Heading Indoors to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Conservatories

The weather’s terrible in New York City today (in fact, I’m home writing this because the university closed for the day), and this winter weather is making me long for spring. I thought I would take us somewhere warm, with flowers and green plants – but where should we go? How about the conservatories at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden? We can travel to multiple climate zones in a single afternoon! I’ve written about the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Bonsai Museum previously (you’ll find it here), but there are several other indoor garden spaces nearby.

As soon as we enter the conservatory complex, things are looking promising. We come across this sculpture suspended from the ceiling, made entirely of botanical materials. Doesn’t it look intriguing? The sculpture, titled Windfall, is by artist Shayne Dark. It was created using apple wood root balls and aircraft cable.

Let’s head downstairs to the conservatory entrances. First, there’s the Warm Temperate Pavilion. What geographic areas are located in warm temperate regions? The botanic garden’s website includes this list: “the Mediterranean basin; South Africa; Australia; New Zealand; Eastern Asia; western coastal regions of North America (mainly California); and western coastal regions of South America (mainly Chile).” The entrance to the pavilion makes me feel like we are exiting a cave and going back into the light.

Here are a few of the plants and flowers we spy as we stroll through the Warm Temperate Pavilion.

Next stop: the Tropical Pavilion. The Tropical Pavilion includes representative plant life from the Amazon basin in South America, as well as tropical areas of Africa and eastern Asia.

The Desert Pavilion has interesting cactus specimens – some I’ve never seen before.

Finally, let’s step into the Aquatic House, which is also home to the botanic garden’s orchids.

It might be a snowy, icy, windy day outside, but our tour of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Conservatory has me feeling much warmer! I hope you are staying warm as well.

The Conservatories, as well as the rest of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, are open all year around. If you’d like to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden yourself, you’ll find directions at the end of a previous post I wrote about the Garden, found here.

A Winter Walk Through Riverside Park

During the winter, we spend so much time inside avoiding the cold weather, but this year New York City’s winter has been relatively mild. (At least until this week – right now it’s bitter cold, and we have a chance of a late blizzard on Tuesday with 12 to 18 inches of snow!) When the weather cooperates, I try to get outside as much as possible. Recently, we’ve had some really nice days, and I decided to head to a park to take a long walk. Although many people think of Central Park in Manhattan – or maybe Prospect Park in Brooklyn – when they consider New York City parks, there are many other beautiful parks. This time, I chose Riverside Park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Riverside Park is a great choice for a long walk. The park is long and narrow, stretching along the Hudson River from 129th Street to 72 Street. There are paved trails that undulate through the trees, giving visitors multiple options and views. There are also a number of children’s playgrounds and a skate park for skateboarders. You’ll also see public monuments and sculptures  dotting the landscape periodically. (Note: These monuments follow no coherent theme, which somehow makes discovering each one even more interesting!) Because of its location, you won’t see nearly as many tourists as you’ll find in Central Park. Riverside Park is truly a neighborhood park, and you’ll see people walking their dogs, teaching their children to ride bicycles, or jogging.

Today, we are on a hunt for public monuments. Let’s see what we find as we walk almost 60 city blocks from end to end. One of the first things we come across is the General Grant National Memorial, the tomb where Civil War general and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant is buried. (We previously visited the Grant Memorial, and you can find pictures of the interior here.) We’re approaching Grant Memorial from the back side, but we’ll turn around and look at it again from the front once we go by. In the background, there’s the tower of the Riverside Church. We’ll visit it another time.

As we continue to approach Grant Memorial, I realize that the black iron fence above encloses a tree and this plaque. Here’s what the inscription says:

This tree is planted at the side of the tomb of General U.S. Grant, ex-President of the United States of America, for the purpose of commemorating his greatness by Li Hung-Chang, Guardian of the Prince, Grand Secretary of State, Earl of the First Order, Yang Yu, Envoy Extraordinary and Minter Plenipotentiary of China, Vice President of the Board of Censors, Kwang Hsu, 23rd Year, 4th Moon, May 1897.

