Category Archives: NYC present
The sky was falling that day – yet sparse little groups were coming for the refuge of the Atlantic.
on the other side of the city, perched on granite
millions make their daily marks
More photos here: www.flickr.com/photos/mattron
A century ago, guardian of the Atlantic approach to NY Harbor. Artillery with a range of 25-miles pointed seaward waiting for the German ships that never came – save perhaps for a handful of shadowy U-boats, seen and unseen.
A patch of sandy desolation on the fragile narrow spit of the Rockaway Peninsula, which barely rises between ocean and the Jamaica Bay. In the distance, a proud Manhattan skyline – a mirage of a completely different world – hazy and not quite existent.
Wars of the sea gave way to wars of the air. The big guns were traded in for the Nikes, missiles designed to knock high-altitude Soviet bombers out of the Metropolitan sky.
And then, a few decades ago – total obsolescence, abandonment, and decay. Gutted shells, overgrown and sinking into the sand, which in turn, minute by minute, sinks into the waves. It’s lately been a playground of the fringes – artists, photographers, graffiti, and seekers of ramshackle ephemera.
The hurricane pummelled the city, and the peninsula took a huge punch, a slap in the face of human futility. For that night, the peninsula did not exist, but became ocean and bay – Neighborhoods near the isolated base washed away and burned. Sand piled high like snow drifts that never melt, overturned cars, buried homes and memories.
Pieces of Tilden dissolved into the waves. But what is already ruined is hard to ruin again. At this former fort, a few solid walls are down, the sand mounts high, and a faint, musty, low-tide smell still faintly emits from the ground below. But the gun battery embedded in the bluffs still stares blankly into the sea, awaiting 100-year-old dreadnoughts and battleships that will never appear. Since the Storm, it’s become barricaded, forbidden, heavily patrolled by the authorities – a no man’s land – A silent sentinel upon the wild dunes of a wild beach on the barren coastal fringes of the City.
Flushing Meadows – Corona Park: Home of the 1964 World’s Fair, the iconic Unisphere, the NY Mets, the Billie Jean King Tennis Center… and a small nation’s worth of squirrels. Of all the wild creatures that make their home amongst human city-dwellers, they are surely the most endearing. Especially in late summer, when the badass squirrels of Queens come down from their trees and take on the U.S. Open.
For the 2nd year in a row, one of our woodland neighbors eluded security and made it onto the court of Arthur Ashe Stadium, in front of countless global viewers.
And this, in 2012:
It’s always a joy when a tiny animal can interrupt international sport; long live the squirrels of NY!
July, 2013, NYC –
An article called “10 Cities in the Western Hemisphere that Feel Cooler Than NYC Right Now” mentioned Death Valley… The week-long inferno peaked out at about 103 degrees, with matching humidity. Everyone has a glazed look in their eye, and walk stiffly to minimize any motion that does not involve keeping cool. The sort of heat that gives you chills – if this was the temperature of inside your body, you’d be laid in bed with fever, taking antibiotics
Engulfed by concrete and brick; a pizza oven.
There’s no gentility here in the Salt Meadows. A backwater on Stuyvesant’s farm, disturbed only in those days by the creatures of the tidal wetlands. The summers here lay down a blanket of fiery, hanging, swampish air. Dazed dog-day weeks spawn the seediness that has always been essential here. Die Weisse Garten, 1850’s Sunday picnics of beer and comraderie, Sabbath carousal that disgusted the Nativists. Nativists, whose days were numbered by the coming tsunami of immigration that made this Kleindeutschland. The third largest German-speaking city on the globe. An exotic enclave in an overwhelmingly Anglo country.
“… There were still places in the city, such as Tompkins Square Park… where a passerby might overhear nothing but German…” (1895)
Their steps still plod along underneath, in silence. There is a lonely fountain, surrounded by the hyper voices of children in the playgrounds. There was that day more than 100 years ago that shattered this neighborhood. Fire on the River, 1000 gone. Just when they were beginning their summer.
