Blog Archives

one day in New York – sea to heights

The sky was falling that day – yet sparse little groups were coming for the refuge of the Atlantic.

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Rockaway floodtide

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on the other side of the city, perched on granite

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millions make their daily marks

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More photos here:  www.flickr.com/photos/mattron

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Fort Tilden Revisited – one year after the Storm

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.

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Past dancing with present – Tompkins Square Park – as it was and as it is.

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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.

 

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As the gloom slowly slips away – Scroll Down for Spring

100th Post!!

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

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“Death of Time”

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Forest Hills, Queens
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A pretty estuary it must have been before urbanity took hold. Probably not unlike similar coastal creeks I’ve kayaked along. Today, this is the border between the boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn – a Superfund site which ranks among the most polluted waterways in the US. The snowy weather today tempered that fact for a little bit, and high above on the Pulaski Bridge it’s easier to imagine it as it once was.

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Queens Blvd
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cabland

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Rivington St.
Lower East Side

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Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

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33 stories above Lower Manhattan

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A world renowned graffiti/street art mecca, the exterior of this former-warehouse-turned-artist-studios-space is covered in amazing pieces which are constantly changing.
It is currently threatened by developers who aim to build a sterile, glass condo complex on the site.

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180 ft below Washington Heights

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Icy Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

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Century-old Skyscrapers in Lower Manhattan Gold

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Verticalia – World Trade Center, early April, 2013

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A climb out the window and a few flights up the fire escape to the roof is a treasure which makes all the b.s. of daily city life go away for a precious few moments.

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Into the Blue – World Trade Center, early April, 2013

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Washington Heights

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sudden sweet sultry haze of spring.
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The World’s First Department Stores – Ladies Mile, NYC

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.

O'Neil and Company during the heyday of Ladies' Mile

6th Avenue during the heyday of Ladies’ Mile

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.

Stern Brothers - the largest department store of the 19th century, now converted into Home Depot

Stern Brothers – the largest department store of the 19th century, now converted into a Home Depot

Siegel-Cooper; now converted into a Filene's Basement/ TJ Max/ Bed, Bath, and Beyond

Siegel-Cooper; now converted into a Filene’s Basement/ TJ Max/ Bed, Bath, and Beyond

In the early 1900's. Siegel-Cooper surpassed Stern Bros. as the "largest store in the world"

In the early 1900’s. Siegel-Cooper surpassed Stern Bros. as the “largest store in the world”

Ehrich Brothers, now a Burlington Coat Factory and Staples

Ehrich Brothers, now a Burlington Coat Factory and Staples

The O'Neill and Company department store opened in 1887, and was in business until 1907.  Over the next century, the building served a number of purposes, and in 2006, at the height of real estate bubble, the gold domes were restored and the huge complex went residential.  In late 2012, there was a minor structural collapse, which, I imagine, is still being resolved.

The O’Neill and Company department store opened in 1887, and was in business until 1907. Over the next century, the building served a number of purposes, and in 2006, at the height of real estate bubble, the gold domes were restored and the huge complex went residential. In late 2012, there was a minor structural collapse, which, I imagine, is still being resolved.

Hugh O'Neill and the 6th Avenue elevated train.

Hugh O’Neill and the 6th Avenue elevated train.

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With the era of the department store came the beginnings of catalogue shopping

As New York entered the 20th century, highrises began to reshape the cityscape.  The area between Union and Madison Squares is a treasure trove of beautifully designed buildings

As New York entered the 20th century, highrises began to reshape the cityscape. The area between Union and Madison Squares is a treasure trove of beautifully designed buildings

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 –

Flatiron Building

Flatiron Building

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

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8th Avenue noir

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Hiding in the Shadows – Finding New Amsterdam

I have a great love for urban exploring – digging up obscure places and events in the annals of New York.  Places like the Staten Island Ship Graveyard, Dead Horse Bay, the Mansion of King Zog, the 1964 World’s Fair Grounds, et al…

In many ways, the following topic is the most obscured.  Barely anything physical remains of the Dutch colonial era- it exists now only in resonant names, culture, and perhaps, in ghosts that ply the dense streets of this city.

