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The Trip to Normal, and A Goodbye

Update - Below is a farewell. This website came out of retirement and resumed regular publishing in 2015.

A few weeks ago, I moved to Inwood, a neighborhood in the northernmost reaches of the island of Manhattan. I was immediately struck by its friendliness, with many people introducing themselves and asking if I needed anything. In the little time I have been here, I have stayed close to home and have left only when it was time to go to work.


I like walking up and down the hilly streets and rambling down past the baseball fields to Spuyten Duyvil Creek with its views of ducks, geese, and the pretty Henry Hudson Bridge. I have seen several Red-tailed Hawks flying about the hills, and a Snowy Egret and a Great Blue Heron in the waters. A few people have spoken of seeing a Bald Eagle and a baby Bald Eagle soaring over Inwood Hill Park. I look forward to seeing the eagles as well as some wise old owls as the shadows deepen into winter.



While walking in the park, I can begin to perceive …

Sea Longing at the Cunard Building, 25 Broadway

The Cunard Building at 25 Broadway, while no longer housing the grand "Ticketing Hall" for the great ocean liners, still evokes dreams of a long voyage at sea. Designed by architect Benjamin Wistar Morris with Carrere & Hastings and completed in 1921, the grand neo-Renaissance building at the top of Bowling Green solidified the company's position as a leader of transatlantic travel and  commercial shipping. In 1917, the company had built an equally impressive European headquarters in Liverpool.



The Great Hall, once a bustling scene for those making arrangements for sea voyages, sported high vaulted 65-foot ceilings with detailed paintings of marine life. It must have been grand to stand in line for tickets here and look up at the Roman-like display of seahorses, seashells, mermaids, dolphins, and flying birds, but even more thrilling to board the Cunard ocean liners themselves - the RMS Carpathia, the ship that brought the Titanic survivors home, and later, the Queen…

New York Egyptian Deco, 1926: Thomas Lamb and the Pythian Temple

(updated) Anyone strolling along West 70th between Columbus Avenue and Broadway on Manhattan's Upper West Side may want to come to a full and complete stop in front of 135. Here rises the commanding pharaonic authority of the Order of Knights of Pythias, a fraternal organization dating to the time of the Civil War, and for whom architect Thomas Lamb designed this Egyptian Art Deco extravaganza in 1926.


Members of the Knights of Pythias, founded in Washington, D.C. in 1864, committed themselves to a Supreme Being, all-around clean-living, and general civic-mindedness. Back in the day, a friend of mine from Texas won a Knights of Pythias high school debate contest, a big deal then and for which he was mighty proud. In the heyday of the Pythians, the members built splendid temples throughout the country, many of which are still extent and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Thomas W. Lamb, a NYC architect specializing in movie palaces and theaters, made a good choice …

The Fourth of July, As Seen from Washington Square Park

Last evening on the 4th of July, at the time when fireworks burst in the air over the Hudson River, many people gravitated to Washington Square Park, just like they do almost every night. It was a warm and humid evening, but the skies cleared a few hours in advance, like the whole thing was planned.


Those of us who gathered in the park could partially see, and definitely hear, the fireworks to the west. A few trees and buildings were in the way. Not the best seats in the house. In a theater, these seats would be the ones labelled "obstructed views." On the other hand, I preferred the cool live jazz of the park's itinerant musicians over the pre-programmed soundtrack.



Washington Square Park sits on the south end of Fifth Avenue, with good views of the Empire State Building's patriotic displays to the north. To demonstrate, below is a picture from the evening before. The sight of the Empire State Building through the Washington Square Arch is a natural subject for pict…

Scenes from a Saturday Summer Afternoon in Central Park: Lawn Bowling and Sunbathing in the Sheep Meadow

On an immaculately groomed green lawn near Central Park's Sheep Meadow, an elegant-looking group gathered for the sport of lawn bowling. Dressed in their formal whites, the group attracted a modest group of curious onlookers, as if they had stepped out of time from a lost empire.


They certainly made a handsome group, even more so for not focusing on their own elegance but on the procedures of the game afoot.


