Lorelei Fountain

July 26, 2010

At the corner of Grand Concourse and 161st street, directly across from the Bronx County Courthouse, stands a seven-acre patch of green known as Joyce Kilmer Park. Originally called  Concourse Plaza, in 1926 the park was renamed for Alfred Joyce Kilmer, an American poet who lived in New York City and was killed in action in France during World War I.

The highest point in the park is the setting of the Lorelei Fountain, which is dedicated to the memory of German poet Heinrich Heine and one of his most famous works, Die Lorelei. The poem tells the story of the Lorelai, a legendary siren with a magical voice who lures sailors to their deaths on the Rhine. At the foot of the white marble fountain is a large plaque which says:

The Heinrich Heine Fountain (also called the Lorelei Fountain) honors the German poet and writer (1797-1856) whose poem “Die Lorelei” immortalized the siren of romantic legend. The marble sculptural group depicts Lorelei seated on a rock in the Rhine River among mermaids, dolphins and seashells. The bas relief around the pedestal include a profile  of Heine as a result of a campaign by many German writers and scholars.

The sculptor Ernst Herter (1846 – 1917) was commissioned with the financial assistance  of Empress Elizabeth of Austria, to design the fountain in 1888 for the writer’s home city of Düsseldorf, which declined the monument on aesthetic as well as political grounds. The fountain was purchased by a committee of German-Americans in 1893 and dedicated in what was then known as Grand Concourse Plaza on July 8, 1899. It was moved to the park’s north end in 1940. In 1999 this monument was restored, relocated to its original location and placed in a newly landscaped setting in Joyce Kilmer Park.

The view from below

Approaching from the left

A closer look

The poet’s face is below the Lorelei

From the right

Rear view

A mermaid reaches for Heine’s laurels

Birds enjoying the fountain

NYC Department of Parks & Recreation: Joyce Kilmer Park
Forgotten New York
Dialog International: Heinrich Heine Takes New York

Two For the Price of None

July 21, 2010

One of the joys of living in Brooklyn is the overwhelming abundance of free entertainment. Especially during the summer, you’d have to lock yourself inside to completely avoid being exposed to the thousands of concerts, performances, festivals and extravaganzas — even spontaneous bursts of singing and drumming — that are available without charge around the borough.

It is impossible for even the most dedicated music lover to attend every show that takes place during a Brooklyn summer, but sometimes luck and circumstance allow those in the borough of Kings to something akin to a mini-music festival.

Today at lunchtime, a hip-hop flavored reggae band, Vybz Evolution, was performing on a stage erected in front of Borough Hall. The blazing sunlight seemed to fuel their high energy act as they sang, danced and engaged the enthusiastic audience.

Only a block away, in the cool, deep shadows cast by nearby buildings, Ginetta’s Vendetta brought the sound of funk-influenced jazz to a tiny plaza at the corner of Adams and Willoughby Streets. Listeners were spellbound as the band’s leader, Ginetta Minichiello, sensuously swayed in the street while playing her silver plated pocket trumpet.

Two great noontime concerts, only steps from each other, and both for the same great price: free!

The stage in front of Borough Hall

Tasha of Vybz Express

Soloist from Vybz Express

The banner acknowledges Borough President Marty Markowitz

Ginetta’s Vendetta on the street

Ginetta and her trumpet

Keeping the beat in the shade

Meta Ginetta (note poster in the background)

MySpace: Vybz Evolution Band
YouTube: Vybz Evolution Band
DC Caribbean Carnival
Ginetta’s Vendetta
MySpace: Ginetta’s Vendetta
Jazzitalia: Ginetta’s Vendetta
Jazziz: Ginetta’s Vendetta
DC Bebop: Ginetta Minichiello

Don’t Let The Name Fool You

July 19, 2010

When you hear the name of the place, it would be reasonable to assume that it is somewhere along the Hudson or East Rivers. But don’t let the name fool you. Manhattan Beach is not on, or near, the island of Manhattan. In fact, this neighborhood is located on the narrow peninsula that forms the southernmost boundary of Brooklyn.

Physically, Manhattan Beach is about 12 miles from Manhattan Island and less than two miles — straight down the road — from the bright lights, clatter and raucous throng at Coney Island. But culturally, economically and spiritually, Manhattan Beach is a world unto itself.

The area was first developed as a summer resort by the Manhattan Beach Improvement Company. In 1877, the company opened two luxury hotels here along the sparkling sand. By the time World War I erupted, the hotels had both been torn down and the land sold to a residential developer. Soon the quiet stretch of beach, only three blocks wide, was filling with single family homes, many of them lavish enough to be described as mansions.