One last view of Grant’s Memorial before we move on, as well as a photo of one of the eagles guarding the entrance:

As we continue walking, we’ll start seeing more monuments – although none are on the scale of the Grant Memorial. At 116th Street and Riverside Drive, we find this monument erected by the Women’s Health Protective Association, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary in 1909. The monument was sculpted by Bruno Louis Zimm, and it contains a drinking fountain that can be used in warmer months.

At 113th Street we notice this monument to Louis Kossuth, a key figure in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848. As I researched more about this monument, I learned that it was financed by Hungarian Americans living in New York City and was originally dedicated in 1928. Unfortunately, the original monument was poorly constructed, and it had to be redone only two years later. It’s a striking monument, with Kossuth looming over a soldier and peasant below.

Next to Kossuth’s monument is this simple, modern monument to the participants in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against that nation’s Communist government. This monument was erected only last year by the Hungarian American Memorial Committee, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the uprising, and the designer was Hungarian architect Tamás Nagy.

The round concrete platform seen above is really special. The caption reads: “Constellation of stars as symbols of hope, visible in the night sky over Budapest on October 23, 1956, when the first shots of the Revolution were fired.” (Although one news story about the monument stated that the sky was actually overcast on that night in 1956, and therefore the stars would not have actually been visible to the revolutionaries.)

Only a block further, we find this statue of Samuel J. Tilden, a governor of the State of New York during the 19th Century. Tilden’s statue was sculpted by William Ordway Partridge. (Tilden also ran for President in 1876. He won the popular vote but lost the electoral college by one vote!)

We continue walking. At 106th Street and Riverside Drive, we see a statue of General Franz Sigel. The statue’s sculptor was Karl Bitter. In my research, I found that Sigel had an interesting life. Sigel, who was born in Baden in modern Germany, fled his home country after leading an unsuccessful revolution in 1848. Eventually, Sigel came to New York City, where he was a teacher, journalist, and co-founder of the German-American Institute. Later, Sigel moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he served in the Union Army and helped protect Missouri from Confederate attack. By the end of the war, he had been promoted to Major General. After the Civil War ended, Sigel moved back to New York City and lived here until his death in 1904, serving as editor of two periodicals. I liked this photo of Sigel’s statue, but particularly the second view of his horse.

At 100th Street, we stumble upon the Firemen’s Memorial, which was dedicated in 1913. H. Van Buren Magonigle designed the monument, and artist Attilio Piccirilli created the sculptures. (The statues on either end of the monument are named “Duty” and “Sacrifice.” At the base of the monument, there is also a memorial tablet to the horses who pulled the early fire engines.

One of my favorite statues is found at 93rd Street and Riverside Drive: Joan of Arc, dedicated in 1915. Unusual for the time period, the statue is the work of a woman artist, Anna Hyatt Huntington. It’s striking from any angle.

Just four blocks south of Joan of Arc is the second largest monument in the park: the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, designed by sculptor Paul E. Duboy and architects Charles and Arthur Stoughton. Dedicated in 1902, the monument honored soldiers and sailors who fought in the Civil War.

Finally, at 76th Street and Riverside Drive, we discover the Robert Ray Hamilton Fountain. The fountain, which was designed by architectural firm Warren & Wetmore (more famous for Grand Central Terminal), was dedicated in 1906. Two things in particular make the fountain interesting. First, the fountain was intended to be a drinking fountain – for horses. And second, Robert Ray Hamilton was a great-grandson of the first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, Alexander Hamilton.

Well, that’s the end of today’s walk. For those who wish to visit Riverside Park in person, the closest subway lines are the 1, 2, and 3 lines. Just get off at stops between 72nd and 125th Streets, and then it’s just a short walk west to the park. (Note: Not all trains stop at every station.) If you want to see the monuments I’ve featured here, stay on the path than runs parallel to Riverside Drive, as most monuments are located along the edge of the park or in park medians that divide the roadway at various points.

Although it’s not Monday yet in the United States, it’s Monday elsewhere at this point – and so I think this is a good walk for Jo’s Monday Walks! Have you checked out Jo’s blog? If you haven’t, I know you will enjoy it.

Historic Citizens Savings Bank Building: NYC Landmark

Visitors to Manhattan’s Chinatown and nearby streets are sure to see some unique and interesting architecture. On the edge of Chinatown, close to the entrance of the Manhattan Bridge, is a New York City Landmark building: the historic Citizens Savings Bank. Later known as the Manhattan Savings Bank, the building is now occupied by HSBC. (HSBC purchased Citizens Savings Bank’s successor in 1999.)

