Central Park’s Conservatory Garden in the Spring

This is a post that is almost out of season (after all, Spring is over in a matter of days), but my busy schedule during this past semester meant that I never posted about a delightful walk I took several weeks ago in Central Park. Before we turn to Summer I thought I would revisit it, bringing you along with me this time.

One thing I love about Central Park is its vast size – if I fancy a long trek, I can explore for hours. If I have the time, I won’t start at the southern end of the park, at 59th Street. That part of the park is too busy, too close to hotels and tourist attractions. Most tourists travel only so far into the park, making those southern paths crowded in good weather. Often, I’m in the mood for a more introspective walk and seek the quiet of the park’s northern end instead. Today, we have the time so let’s head north. Let’s start with the Conservatory Garden, which we last explored in Autumn.

The Conservatory Garden in Spring is a feast for the eyes. After the cold dreariness of Winter, the greens appear more vibrant. Leaves are unfolding on the trees, each variety a slightly different shade. The yew tips are a bright chartreuse, in contrast with the darker old growth. The varying greens provide a backdrop for the Spring blooms we’ll discover along our way, some delicate, even tiny, while others bold and bright.

First we come to the lavender-tinged wisteria pergola, with the yew shrubs fanned out below.

To either side of the pergola stretch espalier trees, their twisted trunks and branches stretched across brick walls.

But now we’re on a search for flowers. Let’s see what we discover along the way. I’m not sure what these are, but I enjoyed the tight buds and pure white petals.

Here’s some just-blooming azaleas, their magenta flecks reminding me somehow of freckles.

And some Delaware Valley white azaleas, as well.

On to more flowers. We find daffodils.

Bright orange tulips.

Entire beds of tulips bordered by grape hyacinth, a riot of colors. Upon closer inspection, the tulips show the effects of the elements, but from a distance they are still glorious.

Here’s a favorite of mine, the lilacs. The sweet fragrance brings back memories of childhood, when we had lilacs of every color – white, pale lavender, and darker purple. I stop, remembering those simple days when my sister and I played outside next to the lilacs for hours, decorating our dolls and mud-pies with the flowers. Are you breathing in the scent with me?

Now on to another of my favorite, the alium or ornamental onion. These are in various stages of bloom, making them very interesting indeed.

How about a few more? Some delicate Siberian Bugloss peaking up through the leaves.

And the cushion spurge, its bright yellow flowers almost glowing.

Let’s step out of the Conservatory Garden and take a stroll towards the Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy Reservoir. There are few flowers along this route, and we have to dodge cyclists and runners periodically, but it is a peaceful, overcast day. There are some trees blooming in the distance to admire along the way.

Soon we reach the reservoir and are standing on the edge of the one-way path around its waters. What beautiful views! Look closely – there are some Japanese cherry trees blooming on the other side, and we have some impressive perspectives of the city skyline, looking first westward to the Upper West Side and then south towards Midtown.

Finally, as we head to one of the paths leading out of Central Park, we stumble upon this monument to former New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel. Curious as to why Mitchel, among so many mayors in the city’s history, had been honored with a monument, I did a little research. I discovered that Mitchel served as mayor from 1914 to 1917 and was the youngest mayor in the city’s history when elected at age 34. In a time of rampant corruption in city politics, Mitchel gained a reputation for being a reformer. Once the United States entered the First World War, Mitchel enlisted in the Army Air Corps. (He had just lost his reelection bid.) Unfortunately, Mitchel was killed in a tragic training accident in Louisiana in 1918 – he fell from his plane to the ground some 500 feet below.

And with that brief history lesson, our exploration is over for the day. I think this walk is a good one for Jo’s Monday Walks, don’t you? If you have checked out Jo’s blog, I recommend it!

Human Structures

Next to Madison Square Gardens and Penn Station in New York City, there is a new pedestrian plaza named Plaza33. The thing that drew me to this plaza was a sculpture by artist Jonathan Borofsky titled Human Structures. According to the plaque next to the sculpture, Borofsky describes Human Structures in this way: “It’s humanity connecting together to build our world.”