Today, the neighborhood, where the streets are in alphabetical order, is one of the wealthiest, quietest and safest in New York City. Since 1955 it has included a 40 acre public park that boasts fountains, playgrounds, picnic tables, two baseball diamonds and tennis, volleyball, basketball, and handball courts.

In fact, the most significant change to the stability of this enclave of about 7,000 people has been an influx of newer residents, many of them immigrants from Russia, during the past decade.

Many of the newcomers have purchased older houses, torn them down and replaced them with larger, showier, more elaborate places. Quite a few of these new residents tend to favor architecture reminiscent of The Sopranos or Las Vegas. But they, just like those who have lived here for generations, adhere to the neighborhood’s unspoken creed: they are fiercely protective of their property, their privacy and their community.

An armed private security force, the Beachside Neighborhood Patrol, drives through these wide, quiet, shady streets, keeping an eye out for trouble. A significant number of the homes prominently display burglar alarm signs, security cameras, keypad locks. Houses and yards are hidden behind impenetrable hedges (both natural and artificial), high fences, locked gates.

And yet … this is no exclusive, gated community that is locked away from the world. The residents of Manhattan Beach are sophisticated, dedicated urbanites who have consciously chosen to live in the most populous borough in the largest city in the US.

Here, behind the thick hedges, beyond the manicured lawns, they enjoy the best of both worlds: the richness, diversity, art and culture of the city, along with the space, tranquility, peace and quiet of the country — and all of that, just steps from the ocean and public transportation.

No Trespassing signs on a dead-end street in Manhattan Beach

A backyard with an ocean view


Hedge and wall ensure privacy

Fence embellished with gold paint

A home in Manhattan Beach overlooking Sheepshead Bay

Plenty of custom windows here

Paved driveway behind gates

Curved plantings echo curved stairs

A synagogue in Manhattan Beach

Cedars in pots hide the back yard

Beige stone with red tiles

Off street parking

Elaborate roof structures

Little room between these houses

Red brick and white woodwork

Victorian-inspired with multiple balconies

Balcony and roof deck

Elaborate front gate

Mediterranean influence

Front yard with plantings

No one can see inside when there are no windows

Beachside Neighborhood Patrol saved after surge of support from Manhattan Beach
Manhattan Beach Community Group
If You’re Thinking of Living In Manhattan Beach
Sheepshead Bites

The Plaque

July 17, 2010

You have to go all the way to the end of the Manhattan Beach promenade to see it. Even then, it is almost hidden from view. Go to the spot where the walkway meets a tall, vine-covered fence, approach the short railing that separates the promenade from the jetty, and look down at the stones.

That’s where you’ll see it, fastened to the rocks. A small bronze plaque, weathered from the salt water that washes over it daily. I would have missed it entirely, if not for the brightly colored bouquets laid at its base, nearly covering the simple inscription.

I don’t know whether people carefully climb over the metal barrier to place bouquets upon the rocks all year around, or whether there are flowers on the jetty today because the events that prompted the plaque occurred exactly 12 years ago.

Police identified the missing and presumed dead youth as Daniel Zahra, 18, of Brooklyn. The tragic incident occurred around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday while the family boat was anchored 100 yards off Manhattan Beach in Sheepshead Bay.

The teen and his father had been spending time together on the boat, and Daniel asked for, and got permission, to go for a swim, authorities said. But the youngster never resurfaced after he dived in.

The searchers used helicopters and sonar radar to search the ocean floor, which was about 30 feet deep where Zahra dove. The young man’s father, his eyes brimming with tears, was too distraught to talk to reporters. He sat in a car near the beach with family members, waiting for an end to the grim search.

Keep off the jetty

The flowers draw attention to the plaque

The rocks of the jetty are treacherous

The inscription is almost hidden

Danny Zahra: 1980 – 1998 Forever in our hearts

NY Post: B’klyn Teen Feared Drowned
NY Times: A Search for a Missing Youth

I Bought it at Western Beef

July 10, 2010

Western Beef is a New York-based chain of warehouse style supermarkets. Despite the word “Western” in the name, and the cactus in its logo, this store is very much Eastern and urban; the highest concentration of Western Beefs is in the Bronx, with Queens running a close second.

The company, whose origins go back to the early 1900s, uses the slogan “We Know the Neighborhood.” They explain that

Through diligent demographic research and paying close attention to our customers, we have determined each neighborhood’s specific needs, by learning about the local population’s ethnicity and product demands.

In other words, the stores, many of which are located in areas with sizable immigrant populations, sell merchandise selected to appeal to the nearby shoppers. I bought these unusual soup mixes, manufactured by Grace Foods, in the Western Beef store on Brooklyn’s East New York Avenue, a largely Caribbean neighborhood.

Logo on Western Beef shopping bag

Fish Tea Soup Mix

Pumpkin Beef Soup Mix

Cock Soup Mix

Western Beef
Grace Foods


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