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Showing posts from June, 2011

Flow On, East River: Brooklyn to Manhattan, Once Again Upon a Ferry

For two hundred years, crossing the East River by ferry was a commonplace activity although often unpredictable. Residents of Brooklyn routinely commuted to Manhattan by this variable way of water, subject to storms and tides, no doubt a stomach-churning experience during a fierce storm or frightening during the icy waters of winter. During the 18th century, in addition to weather hazards, commuters often complained about inebriated boatmen or boats overloaded with cattle. With its inaugural service in 1814, the steam-powered Fulton Ferry made the voyage not only safer and faster but much more pleasurable. Poets like Walt Whitman could then focus on the metaphors of "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry" as opposed to simply hoping to reach the other shore.


The decline of ferry service began with the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883, putting many East River ferry routes out of business. According to Manhattan's Lost Streetcars by Stephen L. Meyers (Arcadia Publishing, 2005), at…

A Proud Weekend in New York City

This past weekend, the avenues and streets of New York served as the main venue for an historic celebration, one long in the making. Beginning late Friday night when the New York Senate passed new legislation allowing for same-sex marriage in the state, in a dramatic 33 to 29 vote, through Sunday's Pride march down Fifth Avenue and the street party that followed, freedom-loving New Yorkers commemorated the occasion with an abundant measure of open and expressive joy. The Stonewall Inn at 53 Christopher Street in the Village, the site of the 1969 uprising, became a central point of interest, but revelers at Sunday's march - estimated at 2 million, according to event organizers, up from the usual 1.5 million at the annual event - dispersed throughout the West Village and beyond. It was easy to make fast friends out on the streets. There were many hugs and kisses to go around. The weather was close to rainbow-like, too.



Wedding veils were the most popular fashion accessory along …

Strolling Notes from Recent New York Walks: Mostly Wine and Lofty Views of Architecture

• Visitors to the new segment of the High Line, if they're walking from the south, immediately come across a picturesque church scene near 21st Street. Just to the east side of the line we see the back of the Church of the Guardian Angel, situated at the northwest corner of W. 21st St. and Tenth Avenue. The church was built in 1930, designed by architect John Van Pelt in the Italian Romanesque style. Here's a picture of the High Line side and the Tenth Avenue side. The church is an active Catholic church in the neighborhood with its own parochial school.


In a Window Gallery: Al Hirschfeld on Eugene O'Neill

Those of us who grew up with a keen interest in the theater certainly know the wonderful drawings of Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003), the celebrated American caricaturist known for his Broadway portraits. Witty and with a sharp sense of observation, Hirschfeld created elegant line drawings that lifted the work to a high level of modern art. When each new Hirschfeld illustration appeared in The New York Times, as they did so for several decades and for multiple generations, his fans would spend a long time with the drawing, admiring his dead-on caricatures of celebrities and eagerly locating each "Nina," the name of his daughter and whose name he hid in the drawings. Such a lively and fun spirit infuses the caricatures that you would never figure Hirschfeld would make a great interpreter of the work of the more somber playwright Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) much less be a good friend.



A wonderful display of Hirschfeld's interpretation of O'Neill in NYU's Kimmel Center…

A Typical Night and Day in Washington Square Park (Photos)

We're entering the typical days of summer now with warm sunny days leading into pleasant nights, frequented by a rain shower or two. This past Thursday evening was one of the most perfect of summer nights, neither hot nor cold. People assumed their typical roles. Some sat on park benches - either alone, in couples, or in groups. Some walked through the paths. Musicians played music. The chess guys played chess. Visitors wandered through the park to snap pictures of the picturesque arch. On this evening, a young woman frolicked in the fountain. This is also typical.

Washington Square Park. Thursday evening, June 16, 2011, from 8:20 p.m. to 9 p.m. -


A Cultural Guide to SoHo: How to Visit Without Really Shopping

(revised and updated) New York's fashionable SoHo is so famously packed with shoppers, especially on the weekend, that it's a wonder there's anything to do there except shop. Groups of shoppers stand on street corners to plot their next strategic move, carefully weighing the virtues of the next store based on variables of proximity, price, and trends. People line up outside the Apple Store on Greene and Prince, often long before the doors open, ready to snap up the new gadget. Along the fashion-intensive blocks of Broadway and at intersections of cross streets, especially at Prince and Spring Streets, so many shoppers clog the sidewalks that it's often difficult to pass through. Many locals put off errands until Monday.