One of the things I enjoy about this sculpture is how it looks so different from different angles. I love the different colors used for each metal human outline as well. It draws you in to interact with it, which is exactly what the artist intended.

The sculpture somehow mirrors the neighboring skyscrapers – appropriate considering the artist’s description.

Human Structures is easy to reach by subway. Plaza33 is located along 33rd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues. Take the A, C, or E to Penn Station, or the B, D, F, M, N, Q, R, or W trains to 34th Street-Herald Square (only a block away). Penn Station is also accessible by Long Island Railroad, Amtrak, and New Jersey Transit.

A Second Line Parade in NYC

Recently, New York City hosted the annual Essentially Ellington Competition and Festival, a celebration of the top high school jazz bands in the United States. The event is hosted by Jazz at Lincoln Center, a world-renown center for jazz music. Wynton Marsalis, the famous jazz musician and composer, is the Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Now, you may be thinking that a high school music competition is not for you, but here’s where you are wrong. The Essentially Ellington Competition begins with a New Orleans-style Second Line Parade, led by Wynton Marsalis himself. If you are like me, you may not know what a Second Line Parade is. I did my research before I went, and here’s the description I found on a New Orleans tourism website:

Second line parades are the descendants of the [New Orleans’] famous jazz funerals and, apart from a casket, mourners and a cemetery visit, they carry many of the same traditions with them as they march down the streets. … They range in size, level of organization and traditions, but in all cases they will include a brass band, jubilant dancing in the street and members decked out in a wardrobe of brightly colored suits, sashes, hats and bonnets, parasols and banners, melding the pomp of a courtly function and the spontaneous energy of a block party, albeit one that moves a block at a time. The parades are not tied to any particular event, holiday or commemoration; rather, they are generally held for their own sake and to let the good times roll.

How fun to experience a New Orleans-style Second Line Parade in New York City! The parade began by the Christopher Columbus statue in Columbus Circle, located at the southwest corner of Central Park. It was only a short march to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s location, but it was a wonderful experience to listen and follow along. Bystanders traveled beside and behind the musicians, snapping photos along the way – I joined in the festivities. In addition to those playing musical instruments, there were students carrying posters promoting music education as well.

I invite you to follow along with the Second Line Parade through my photos below:

Can’t you just hear the jazz in the background?

The Harlem Stage Gatehouse: Giving Historic Architecture a New Life

Throughout history, an important part of any city’s growth was the development of a clean water source; reliance on polluted wells or fountains often resulted in the spread of disease. New York City’s solution to the water challenge was to build the Croton Aqueduct between 1837 and 1842, allowing the city to transport water from the Croton River in Westchester County to the North into the heart of the city. The Croton Aqueduct was so successful, in fact, that it provided New York City’s main water source until 1958.

Such a major public works project required infrastructure, and there were numerous pumping stations, reservoirs, and other aqueduct-related structures built throughout the city. As the city grew and transformed over time, many of those structures were torn down and replaced with modern buildings. Still, if you know where to look, you can find remnants of the old system. The New York Public Library, which I’ve written about previously here, has as its foundation the Distributing Reservoir walls from the old Croton Aqueduct. The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, located in the middle of Central Park, housed part of the city’s water supply beginning in 1862. Recently I discovered yet another remnant of the old Croton Aqueduct system in Harlem: a retired 1890 pumping station remade into the Harlem Stage Gatehouse.

The Romanesque Revival building was designed by architect Frederick S. Cook. From looking at it from the outside, you wouldn’t realize that the building originally extended 75 feet into the ground, allowing the interior to be made into a multi-storied space when it was renovated to house the theater a little over a decade ago. Like many buildings in New York City, the Gatehouse is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated New York City Landmark. Although the interior is very modern, the theater’s architect was careful to maintain and restore the building’s historic exterior.

This next photo shows the building’s original main entrance, which is now just a side entrance to the theater. Above the door you will glimpse small square panes of stained glass, and each metal door has ornamentation.