The tip of Manhattan Island, today's Financial District, from the East River in the 1660's.  The World Trade Center is now roughly in the middle of the frame

The tip of Manhattan Island, today’s Financial District, from the East River in the 1660’s. The World Trade Center is now roughly in the middle of the frame

Even though the Dutch Republic controlled New York for barely more than a generation, it left an indelible mark on the psyche of the city.  

For centuries European nations sought control of the much coveted Northwest Passage, which was thought to allow a more direct sea route to Asia, allowing trade to bypass the arduous journey around Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope.  When expeditions finally transited the route in the early 20th century, it had proven to be a pipe-dream –  Arctic ice completely barred reasonable navigation until 2009, when the ice pack melted sufficiently to allow year-round passage.

The Dutch West India Company was founded as a conglomeration of merchants, explorers, and men of money to regulate and centralize colonial trade networks.  As such, it became the de facto government of outposts throughout the world.  It’s been said that the Company was akin to a modern global corporation – but with guns.  Finding and controlling the Northwest Passage was at the top of the DWIC’s agenda.  In 1609, they sent an English explorer, Henry Hudson, to scope out the North American continent and pursue any promising leads.  After a long Atlantic voyage, Hudson came upon a very wide, protected bay, fed by a large river that penetrated deep into the interior – an obvious candidate for a Northwest Passage.  Passing Manhattan island, Hudson made his way up his namesake river, as far as he could go.  Disappointingly, it proved to be a dead-end.  At least, however, he had found a source of a very valuable commodity at the time – beaver fur; a luxury item that could fetch high prices in Europe.

Former headquarters of the Dutch West India Company, in Amsterdam.  It was from this building that the colony of New Amsterdam was chartered.

Former headquarters of the Dutch West India Company, in Amsterdam. It was from this building that the colony of New Amsterdam was chartered.

And so, over the following decades, Dutch settlers began arriving and trading.  They covered a swath of remote outposts from what was known as the “South River” (The Delaware River) all the way past the “North River” (or the Hudson River, as it gradually became known).  In the great harbor that Hudson had come upon, there were a handful of Europeans living on the very tip of Manhattan Island, and on “Noten Eylant” (now Governor’s Island).  In 1624, the settlement,  Nieuw-Amsterdam, was officially chartered as a colony of the Dutch Republic, and capital of the New Netherlands colonies.  The Dutch, of course, were not alone in European designs of control of New World resources, and so very quickly, a fort was erected at what is now the Battery. Though plantations were scattered throughout the future five boroughs, and far beyond, the town was little more than Fort Amsterdam. One could walk from end to end in under 10 minutes, the distance between today’s Battery Park and Wall Street:

The extent of the New Amsterdam colony was roughly the distance between "A" and "B"

The extent of the New Amsterdam colony was roughly the distance between “A” and “B”

It was a reckless sort of person who would endure the dangers of the sea and then live on the very margins of civilization facing a highly uncertain future.  It was a desperate sort of person that would go to such lengths to make a living or ensure a fortune in doing so.  New Amsterdam became notoriously unruly.  What’s more, it attracted settlers from all over the European world, including French Huguenots, Sephardic Jews, and of course, African slaves.

In addition, as was happening all along the Atlantic seaboard, the colonists made a poor first impression on the Indians. When one of the first directors of New Netherlands, Willem Kieft, demanded tribute from the local tribes, skirmishes broke out which led to a short, ugly war that still bears his name.

 In response to Kieft’s lack of control, in 1647 the Dutch West India Company replaced him with Petrus (Peter) Stuyvesant, a veteran of conflicts in the Caribbean.   With ambitious zeal, he razed houses at Fort Orange (Albany, NY) and drove out the Swedes from the banks of the Delaware River and founded the city of New Castle. It was Stuyvesant who dug the Heere Gracht, the canal that was later filled in and called Broad Street. And on the edge of town, he built the defenses that gave Wall Street its name.

