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Showing posts from May, 2012

Greenwich Village in the Shade: Washington Square Park and the West Village at the Start of Summer

Those left behind in Greenwich Village during the past weekend's long Memorial Day holiday did well to retreat to the shade. Muggy and warm days sent people to the leafy canopies of Washington Square Park and to the shady streets of the West Village. In addition to sitting, reflecting, and reading on benches, park visitors could pick among several entertainments. Children splashed in the fountain, those funny acrobat guys did multiple performances of their gymnastic routines, the piano guy played many tunes, and so did the jazz cats. A flurry of excitement hit the park late Monday, just around the time the sun was setting, when Boo and Scout, the park's adolescent red-tailed hawks, took off from their ledge on NYU's Bobst Library for their first flight.






Today, the start of the abbreviated work week, Washington Square Park is slowly filling up with its normal summertime contingent of neighbors and tourists. While less muggy, it's even hotter today. The pace stays slow. …

On Memorial Day Weekend: A West Side Walk to the Intrepid, and Memorials to New Yorkers at War

(updated) While many neighborhoods of Manhattan looked decidedly sleepy over the Memorial Day weekend, anyone in search of company need only to head to the west side. Find your way to any street in the West 40s and walk west through Hell's Kitchen to the piers along the Hudson River. You'll soon be joined by many others. I highly recommend taking W. 43rd Street, if only for the novelty of not walking down 42nd Street, but mainly for the splendid roadside architecture of the Market Diner (at 11th Ave. CLOSED). A holiday weekend may require an oversize breakfast of eggs, bacon, and pancakes with syrup and butter, so stopping here at this nostalgic 1963-1964 era diner may be the perfect thing. Since this walk maps out to 3.19 miles, you may as well indulge.


The star attractions on these piers are the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum on W. 46th and 12 Avenue at Pier 86, where everyone gawks at the ships, and the popular Circle Line Sightseeing tours that depart from Pier 83 …

Memorial Day Weekend Begins in New York, and the City's Pace Slows Down: Scenes from the City

While walking the dog yesterday morning, the two of us stopped for a moment to sit on a bench next to the Thompson Street Playground in the South Village. Few people were on the streets. A woman strolled by with her young boy in hand and cheerfully exclaimed, "I love this time of year. Everyone has gone!" It felt like it.



Though not everyone is gone from a metropolis of several million people, Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of summer, feels like an evacuation in progress. Some restaurants and businesses, normally open for reliable hours, just give up and close their doors. For those of us who stay in the city, at least the pace slows down. Some head to the parks, weather permitting. Some still shop after the usually drawn-out brunch. The skies have been a little hazy.

Fleet Week in New York Begins with the Parade of Ships (Photos)

Fleet Week in New York kicked off this morning with The Parade of Sail and The Military Parade of Ships in New York Harbor. The tall ships led the way, followed by the warships. The muted blues, greens, and battleship grays of this morning's overcast and hazy sky gave the flotilla the look of a maritime painting. The bright spots in these pictures belong to the shimmering sails of tall ships, the sailors in their crisp Navy uniforms, and to a seagull who often floated into the scene.






After the Rain: Sights and Sounds from Madison Square Park

The rain this week, ranging from gentle sprinkles to heavier downpours with lightning and thunder, has left the city's parks bathed in an intense verdant green. The lush appearance of such a place like old Madison Square, a result of the energetic combination of nitrogen and oxygen in the stormy atmosphere, evokes images of a primordial Mannahatta, or in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, the "fresh, green breast of the new world." Back in the day - let's say 1600 - the oasis currently known as Madison Square Park would have been a swampy forest filled with red maple trees and woodland ferns and a home to hawks, crows, chickadees, ducks, turtles, salamanders, and frogs.


The cyclical return of the park to its late spring verdancy also finds parallel with its fashionability. After opening as a public space in 1847, Madison Square became the epicenter of Gilded Age New York. This desirable residential area for high society soon spawned the nearby L…

Historic Preservation in New York City: Concluding Thoughts on the Final Day of Voting in the Partners in Preservation Initiative

Over the past few weeks, I have visited and written about six of the sites selected in the Partners in Preservation initiative, a program of American Express in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to involve the public in the cause of historic preservation. As a blogging ambassador for the program, I have greatly enjoyed the opportunity to visit and write about six of the forty sites. Today is the last day to vote for your favorite in the competition, and the series concludes today with this review.