This close-up view of one of the smaller doors on the building really shows off the decorative details of both door and railing.

Here’s a small stain glass window on the building’s turret.

Perhaps one of my favorite architectural elements was industrial rather than decorative: the old pipes still extending from the ground in several locations nearby.

Want to see the Harlem Stage Gatehouse for yourself? It is located at 150 Convent Avenue, near the corner of 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. Perhaps while you’re there you’ll decide to see a play inside the theater. (The theater’s website is available here.) Or maybe you’ll stroll across the street to the City College Campus, where you can hunt gargoyles like I did one day recently. The closest subway station is the 137th Street station, accessible on the 1 train.

Subway Station Art: The 1 Train’s 86th Street Station

I write about art in New York City subway stations fairly regularly; the art at the 1 train’s 86th Street station should be on the list of places to visit if you have an interest in public art in subway stations. Once you arrive on the station’s platforms, you will discover a series of 40 ceramic glazed tiles, each with an image of life on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Titled Westside Views, the project was a collaboration between artist Nitza Tufiño and 17 young people, mostly from the Grosvenor Community House educational programs in the neighborhood.

The project was very successful. Here is what Nitza Tufiño had to say about it: “As an artist, if I take my brushes and my skills and I invest in the lives of young people, then others can see what is possible … I believe human beings can do anything, if we find something that would positively influence them.”

Here are some examples of the Westside Views artwork.

So what is your favorite? I have several. The clown made me laugh (although I find clowns a bit creepy). I love the dads pushing their kids in strollers, as well as the last one with the hot dog stand.

East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part II): Community Murals

A few weeks ago I was able to take two Jane’s Walks in the NYC neighborhood of East Harlem. (For a description of what a Jane’s Walk is, along with the description of the other Jane’s Walk I took, see my earlier post here.) Today, I want to focus on the second walk, titled Lost and Found Murals in East Harlem, which was led by Kathleen (“Kathy”) Benson Haskins. Kathy had actually tagged along on the first walk I took that day – she was the person who told us about the Manny Vega mosaic I talked about in my previous post – so by the time the second walk started we had already been introduced.

As regular readers of my blog know, I am a real fan of public art and street art, so Lost and Found Murals in East Harlem was the perfect walk for me. The main theme I took away from this Jane’s Walk was the importance of public art in creating and serving as the meeting point for community in this neighborhood. The area we explored in the second walk is the Latin-American part of East Harlem also known as El Barrio. The neighborhood is a treasure trove of community-focused murals.

A second important theme of this walk is the ephemeral nature of street murals. Without constant care and regular restoration, outdoor murals fade. They may be defaced, and, importantly, they and the building they are painted on may be torn down as a result of development and gentrification. There were murals we only heard about, as they no longer existed. Unlike unique buildings, which may be saved because of their architectural or historical importance, murals are not covered by federal or local landmark laws.

We learned about two artists with roots in the neighborhood and have multiple examples of their art on display. First, there is the artist James De La Vega, whose painted several portraits of Latino cultural leaders, including this one of Pedro Pietri, a Nuyorican (Puerto Rican-New Yorker) poet and playwright.

A few streets over, I found this mural of a different style, also by De La Vega.

The second artist was Manny Vega, whose art we were already introduced to in the prior walk. Vega’s work comes in many forms in East Harlem, but it’s always delightful to discover. For example, there was this mosaic memorial to Julia de Burgos, a Puerto Rican poet and activist who lived the last part of her life in New York City. We learned the tragic story of Julia’s death at the age of 39. After collapsing on the street and not being identified, she died of pneumonia in a nearby hospital and buried in a pauper’s grave. After her identity was determined later, she was returned to Puerto Rico and reburied.

A short distance away I spied these hand-printed posters expressing concerns of members of the community. As Kathy explained, the murals and protest posters marked spots where people would gather to share their concerns and organize.

Manny Vega’s art comes in other forms as well, such as the mural Espiritu. Here are a few of the images that are part of that mural.