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The 1660 “Castello Plan” of New Amsterdam, which encompasses the area between “A” and “B” on the Google map above. Note the Wall and the canal that became Broad Street. Broadway is the wide thoroughfare extending from the fort. Once can also see Peter Stuyvesant’s “White Hall”, which gave its name to Whitehall Street

Former location of the Dutch canal, which was renamed Broad Street, after the polluted waterway was filled in.  The NY Stock Exchange is visible on the left.

Former location of the Dutch canal, which was renamed Broad Street, after the polluted waterway was filled in.
The NY Stock Exchange is visible on the left.

He imposed a string of austere policies meant to whip the colony into shape. Crimes were more harshly punished, taverns were ordered closed on Sundays, and church attendance became mandatory. He certainly kept order, but was wholly unpopular. Some of his more extreme enforcements were met with strong retorts. When a ship of Sephardic Jews arrived from Brazil, he tried to turn them away until pressured by the Dutch West India Company to desist. When he tried to brutally suppress Quakerism in the village of Vlissingen (Flushing, Queens), he was met with the “Flushing Remonstrance”, a resistance that inspired the freedom of religion clause in the Bill of Rights.

The house of John Bowne, a noted Quaker, who left repression in New England for the Dutch colony of Vlissingen (Flushing).  He was arrested by Peter Stuyvesant for having a Quaker meeting in this house in 1662.  Outcry over the arrest led to the "Flushing Remonstrance"   It is the second oldest structure in New York City,

The house of John Bowne, a noted Quaker, who left repression in New England for the Dutch colony of Vlissingen (Flushing). He was arrested by Peter Stuyvesant for having a Quaker meeting in this house in 1662. Outcry over the arrest led to the “Flushing Remonstrance” It is the second oldest structure in New York City,

With the English to the north and to the south, New Netherland was caught in the pincers, and England was eager to take over the entirety of the Atlantic coast. In late summer of 1664, their navy appeared in the harbor of New Amsterdam and demanded surrender. Stuyvesant made a call to arms, which fell on cold shoulders. The English offered free passage back to Europe for those who would not submit to their rule; but hardly anyone took them up on it. It has been said that the colonists didn’t care what nation ruled them, as long as they could make money.

And so, the colony went back to its business, now under the name of New York.  Dutch custom, culture, and language persisted for generations before dwindling away.  In fact, there were still native Dutch speakers at the time of the American Revolution more than a century later.

A few Dutch-era names rose to lasting prominence, and were counted among old patrician families that author Washington Irving called the “Knickerbockers”.   Some of them are still very current – the Roosevelts and the Vanderbilts, for instance.

St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery, built in 1799 on the site of the family chapel of Stuyvesant's 62-acre Bouwerij estate, now the heart of the gritty East Village.  His remains are buried within.The church sits askew of the Manhattan grid, recalling the country path that once passed by.

The backyard of St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery, built in 1799 on the site of the family chapel of Stuyvesant’s 62-acre Bouwerij estate, now the heart of the gritty East Village. His remains are buried within.
The church sits askew of the Manhattan grid, recalling the country path that once passed by.

Stuyvesant lived out the final eight years of his life at his Bouwerij (plantation) in the fields outside the city. He is interred at St. Marks Church-in-the-Bowery, built in 1799 on the site of his family chapel. In 1867, one of his pear trees, now surrounded by the city at 13th Street and 3rd Avenue, succumbed to a horse cart accident. It was the final living remnant of New York’s Dutch origins.

The last tree of Stuyvesant's estate, and the last living connection to New Amsterdam at 13th Street and 3rd Avenue in the 1860's, soon before it died.  Note the large protective fence.

The last tree of Stuyvesant’s estate, and the last living connection to New Amsterdam, at 13th Street and 3rd Avenue in the 1860’s, soon before it died. Note the large protective fence.