Citizens Savings Bank is an example of Beaux-Arts architecture and was designed by architect Clarence W. Brazer. The building was completed in 1924 and was designated a city landmark in 2011. It’s not a huge building, but it’s solidly built, with a domed roof. Today, it’s surrounded by modern buildings, making its architecture stand out in comparison.

Above the entrance is this sculpture and clock designed by Charles Keck. It portrays a Native American, a sailor, and an eagle. (Additionally, if you look closely at the photo above, you may be able to see the small stone “beehives” on either side of the sculpture – I learned that beehives symbolize thrift.)

There are also these imposing lions stationed near the entrance – I think they are a much more recent addition.

Although the building still operates as a bank, the employees graciously allowed me to enter and take a few interior photos. From my research, I learned that the somber interior was meant to instill confidence in the bank’s ability to protect depositors’ money. Banks in the 1920s generally did not have insurance for deposits, and it was not uncommon for banks to fail. Depositors wanted to place their money in banks that seemed safer, and architecture could be used to create such an image. There are still some original architectural design details in the bank’s interior, such as the dome and the subtle messages painted in each corner near the ceiling. Would these messages give you confidence in the bank?

Want to see this New York City landmark for yourself? The bank is located at the corner of Canal Street and Bowery on the edge of Chinatown. It’s several city blocks’ walk from the subway. Take the B or D train to Grand Street, the F train to East Broadway, or the J, Z, or 6 train to Canal Street.

Want more detail about the building, the bank’s history, and the NYC landmark designation? The entire city landmark commission report is found here.

 

Subway Station Art: East Broadway Station

The subway station at East Broadway on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has a beautiful ceramic tile mural by artist Noel Copeland. Copeland was born in Jamaica, but he immigrated to the United States and received his art education at the Pratt Institute School of Art and Design. He currently lives in New York City, and he has several public art installations across New York City, located in public schools, public housing complexes, community centers, and public transportation stations.

The mural at East Broadway is titled Displacing Details and is 24 feet long. In creating the mural, Copeland drew inspiration from historic buildings on the Lower East Side. In 1991, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded Copeland the Arts for Transit Creative Station Award for Displacing Details.

Here are a few photos of the mural. The first one shows the panel in the middle, which I love. There’s also a great border that surrounds the entire mural and illustrates various architectural details.

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If you are interested in seeing Displacing Details yourself, take the F train to East Broadway. The mural is on the mezzanine level.

Chinese Food Inspiration at the Museum of Chinese in America

One of my favorite museums in New York City is the Museum of Chinese in America, located in Manhattan’s Chinatown. The long-term exhibition, tracing the history of the Chinese experience in the United States, is excellent. But I always look forward to the temporary exhibitions. (I previously wrote about one of those temporary exhibitions here.)

The current temporary exhibition, titled Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy: Stories of Chinese Food and Identity in America, is the best one yet. The main part consists of a large space, set up to resemble a dinner table. Around the table are 33 place settings, each representing a Chinese or Asian-American chef. At each place is a small ceramic sculpture symbolizing that chef’s food influences, as well as a card giving more information about the chef’s personal background, food inspirations, signature dishes, favorite ingredients, and choice of ultimate comfort food. Museum visitors are invited to sit down at each place and learn more about the chefs.

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It’s worth taking a closer look at some of the beautiful ceramics. There are larger pieces in the middle of the table that symbolically represent various geographic good influences. Then, each chef’s place setting has a smaller ceramic sculpture that includes the geographic symbols from the larger pieces. All ceramics in the exhibit were created by two ceramic artists: Heidi Lau and Lu Zhang.

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Symbolizing Beijing (Jing) influence
Symbolizing Sichuan (Chuan)
Symbolizing Sichuan (Chuan) influence
Symbolizing Chino-Latino influence
Symbolizing Chino-Latino influence
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Symbolizing Taiwan

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Around the room, large screens hang on the wall. Visitors can sit at the table and listen to some of the chefs talk about their personal experiences with various topics, such as immigrating to the United States, growing up Chinese or Asian-American, and their food influences. The videos really add another layer to the whole experience – being able to see and hear the chefs that you are reading about, maybe even as you sit at that chef’s place at the table.