Vega’s art also decorates local businesses, this time painted instead of tile mosaics.

There were even these more temporary wheatpaste-style images by Vega on the side of another building.

Vega also has a connection to this amazing mural, titled the Spirit of East Harlem. The mural was painted by artist Hank Prussing beginning in 1973, and Vega helped Prussing to complete the mural during the next 5 years. Years later after the elements had caused the mural to deteriorate and vandals had damaged it, Vega came back and restored it. One of the things that makes this mural special is that it portrays actual people from the community.

I love the fact that this mural shows men from the neighborhood playing dominoes, as during our walk we stumbled upon a domino tournament at a local democratic club.

Vega also created this mural for the East Harlem Tutoring Center. Located in the building’s lobby, the delightful mural shows teachers and students gathered outside.

Hanging on the outside of the Tutoring Center building was a large banner, designed by the students with Vega’s guidance. The theme was a response to the new American president’s anti-immigrant policies, which have created much anxiety among many school children in New York City who come from immigrant and refugee backgrounds. The message of this art: #BuildLove, with a celebration of the city’s diversity.

As we continue our walk, we see many other examples of public art in various forms. There’s this colorful entrance to a small bodega.

There was this protest mural demanding the release of Oscar López Rivera from federal prison. López Rivera was associated with a Puerto Rican paramilitary organization seeking Puerto Rican independence. That organization was associated with more than a 100 bombings of U.S. targets, and López Rivera served 35 years in prison before being pardoned by President Barrack Obama during his last days in office. (There has always been some debate over López Rivera’s degree of involvement in the bombings, and much activism on his behalf. He’s still a very controversial figure.)

We can barely glimpse another mural behind a drummer at a street fair going on in the midst of our walking route.

And here are details from a large mural celebrating Latino pride and activism. The portraits are of Pedro Albizu Campos and Che Guevera.

Wait – through the fence we catch a glimpse of a garden and more art, owned by the community organization Hope Community, Inc. That organization has also providing support for many of the other mural projects in the neighborhood.

We learned about the “RIP” murals, sometimes painted to commemorate the lives of people who died in the community. Often, the subjects of such murals are really more like anti-heroes, possibly killed because of illegal activity. We came across this RIP mural, with candles and empty bottles clustered at its base.

Let’s end with this “postcard” style mural of the word “Harlem.” It’s a fun one, although as you can see below it’s difficult to capture in a single photograph. The vibrant mural incorporates the work of a number of prominent street artists.

But before we end, here is a picture of our very knowledgeable leader on this walk, Kathy. Kathy has significant knowledge of this area of East Harlem, and she worked until her retirement at the Museum of the City of New York. (Coincidentally, MCNY is one of my favorite museums in the city – I’ve written about it before here and here.) Kathy has offered Jane’s Walks in East Harlem for multiple years, so make sure you keep an eye out for her tours next year.

This is another great walk for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

NYC’s Colorful Dance Parade

New York City has parades celebrating many things, and one of the most fun is the Dance Parade. Yesterday was the 11th annual Dance Parade and Festival, which according to the organizers is held “to inspire dance through the celebration of diversity.”

The parade was a riot of colors and sounds, and the diversity of the dancers was truly magnificent. My favorite part of the parade: the look of joy on so many of the dancers’ faces. I think these photos speak for themselves!

Don’t these photos make you want to dance? What was your favorite?

East Harlem Jane’s Walk 2017 (Part I)

This past weekend marked an extraordinary event in New York City and more than 200 other cities around the world: Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is named after Jane Jacobs, a journalist and urban activist who pushed city governments to include local residents in decisions regarding neighborhood development. As part of her efforts, she is often credited with leading opposition to the proposed construction of an expressway through Greenwich Village in Manhattan in the late 1960s, preserving that neighborhood’s character to this day. Now, every year, local volunteers take people on free tours of their neighborhoods. In New York City, those tours are coordinated by the Municipal Art Society, which also offers other tours throughout the year.