And so today, apart from some tavern and town hall foundations recently excavated around Hanover Square (you can view them from a window in the sidewalk), the vestiges of the city’s Dutch era exist only in names and spirit. New York lived up to New Amsterdam’s mercantile ambitions, and then some. For better or worse, it is still a place where money talks, regardless of your origins or beliefs.

And the names – those who live in the region hear them every day – names like Haarlem, Breukelen, Conyne Eylandt (named for its rabbits), Tappan Zee, Hell Gate, New Utrecht, Flushing, Van Wyck Expressway, and the “Kills” (creeks) that appear in town and river names up and down the Hudson Valley…

Stuyvesant’s Bouwerij became the notoriously scruffy Bowery, and the raucous East Village now covers his plantation. The diagonal country lane passing in front of his church, now named Stuyvesant Street, is a solitary hold-out against the 1811 Manhattan grid plan. His name is still everywhere – high schools, housing developments, libraries, etc.

250 years after  New Amsterdam, the coarsely planned colonial streets gave birth to the skyscraper and to the world’s financial capital.  The narrow lanes, meant for small houses, now host some of the tallest buildings in the world, which have obscured the ground perpetually in shadow.  On quiet blocks, or at night, squeezed between the concrete canyons, you can almost hear the clogged feet on packed earth, the cantor of a passing horse, or the whispers in Dutch.  All historical facts aside, this is where one can feel closest to the distant outpost on the edge of the world that once was.

Amazingly, the streets of New Amsterdam were never widened to accept 20th century skyscraper construction.

Amazingly, the streets of New Amsterdam were never widened to accept 20th century skyscraper construction.

Appropriately, in the end, one of my most striking New York moments was not here, but in old Amsterdam, in the train station, when I heard a departure announcement  for Breukelen. Full circle around the elusive story of Dutch New York.

The Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn.  Once called the Gowanus Creek, a number of Dutch mills lined its shore.  Today, it is one of the most polluted waterways in the country

The Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn. Once called the Gowanus Creek, a number of Dutch mills lined its shore. Today, it is one of the most polluted waterways in the country

The 17th century "Dutch House" in New Castle, Delaware, which was founded by Peter Stuyvesant.

The 17th century “Dutch House” in New Castle, Delaware, which was founded by Peter Stuyvesant.

Fairytale of New York

A few Christmas’s back, I loaded my Diana with Ilford Hp5 medium format film, and shot a series inspired by one of my favorite Christmas “anti-carols”, the Pogue’s “Fairytale of New York”.

 

 

“i can see a better time”

“you took my dreams from me”

“i’ve got a feeling this year’s for me and you”

“and then he sang a song”

“queen of New York City”

“i dreamed about you”

“the boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay”

“well so could anyone”

“you promised me Broadway was waiting for me”

“i built my dreams around you”

Hurricane Sandy – Relief and Recovery – as of evening, November 7, 2012

On Friday, I compiled my running string of Facebook and Twitter posts dealing with “Superstorm” Sandy.  Today, with relief and recovery efforts underway, and as another nor’easter bears down on the NY – NJ metropolitan region, I once again present a compilation of my hour-to-hour posts.

Some photosets of post-storm NYC:

Scenes from a blacked out Manhattan:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattron/sets/72157631914010512/

Scenes from the Rockaways: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattron/sets/72157631950208338/

Rockaway Beach Blvd.