In fact, these are members of the New York Lawn Bowling Club, and according to their website, they invite you to join them. Official site www.nybowls.com

This Week in New York, the Place to Be: The Stonewall Inn

On June 28, 1969 police raided The Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village, arresting 13 people, and word of the arrest spread quickly among the community. That was 44 years ago today. Subsequent protests led to the first gay and lesbian march.

On Wednesday of this week, the inn served as the instinctive rallying point for two historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings. In one case, the court ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional on the grounds that the law denied same-sex couples "equal liberty" as protected in the Fifth Amendment. The other case involving California's Proposition 8 paved the way for same-sex marriages in California to resume. Today, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered that California counties could issue marriage licenses immediately.

It's Pride Week in New York. Yes, it is. The march takes place this Sunday, June 30, 2013. The march begins at 36th St. & Fifth Avenue and e…

A Big Moon Rises Over the East River: The View from the Seaport, with a Legendary Film

On a night in New York City when the moon draws close to the earth, it makes sense to head for the East River if you want to see the moon rise. While the moon will technically not turn fullest until Monday, June 23 at 7:32 a.m. ET, the moon looked perfectly fine last night. And large.



Summer Begins: The View from Fifth Avenue

The first weekend of summer is upon us. Yesterday, the weather fully cooperated for the season's arrival, sending rays of sunshine into New York's famously dim urban canyons. This view is from Fifth Avenue, slightly north of 19th Street, looking south along the avenue at approximately 6:08 p.m.


Image by Walking Off the Big Apple. Made with Instagram on an iPhone5. Throughout the hot months, this website will be updated in a light and whimsical fashion, even more so than usual. Hard to imagine. You will likely see more pictures and less text  - breezy reading for the beach. Happy summer!

Hawks and Architecture: A Red-tailed Hawk Tour of Washington Square

Many locals in Greenwich Village experienced big bird drama in early June as three baby red-tailed hawks took their first flights from their home ledge on NYU's Bobst Library in Washington Square. The first one fledged on May 31, an event I missed and that apparently produced much nervous excitement. The remaining two young hawks took off on Sunday, June 2, one in the early morning and another nearly twelve hours later. I saw some of it.





Our human instinct is to wish young birds to soar high, as I suppose we project onto birds our dreams of flight and freedom and transcendent perspective. I think this would be especially true in the context of New York City, where inherent dangers lurk low on the pavement. Imagine, then, young red-tailed hawks, noble birds of prey, taking their first steps off a high window ledge. But instead of swooping up to the top of an Art Deco New York skyscraper, as we would fantasize in our big city dreams for them, they end up landing flat on their feath…

Back on Coney Island: The B&B Carousell

Visitors to Coney Island can once again enjoy the sights and sounds of the B&B Carousell, the last great merry-go-round of New York's most celebrated beach playground. Next to the towering Parachute Jump and near the boardwalk entrance at Stillwell Avenue, the B&B graces the new Steeplechase Plaza.


Vividly alive in their authentic color and fierceness, the fifty hand-carved horses go round and around and around. The ride's equally historic and rare band organ adds a gentle and steady tune to Coney Island's thrilling cacophony of rickety roller coasters, drumming pop disco beats, and the distant cries of small children stepping into the waves.  



In the early 1920s, the B&B made its debut here. All except one of the B&B horses were originally carved by Charles Carmel, an authority on Coney Island carousels.* Back at the turn of the century, the island enjoyed two dozen or so of the merry-go-rounds.


In 2005, when the B&B found itself the last remaining ca…

The New Waterfront: Gantry Plaza State Park, Long Island City

Gantry Plaza State Park in Hunter's Point of Long Island City, Queens features stunning views of midtown Manhattan across the way, but the award-winning designs of the park merit their own close-ups. Built in stages to transform an industrial landscape into a pleasing public space, the park does not erase the past. In ways that are reverential as opposed to cute and quotable, the gantries in the southern part and the grounds of the old Pepsi bottling plant in the north are not just acknowledged, they are celebrated.


The 1998 design by landscape architecture firm of Thomas Balsley Associates accentuated Manhattan skyline views through the windows of the old railroad car float cranes (the gantries), a futuristic fishing pier, a great lawn, and stepping stone paths to the water. The lines of the paths and park ripple along in soft waves, mirroring the movement of the East River and the varying terrain of the riverfront. On the fishing pier, fishermen rest their poles in elegant notch…