This year, there were 68 pages worth of Jane’s Walks to choose from in New York City. I decided to explore the neighborhood of East Harlem in Manhattan, also sometimes known as El Barrio. I actually took 2 walks on Saturday, both in that same neighborhood but focusing on different themes and traveling on different streets. My feet hurt by the end of it, but both walks offered rich treasures.

The first walk, which I will focus on in this post, was named “The Heritage of Italian East Harlem.” It was led by LuLu LoLo, an artist, playwright, and actor who traces her family history in East Harlem back more than 100 years. Here’s a photo of our fabulous guide for the walk.

I knew that this was going to be a fun walk, as it was like we were all great friends from the start. (Well, some people actually did know each other already – this tour attracted a number of walkers whose families had lived in the neighborhood.) Although we had plenty to see on this walk, what made it special was LuLo’s stories about growing up in the neighborhood, and her explanation of how the neighborhood has evolved over time. Much has changed in recent decades, but LuLo brought old family photos to provide a bridge between the present and her childhood memories of East Harlem.

From our starting point, LuLu drew our attention to a faded advertisement for Bloomingdales Department Store located on the side of a nearby brick building. Although the sign has faded beyond legibility, it has been there since LuLu’s earliest memories. (And LuLu admitted, upon one walker’s nosy question, that she is in her early 70s.) See if you can make out the weathered sign in the photo below.

LuLu spent some time describing the early makeup of the neighborhood, where immigrants had settled next to others from their old communities. On this street, on this block, lived the Italians from the province of Basilicata. Another street was home to Germans, another Irish, another Russian. Over here were Puerto Ricans, and shops owned by Jewish immigrants, with living quarters behind the storefronts, were there. Further down were African-American residents. I quickly came to appreciate the diversity, the complexity of East Harlem.

Along with the diverse population came complex politics. This corner, and a neighboring one before it, were known as “Lucky Corner,” the place where a stage was set up during campaign season for candidates to speak to the crowds. Want to gain the votes of the people in the neighborhood? Then you knew you had to come to Lucky Corner.

We learned about Congressman Vito Marcantonio, who earned a reputation as the protector of the working class, regardless of race or ethnicity. LuLu shared precious childhood memories of the congressman, who died of a heart attack at a young age, as well as Leonard Covello, an educator who became principal of a local high school and persuaded immigrant families to let their children go to school. As we walked along 116th Street, LuLu pointed out where these and other Italian Americans of note lived, as well as the music store that has been in the neighborhood for more than 60 years, the building formerly home to the Cosmo Theater, a row of tenement buildings where immigrant families have live generation after generation.

Soon we pass a community art project. Along one side of the art project, there is a suggestion box. Members of the community are invited to make suggestions about what the next version of the art walls will look like. The current theme: environmental concerns.

As we walk further, LuLu tells us more about her parents, Rose and Peter Pascale, who were long-time community activists. For many years, Peter ran Haarlem House, a settlement house that served the immigrant community of East Harlem. In recognition of his years of service, part of the street has been renamed Pete Pascale Place.

Here, our group stands in front of La Guardia Memorial House, built on the site of the old Haarlem House after the city determined that it needed replaced. The new community building is named after Fiorello La Guardia, onetime mayor of New York City. A senior center located on site is named after former Commissioner of Immigration Edward Corsi, another of East Harlem’s past residents.

On the side of this building we found this beautiful mosaic mural commemorating Dr. Antonia Pantoja, who spent her professional life taking care of the community of East Harlem. The mosaic is the work of local artist Manny Vega.

LuLu pointed out the former Benjamin Franklin High School building, where Leonard Covello was once principal. The building is now home to a specialized public high school known as the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics.

Our final stop was the Pontifical Shrine of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of only four Roman Catholic Churches designated as Pontifical Shrines in the Western Hemisphere. LuLu explained that Italian workmen labored to build the church in their off hours, but in the church’s early history the Italians were relegated to the basement for religious services and not allowed to worship in the main sanctuary. Unfortunately, the church’s exterior is concealed by construction scaffolding as the building undergoes repairs, so the only photo I could get outside was of this intriguing bulb-lit sign. (The shrine’s website has a photo of the building without the scaffolding, if you are interested.)