In the 1980’s and early 90’s, the ever-encroaching grime gurgled up the swamp underneath, and generations of discontentment spewed forth police riots, encampments of men living in cardboard, junkies, squatters, crack heads, punks… When the tide turned, the city regained control of the park and reversed its decay- but never totally washed out the funk.
Fringes. They still sit huddled on the benches, their faces bent and darkened, in the corners where the old men play chess. Nearby there is a monument, erected in 1891, dedicated to Temperance, a deity that long ago became maligned in this wild square. 1840’s, 1870’s, 20th century – the radical center of a politically radical neighborhood. No number of old shady trees, grassy cosps, arranged flower beds, or dappled sun, has ever managed to moderate the mood here.
It’s not all disgust, fists in the air, overdoses on benches. The winter has long forgotten the old Germans it froze to death on Avenue B. Now the ice brings a serene crystallization, And the Spring, in turn, brings forth an orgy of excitement. It’s the sort of park where you try to immerse yourself in a book, and are unable. There is too much music and delight, too many beautiful passers-by. Central Park’s design tries to lead people into nature, Washington Square’s tries to lead people into lofty ideas and civic graces. Tompkins Square’s design, with its playgrounds and its dog run, and melange of people, tends to bring park-goers into vivid proximity to each other.
It was here, in the 1960’s, that the international hare krishna movement began under an ancient elm, perhaps planted in the days of the Germans. The age of Ginsberg’s livid “Howl”, when poets, musicians, and artists, like the punks of the ’80’s, exorcized their disgust of the world with exuberant wailing.
And so the mysterious forces of this buried salt marsh persist, the past dancing with the present, the seen mingling with the unseen. Never ending. All awaiting the death of time.
This is that “just 10 degrees warmer please” time of year, when the long, gray drudgery of March starts to crack into early Spring. People are sick of it – you know it’s April in New York when it gets just a hair above 60 degrees, and the sidewalk cafes are packed with bundled-up diners pretending not to shiver. But as the flowers begin to appear, first tentatively, then explosively, we know sweet May is not long off.
These are some photos tracing the end of Winter and the first baby steps of Spring. Near the bottom are pictures of the almost-complete 1 World Trade Center
During the Gilded Age boom following the Civil War, the industrial revolution and the early days of mass production made it more affordable for women to maintain their households without having to spend as much time toiling at home. And so, some of the first modern department stores in the world began to open in the area between Union and Madison Squares. While their husbands were at work and their children at school, wives and mothers could enjoy the brief freedom of being out on the town independently. The area became known as “Ladies’ Mile”. A few stores from that era, like Lord and Taylor and Bergdorf Goodman, still operate in the city and beyond.
The subway was planned and constructed during this era, and as a modern, hurried commuter knows all too well, there are an unusual number of stops on the lines traveling through the former Ladies Mile.
The department store buildings that remain are beautifully designed, a few clad in cast-iron. The interiors of many, like the Home Depot on 23rd Street, have been modernized to accommodate modern commerce, and the area is still a major shopping destination.
Ultimately, the mass transit that had made Ladies’ Mile possible also allowed for development further uptown, and by World War I the neighborhood was in decline. But not before producing one of the world’s most iconic early skyscrapers –
There was a darker side to the glory days of Ladies Mile. While middle- and upper- class women enjoyed a new public life, the poorer women of the city suffered in the sweatshops that supplied the products for sale
– near the Gowanus Canal, near where the dolphin got trapped and died the other day –
“end stop and frisk; hands off the kids!”
Standing on what used to be the boardwalk of a much wider beach. The debris has been removed, and all that is left are the concrete supports.
They’ve caught sand in the wind and formed a sort of dune;
within it are scraps of tile and vases, smashed in the storm.
The neighborhood today was silent, frozen, locked-down.
Buildings still burned out, power still out in places – sand everywhere.
There’s still a long road ahead.