Though today is the last day to vote (click on the badge below), the program has undoubtedly heightened awareness about the vast historical treasures in New York City awaiting our discovery and involvement. The selected sites from all five boroughs have particularly struck home with me, challenging Walking Off the Big Apple to walk into new territory. My travels to the southern shores of Staten Island to the northern reaches of City Island off the Bronx, a distan…

At Woodlawn Cemetery, Remembering Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, The Socialite and the Suffragette

The Socialite

As a woman who amassed a great personal fortune following her marriages to two of the Gilded Age's wealthiest men, Alva Erskine Smith Vanderbilt Belmont (1853-1933) embodied many of the stereotypes of a social climber, an overly ambitious type bent on crashing the social glass ceilings of New York's Gilded Age society. Quite successful in her efforts, her life resembles one of those established and conceited society women in a novel by Edith Wharton or Henry James. Yet, after her second husband, Oliver, died in 1908, Alva's story takes a different turn, although elements of her domineering personality did not.

Alva Smith was born January 17, 1853 in Mobile, Alabama to a moderately wealthy family. Before the Civil War, Alva's father moved the family to New York. Like many of her Gilded Age privileged peers, Alva made the grand tour of Europe and summered with her family in Newport. She attended a private boarding school in France. In 1875, Alva made her mo…

On Staten Island, the Marvels of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grotto

(revised July 2012) In October 1937, members of the Society of Mount Carmel, a mutual aid society of Italian Americans, began building an extraordinary grotto next to their community hall on Amity Street in the Rosebank neighborhood of Staten Island.



You must see it. After the ferry ride, then a ride on the Staten Island rail to the Clifton Sirtoa stop, then a zigzagging stroll on three avenues, and finally through the increasingly narrow streets of Rosebank to arrive at 36 Amity Street, a visit to the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Grotto takes on aspects of a pilgrimage. Arriving at the end of the dead-end street, signs on the worn fence indicate the destination. "All Welcome," the sign reads.



Walking down the red brick path toward the grotto, this fanciful work of ecclesiastical homemade architecture comes into greater view with each passing step. The structure curves and flows in a serpentine shape. Perfectly lined stones are set in concrete with a myriad of details. Ahead on…

News and Views from the Staten Island Ferry

Recent rides on the Staten Island Ferry, especially on good weather days, have been enjoyable as always, full of the usual sights of iconic landmarks and dazzling ships in the harbor. Even before the ferry left the dock, on every trip, passengers engaged in the same comforting routine. While visitors crowded the railings for pictures of the Statue of Liberty, commuting residents assumed their usual positions in the interior, yawning or pulling out a book. Adventurous types crowded the deck closest to the next docking, never minding their windblown hair. As everyone knows, most people riding the ferry from Manhattan to Staten Island get off the boat and immediately walk around for the ride back, this in spite of organized efforts to go forth and enjoy the bounties of Staten Island. Some people, and this includes me, just like being on a boat.





At this time of year, as spring leafs out into full-blown summer, the ferry experience is taken up a notch. Musicians of a high caliber have been…

The Living Spirit of Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church

Many of the congregants of Rossville A.M.E. Zion Church near the far shores of Staten Island on Bloomingdale Road maintain deep and long family ties to this place, stretching back in time "six, seven, even eight generations," as Reverend Janet H. Jones, their pastor, explained as we walked down the aisles of the historic church. Returning for services on Sunday morning, the descendants reaffirm their ties to this once prosperous black community of Sandy Ground, founded by free African Americans in the 1820s and 1830s. Following settlers from the New York area, new residents came to Sandy Ground from Maryland, especially from the Chesapeake Bay community of Snow Hill, to build a thriving oyster industry that would supply the best New York restaurants. The residents of Sandy Ground started their own schools and churches.


As the oyster industry flourished, more free people of color found their way to this community in the years before the Civil War. At the time, Sandy Ground se…

At the Helen Hayes Theatre, A New Act for Second Stage

(revised July 2012) While walking along W. 44th Street in New York's Theatre District, the theatre at 240 W. 44th stands in marked contrast to its neighbors. Built by producer Winthrop Ames and designed by Harry Creighton Ingalls (1876-1936) of the firm Ingalls & Hoffman in 1912, the building when viewed from the street looks like a charming neocolonial inn. Built in sturdy red brick with white trim, the top two floors are adorned with shutters and the lower of the two with small curved Juliet balconies. The arched entrance on the left is flanked with pairs of columns painted white. Above the red awning that identifies this place as the Helen Hayes Theatre, a white classically-inspired plaque marks the theatre's original name, the Little Theatre, with its 1912 origin noted in Roman numerals.


At the time of its opening in 1912, a contemporary reviewer described the exterior as follows,

"We are reminded of elm trees and a calm New England green; for the design of the fa…