The interior was beautiful though, and here are some photos of the sanctuary and adjoining space.

At this point, the walk disbanded, and each of us went our own way. Despite my tired feet (walking on concrete has that effect!), I trekked to my next Jane’s Walk – also located in East Harlem – which was due to start soon. I’ll tell you more about that in my next blog post.

As I think about it, a Jane’s Walk is a perfect fit for Jo’s Monday Walks. Have you checked out Jo’s blog? I recommend it!

Exploring the James A. Farley Post Office Building

I’ve walked by the James A. Farley Post Office building, located across 8th Avenue from Pennsylvania Station, many times. I’ve always been curious about it, but until recently I had never gone inside. What a treat I had been missing – the building’s architecture and art is fascinating, certainly worth a visit!

Here’s the view of the post office from the Penn Station side. The original Beaux-Arts building, designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White, was constructed in 1912. (An addition in the same architectural style was constructed in 1934.) It was originally known as the General Post Office Building but was renamed after the 53rd Postmaster General in 1982. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as designated a New York City Landmark.

Although it’s too small to be legible in the above photo, a famous quote associated with the U.S. Postal Service stretches across the area about the columns: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Although many Americans believe that this statement is the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service, I learned from my research that it is not – instead, the quote was chosen the building’s architects and comes from Herodotus’s Histories. The exterior of the building has some interesting architectural details.

The inside of the building is a magnificent surprise. The high ceiling is incredible, with so many details it’s hard to absorb them all. Included in the ceiling’s design are the seals of ten countries all considered major nations at the time of the building’s construction.

The building is still a working post office, with windows open seven days a week with long hours.

At either end of the lobby are smaller, round rooms with many special architectural details.

These smaller rooms also contain two unique monochromatic murals, painted by artist Louis Lozowick as part of the New Deal’s Treasury Relief Art Project in 1938. They are titled “Triboro Bridge in Process of Construction” and “Sky Line and Waterfront Traffic as Seen from Manhattan Bridge.”

In both the lobby and adjacent rooms, there are artifacts related to postal history, in essence a small postal service museum.

The post office building is part of future plans to expand and improve Penn Station, with new Amtrak access located in parts of the building that are not currently in use. Don’t worry though, the historic details of the building will still be preserved, and the lobby and post office windows still open to all. The plan is to call the new Penn Station annex Moynihan Station, after former New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Want to visit the James A. Farley Post Office? It’s easily accessible by public transportation. Many bus routes and subway routes are just a short distance away, and you can take the 1, 2, 3, A, C, or E trains to the 34th Street-Penn Station stop. Additionally, Amtrak trains and Path trains from New Jersey come into Penn Station.

Harlem Murals – Creative Art Works Projects

Not long ago I explored the campus of City College, looking for gargoyles or grotesques. (You can find that post here.) As I made my way from the campus back to the train, I stumbled on two special murals on 138th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Hamilton Place. The murals come from Creative Art Works, a nonprofit organization that engages young people through art. From what I understand from the Creative Art Works website, they hire youth age 14 to 24 to complete these public art mural projects, working under the supervision of a teaching artist.

The first mural, painted in 2016, was supervised by teaching artist Lunar New Year. The mural is titled “The More You Give, the More You Grow.” Here are photos showing some of this mural’s details.

The second mural on 138th Street is titled “Dreams of a Creative Revolution,” and it was created under the direction of teaching artist Maria Berrio in 2012. Two years later, the mural was restored by teaching artists Gera Lazano and Max Allbee’s crew. Here are some photos of some of the mural details. As you can see, it truly has a “dreamy” quality.

 

If you want to see these murals in person, the easiest way to get there is to take the subway. Take the 1 train to the 137th Street-City College station; the murals are only a short distance away. After you’re done viewing the murals, continue up the hill – the gargoyles are only about half a block away.