Believe it or not, there's more to SoHo than frenzied shopping. First of all, there's the idea of slow shopping. This activity, best reserved for a weekday, allows the pleasure of visiting favorite stores while enjoying the historic district…

A Vagabond's Dream: Walking the High Line

An aging vagabond poet of our city once had a strange dream about a park on an elevated old rail line, not so high above a stretch of the western part of the island.


In the dream, the once familiar rail line was no longer overrun with weeds but had been prettified and cleaned up, with exotic trees and strange new grasses.

Summer Sightseeing in New York City: The 1881 Edition

The summer season, with its relatively slower pace, tends to be the time we venture out to see new sights in the city or to cool off on the beaches. This summer season, many residents and visitors have put on the top of their sightseeing list a visit to the High Line, the repurposed rail line turned into a park. Also, Governors Island remains a novel attraction, affording a quick ferry trip to its shoreline and campus-like setting.

In perusing vintage New York sightseeing guides, many of which are available as Google eBooks and in the public domain, I came across a fascinating, informed, and often humorous guide written by a Philadelphia native named Joel Cook. The book, Brief summer rambles near Philadelphia: Described in a series of letters written for the Public ledger during the summer of 1881, was published the following year. Readers today may enjoy Cook's observations, especially for an insight on how Cook reacted to new and future sights of the city.

As Cook's book doe…

A Walk on Lower Fifth Avenue: Illusory Scenes in Black and White

Like the headwaters for a river that runs upstream, Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village serves as the base for the mighty Fifth Avenue. From the park, the avenue runs north all the way to the Harlem River at 142nd street, bustling at key intersections like Madison Square at 23rd, the Empire State Building at 34th St., Bryant Park at 42nd, and the southeast corner of Central Park at 59th St. Lower Fifth Avenue, stretching from Washington Square to the Flatiron Building at Fifth Avenue and 23rd St., may not be as well known as the more famous blocks from Rockefeller Center to Central Park, but this more sedate stretch of avenue, a comparative dowager, connects in spirit to New York's late Gilded Age as well as to the first stirrings of bohemianism in the Village. It's a pleasure to walk slowly.




A Long-Awaited Opening at Washington Square Park

The eastern half of Washington Square Park, under wraps and off limits for the last twenty months, opened to the public on June 2, 2011. The wait has been so long, especially for local residents, that I resigned myself to the notion that the park renovations were not meant for the living but were for future generations. It's been so long that the last time I devoted a whole post to park developments, outside of posting pictures of the park here and there, was on May 20, 2009, the day after the renovated fountain area and northwest section of the park - the so-called Phase I - opened to the general public. Those areas had been closed for a year and a half. Like last time, waiting for this part of the park to open felt like forever, and like last time, it feels good just to have the park back again.



Like the renovated western section, this part of the park feels more formal than the park design it replaced, but that's largely because of its newness and the fact that the older pa…

Hitting the Long Drive: Golf and Other Pursuits on Pier 25, Hudson River Park

When I was a little girl and invited to my first birthday party at a miniature golf course, I was only familiar with the kind of golf I watched on television. That was PGA golf as played by Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus on storied courses such as Pebble Beach, Augusta National, or Saint Andrews. So, as a little tot, setting up at the first hole for my first inaugural swing of a golf club at this mini-golf course in some hot part of north Texas, I just mimicked what I'd seen on TV. Therefore, assuming all first opening tee shots involved driving the ball as hard and as far as possible, I let go with a massive swing. It was fantastic. The ball soared through the air way over the entire course and eventually into the parking lot. The ball came close to hitting about three people on its way up. The adults supervising the party went into shock and quickly pulled the little me aside to explain the distinctions between big golf and this version before me.



Whenever I see a miniature golf…