As nightime temperatures approach freezing, millions are still without power, and many communities are completely displaced.  People are no less in dire straits than they were when the storm hit.  Here are a few resources for those who need help, and those who can offer help:

http://www.newyorkcares.org/
http://www.artfagcity.com/2012/11/01/how-to-volunteer-for-hurricane-sandy-clean-up/
http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycservice/home.html
http://abcnews.go.com/US/hurricane-sandy-victims/story?id=17598687#.UJP0WXYy2kA

A site specific to the Rockaways – a resource for volunteers and those needing help:  http://rockawayhelp.com

By all accounts I’ve heard and seen first hand, OccupySandy has been doing an excellent job getting into areas and helping in ways that conventional relief agencies have been unable to:
Check out the site if you need help, or can provide it:  http://interoccupy.net/occupysandy/

An NYC.gov apartment sharing resource.  Be a host, or a guest!  https://www.airbnb.com/sandy

– A tremendously comprehensive crisis map from Google. Even a week after the storm, things are changing hour to hour, so always double check!:   http://google.org/crisismap/2012-sandy

Text SHELTER + zip code to 43362 (4FEMA) to receive information on the nearest shelter in your area

Friday, November 2, 2012 –

Yesterday I took some photos from within the “blackout zone” of Manhattan, the immense stretch from 34th Street to the Battery:

Looking down Broadway – post Sandy blackout

The full photoset:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/mattron/sets/72157631914010512/

– Lights are coming back on in Manhattan, and the marathon has been cancelled.  You can probably hear the cheering from space.  It’s just in time too.  Manhattan is dealing really well, but I can’t see it taking the lack of access to food and water for too much longer.

– In the city alone, more than 200 lost pets need foster homes:  gothamist.com/2012/11/02/urgent_adopt_or_foster_these_dogs_a.php

– An incredible shot of a darkened Chinatown:

– So power’s coming back rather quickly to Manhattan – Considering the nightlife “meccas” that were hit, whatever bar manages to open is surely going to see a rager tonight.

It was before I was born, but many recall that during the blackout of 1977, which didn’t last nearly as long, the city saw terrible rioting and looting. I can’t say enough about all the comraderie and generosity I’ve seen; people really did become reacquainted with their immediate neighbors. You see it often on the news happening in other parts, but it’s really striking to see the Nat’l Guard handing out MRE’s in NYCNow that things are looking up for Manhattan, hopefully more attention can be focused on the really devastated areas in the Rockaways, the Brooklyn oceanfront, and, of course, the Jersey Shore and Staten Island. It’s a neighborhood most people don’t know, but it’s coming out that Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn, which was not officially in the Zone A evacuation area, saw tidal surge upwards of 8 feet. Another shattered neighborhood among many.On a brighter side, many would-be marathon participants are offering help and their hotel rooms to the displaced. Also, the NY Aquarium, which was completely flooded, seems to be on the path of recovery, with most of the animals unharmed.

– From Staten Island:  “It was like tsunami going through my house. It was up to the attic”

in the Rockaways

Jersey City and Bayonne are back on the grid, may be another week for the Rockaways. Floyd Bennett Field is a staging ground. People are waitng on line for more than 4 hours for gas – one stretches for two miles. Some counties are enacting rationing – (even days for plates that end in an even number)

They’re still looking survivors all along the shore. Many have lost everything. Devastation and terrible stories from Connecticut down to New Jersey – The world’s 4th largest metropolitan area and then some.

– Text SHELTER + zip code to 43362 (4FEMA) to receive information on the nearest shelter in your area
Saturday, November 3, 2012
– Red Hook (Brooklyn) Recovery graphic.  Variations on the same are being played out all over the region:
– A bunch more trains coming on line today – the L is still filled floor to ceiling.  Fuel shortages continue, as does the grief in the hard hit areas of our city and region   .
It’s been a week since my first post about the storm, when the heavy salty air hung over the city and the vanguard clouds began to appear.   I’ve heard it said that the way people react during the first week of a disaster is a no-brainer, in fact sometimes the numbers coming out to help overwhelms the coordination.