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MOCA’s website has the following explanation of the exhibition’s title, which I found compelling: “In Chinese the saying Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy refers not only to the delicate balance of flavors that defines Chinese cooking but also the ups and downs of life.”

Once visitors finish in the first room, there is a second, smaller room across the lobby that offers another approach to the exhibitions theme. In the smaller room, each chef loaned the museum an item from his or her kitchen. The artifacts are very practical, but also very personal. On a surface level this room may seem less impressive, but if you read the descriptions for each item you begin to understand the chefs’ connections to the food they create.

For example, Wilson Tang loaned these moon cake molds to the museum:

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And Ken Hom has loaned his cleaver:

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Want to see Sour, Sweet, Bitter, Spicy in person? The exhibition was originally scheduled to end on March 26, 2017, but it has been so popular that the museum has extended it to September 10, 2017. The Museum of Chinese in America is located at 215 Centre Street in Manhattan.

NYC’s Historical Firehouses: Little Italy and Vicinity

In the early years of New York City’s history, the fire department was made up of volunteers. Beginning in 1865, however, the city had a professional firefighting force for the first time with the establishment of the Fire Department of New York. Over the next several decades, numerous firehouses were constructed to house neighborhood units. Most have since been torn down to make way for newer construction, but there are still some hidden gems scattered around the city. Each one has its own character and history.

The first firehouse I’m going to feature in this post is no longer an active firehouse, but it was originally home to Engine Company 31. It’s a gorgeous building, both a New York City landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture draws inspiration from 16th century French chateau. Today, the building is home to the Downtown Community Television Center, which provides workshops and other resources for documentary filmaking in the local community.

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The building has some beautiful, intricate details.

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If you want to see the old Engine 31 firehouse for yourself, it is located at 87 Lafayette Street.

Another historical firehouse is the home to Engine Company 55. It is located at 363 Broome Street in Little Italy. Unlike Engine 31, the Engine 55 firehouse is still an active firehouse.

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The building has some interesting architectural details.

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One interesting note: the character actor Steve Buscemi worked as a FDNY firefighter when he was young, and Engine Company 55 was his unit.

Much more important, this firehouse has bronze memorial plaques on the walls to honor firefighters who died in the line of duty. The oldest one is this one, memorializing men who died in 1903 and 1918:

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Tragically, Engine 55 was one of the first units responding to the World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11. The unit lost five of its own that day, and each one has his own plaque next to the firehouse’s entrance. Because the unit was one of the first ones on the scene of the terrorist attack, the firetruck itself was buried under the rubble when the towers collapsed. The crushed truck was not found until approximately 6 months later, when the recovery crews discovered it more than 40 feet below ground. Although the plaques look very similar, I thought it was important to honor each firefighter by showing them here. You will see that all of them state that the firefighter was “operating at Manhattan Box 5-5-8087.” From my research, it appears that 8087 was the fire alarm box associated with the World Trade Center.

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Views of New York City on a Foggy Night

My first Finding NYC blog post, more than one and a half years ago, showed some of my favorite photos of the New York City skyline. (You can find that post here.) One of the best views of Manhattan is from Gantry Plaza State Park, along the East River in Long Island City, Queens. The park is a wonderful place to watch the sun set over the city, and the city lights at night can be magical.

Last night we went to a restaurant not far from the waterfront, and afterwards we walked down to the park to view the city. The clouds were coming in, and fog was descending. It certainly was a different view than usual! Still, even without being able to see the skyline, the city was beautiful. Would you have guessed that this is New York City?

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This was definitely not the night to use the viewers – as demonstrated by my wife! Regardless, we had fun. And on a night like this, we had the park to ourselves.

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The fog was not so thick that we didn’t spy the Queensboro Bridge in the distance. This is one bridge that looks better at night, when the bridge’s structure is less visible.

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There are always the views of Long Island City and the gantry cranes – the fog had not obscured them yet.

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Or how about this view of the Hunter’s Point Library construction site, with its unique architectural design by architect Steven Holl? I can’t wait to see the library once it’s finished!