It’s the weeks after that count just as much – after all the news moves on and daily routine returns. People and places will still need help long after the cameras go away.
Sunday, November 4, 2012 –
– More looting and the power outage continues in Coney Island, Sheepshead Bay, et al..  Situation’s getting more desperate, and it sounds like FEMA and the Red Cross have been ineffective in those parts most affected.  Donations are needed – cleaning supplies are particularly running short.  Also, places like Staten Island need people on the ground. Some are asking volunteers to just show up, as coordination has been dicey.
– There is some false info circulating about how to contact FEMA – the best thing is to go to their website www.fema.gov  The phone number listed on the site is: (800) 621-3362
– Some runners who would have competed in the marathon today are running supplies down to Staten Island.
– A great resource for those in need and those who can help in the Rockaways: http://rockawayhelp.com/
– Looting and poor sanitary conditions. This is getting on the brink of a big emergency:
– The cover of this week’s New York Magazine:
Monday, November 5, 2012-
– I’m seeing this mentioned on various sites:   Of immediate need are cleaning supplies, OTC medicine and toiletries, and, with the nighttime temperature hovering over freezing, warm clothes for all ages. (gloves, hats, coats, etc..)
– Info on polling site changes: http://www.scribd.com/doc/112102908/Poll-Site-Change-Post-Sandy  Also you can check – http://gis.nyc.gov/vote/ps/index.htm
or call 1-866-VOTE-NYC
-Long live the Rockaways!
– Mobile Medical Clinic has been set up today in Coney Island – 2828 Neptune Avenue between 28th & 29th Street. Please Share info with folks in need. #SandyAid

The Rockaways

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 (Election Day)
– NYers living in disaster areas can vote at any polling site in the state
– Mobile health unit in Howard Beach. Cross Bay and 157th Ave
– Broad Channel is also a mess. Just passed a boat in the street
– Sign in the Rockaways:  “Sandy was a bitch.  We’ll be back”
– FDNY handing out blankets at B116 near the A train.  Also a large FEMA/Natl Guard setup at the Waldbaums near B110.
– Already a week later and it feels like everyone’s just at the very beginning of cleaning up. There’s still a long long way to go
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 –
– Everyone’s been trying to push the thought out of mind, but there is a nor’easter coming through. Storm surge up to 5 feet, high winds, and lots of rain. It’s no Sandy, but still a slap in the face from mother nature.  Some senior and health facilities along the shore are evacuating, again.  With the nightime temperatures nearing freezing these past few nights, some areas are going to see winter conditions from this one.
– South shore of LI in voluntary evacuation again.
– A little video my sister worked on about the gas shortages in the region (particularly on LI):
– A repost:  “Volunteers are still needed to prep hurricane survivors for the upcoming nor’easter today! Bring non perishable food to Our lady Of Solace in Coney Island for distribution today at 12pm!”
– A tremendously comprehensive crisis map from Google. Even a week after the storm, things are changing hour to hour, so always double check!:   http://google.org/crisismap/2012-sandy
– Rockaway residents and volunteers – word on the ground is that there is a mandatory evacuation order in effect.   I haven’t yet seen it officially, but given the weakened beaches and the forecast, it would make total sense.  Also, there are warnings to stay out of parks and watch for falling trees/branches.  We didn’t get a lot of rain during Sandy; this storm will soak more, making already weakened trees and structures vulnerable.  Be safe!
– Make a wish. It’s the first snowfall of the season out here.  Hurricane/nor’easter/superstorm Sandy, then a string of mockingly still, sunny, and chilly days, and now a classic winter nor’easter with snow.  Unpredictable weather is par for course in the Northeast US, but these 2 weeks have been totally bizarre.
– In the past hour, the snow has accumulated an inch or so and is still coming down strong in Queens.  Yesterday I saw Dept. of Sanitation workers dealing with impossible amounts of sand on the shore, today I see them salting the roads.  I’d venture to say that the DSNY has never had to deal with what’s happened these past 10 days. Keep up the good work!

Forest Hills Gardens – From Manhattan to Tudor Village in 20 minutes.

Some years ago, if I was told that I could travel 15-20 minutes out of Manhattan and find myself in a bucolic Tudor-revival village, I’d have dismissed the idea as a greatly distorted exaggeration.  But there I indeed found myself on a grey, blustery mid-November evening.  I was on the hunt for my first NYC apartment and, so stunned by the neighborhood, took a place in the “Forest Hills Inn” with barely a second thought.