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Here’s another close-up view. Doesn’t it look intriguing?

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Finally, a photo of the vintage Pepsi sign. Even with some of the neon tubes unlit, the sign still glows brightly in the dark.

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(If you want to visit Gantry Plaza State Park yourself, the directions are found here, in my earlier Manhattan skyline post.)

New Yorkers Rallying in Solidarity with Their Neighbors

Our new president’s policies towards immigrants has been troubling for many New Yorkers. After all, the United States is a nation of immigrants – and nowhere is that more evident than New York City. In the past month, there have been numerous rallies and marches in the city in protest against those policies. Last weekend, there was a solidarity rally in support of our Muslim neighbors, coworkers, and friends. Called I Am a Muslim Too, the rally brought together people of every race, religion, and background.

There was such a positive spirit at the rally, which took place in the streets near Times Square. I took these photos at the event, and I think they capture some of its rich diversity.

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May I just say that this rally, like the other rallies and marches I’ve attended in New York City, was such a positive, inspiring experience. New York City values its citizens’ First Amendment free speech rights, and officials regularly give out permits for rallies and other forms of protest. The mayor and several city council members actually spoke at the I Am a Muslim Too rally, emphasizing the message that this is a city that welcomes all.

Columbia University’s Beautiful Campus

If you’ve never been to the campus of Columbia University, it is definitely worth a visit.Visitors are welcome to tour the campus grounds, using self-guided tour materials offered on the university’s website here. Columbia University has a long history, at least by American terms – it was founded by royal charter from King George the II in 1754, when New York was still an English colony. First known as King’s College, the university’s name was changed to Columbia after the American Revolution.

Columbia University moved to its current location in the Manhattan neighborhood of Morningside Heights in 1897, and the buildings you will see on a walking tour have all been built since that time. One of the first buildings you will see as you enter campus is this one, the Low Library. Low Library is the oldest building on campus and now serves as the university administration’s headquarters. It’s also home to the Visitor Center, and you can pick up a map for your journey. (This is also one of only two buildings open to the public – other campus buildings require a university ID card for entry.)

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In front of Low Library is this statue, titled Alma Mater. The sculpture was created by artist Daniel Chester French, known best for his larger-than-life statue of President Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

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Another early building constructed on the new campus was Earl Hall, which from the first has housed diverse religious groups. From the tour materials, I learned that the building also contains the offices of community services organizations.

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Of course there are numerous academic buildings to see, but some of my favorite discoveries were public art. There was this statue by George Grey Barnard titled The Great God Pan.

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In contrast, there was also this modern bronze sculpture, Reclining Figure, by Henry Moore.

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A short distance away is Scholars Lion, by Greg Wyatt.

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Scholars Lion is a real contrast with another nearby sculpture, Clement Meadmore’s The Curl.

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As I continued walking, I found this statue titled Le Marteleur (not mentioned in the Visitor’s Guide), as well as a bronze casting of Auguste Rodin’s Le Penseur.

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Even smaller ornaments such as urns, light posts, and fountains – some simple, others ornate – are beautiful.

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Finally, a couple of photos of other distinctive campus buildings: St. Paul’s Chapel, which appeared to be undergoing some restoration, and Butler Library, the center of the university’s library system since the 1930s.

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It is easy to get to Columbia University by public transportation. Take the 1 train to the 116th Street station. The station is located next to the university’s entrance.

Subway Station Art: The New Second Avenue-96th Street Station

A few weeks ago I wrote a couple of posts about some of the art on the new Second Avenue subway line (found here and here). Today, I want to introduce you to the installation at another Second Avenue station: artist Sarah Sze’s Blueprint for a Landscape, found at the 96th Street Station. A resident of New York City, Sarah Sze is also a professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Blueprint for a Landscape consists of a series of blue and white images, with different images for each of the station’s entrances. The color and style of the images draws inspiration from architectural blueprints. The themes include things commonly seen across New York City: sheets of paper blowing in the wind, scaffolding, trees and other landscaping, and birds.

The 96th Street station art is very different from that at the other stations, but still very interesting – particularly for those who have architectural interests. Here are some examples of what you will see if you visit the station.

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To see the art at the 96th Street station for yourself, take the Q train uptown to the end of the line.