The bricked facade of the Inn’s tower rises to a round knob, somewhat reminiscent of the dome of the Florence Cathedral, and the building is connected to its neighbors via breezeways perched atop arches.  It’s across from a Long Island Railroad station, which is designed in the same Tudor style as the apartments that circle it.  As the name suggests, my new home was once a hotel – the lobby is all dark-stained wood and conjures a rustic formality.  Add a few animal-head trophies and Theodore Roosevelt might seem quite at home here.  (In fact, in 1917 TR gave a speech across the square on the steps of the rail station, and may have indeed set foot in this lobby). There is a sealed door marked “Bar Room” in faint gilded letters, and the check-in counter has been converted into a real estate office.  A modest wooden staircase curves up to the “guest floors”, or one can take the ancient two-doored elevator, in front of which, in a glass case, is displayed luggage supposedly belonging to Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe.  As a young musician and artist very much allured to the bohemian resonance of old New York hotels, I was immediately sold.  That it was, by far, the best deal I’d found on the infamous NY rental market was all the more thrilling.

The Forest Hills Inn

Luggage supposedly left behind by Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe

And so I checked in, semi-permanently, into the Forest Hills Inn.  My modest studio was most certainly a converted hotel room – some household utility sheds are larger, and the kitchen was essentially installed inside a closet.  But, the golden beige walls and deep purple curtains offset any chance of crampedness entering my head – especially when I could quickly escape to Manhattan or shop for basically anything within a five minute walk.

The three blocks that run from the subway station to the Inn cross through two entirely different ways of looking at urbanity.  The contrast was always jarring, and often even baffling to my firsttime guests.  The streets around the subway are a crossroads of hectic commerce – chain stores, fast food, restaurants, halal carts, delis, bagel shops, traffic…   That condensation of suburban-esque commerce that you see sometimes in central Queens.  But go past the McDonalds and Boston Market and under the train trestle, and you’re instantly in a different world.  The gothic/Tudor tower of the Inn appears suddenly before you, and beyond, spread streets upon streets of what looks to be an English countryside village.  “Like entering ‘Hobbitville'” is how one friend of mine aptly put it.

“The Gardens” was one of the first planned urban neighborhoods in America.  With expanding population and more efficient transit, people began to move from the confines of Manhattan into the wide rural tracts of the outer boroughs.  Around the turn of the 20th century, at the height of the Progressive era, there was a developing concept of urban planning, originating in Britain, called the “Garden city movement”.  The idea was to alleviate the incredible overcrowding and filth of a city’s working-class districts by building attractive and uncongested low-cost housing in a sort of greenbelt along the urban fringes.  In 1909, the Russell Sage Foundation, a group founded by wealthy Manhattan notables, began construction on the Forest Hills Gardens development; landscaping was handled by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. – son of the famed designer of Central Park.   The foundation’s mission was “the improvement of social and living conditions in the United States”, and the neighborhood, now home to 4,500 residents, was meant to be (and still is) a refuge from the city, a place where people could reconnect with a way of life lost in the grime of the Industrial era.  As such, the Gardens was aimed to attract New York’s working and middle classes.  While the mission was noble, over time the architectural splendor and impeccable landscaping of the neighborhood meant that property values quickly became cost-prohibitive to the target market.

Most of the neighborhood consists of single family houses, and a handful of apartment buildings, all impossibly attractive.  Everything is privately owned, including the streets.  Through-traffic is permitted, but by a quirk of NYC law, the streets must be closed at least 8 hours on one day of the year in order to remain privately owned.  (Rockefeller Plaza in Manhattan must also follow this odd procedure.)  The “Forest Hills Gardens Corporation” maintains public areas, and architectural changes may only be carried out with the Corporation’s permission in order to preserve the neighborhood’s character.

As the suitcases of Sinatra and Marilyn displayed at the Inn attest, there was once a time when the area attracted much more outside attention.  The now unused stadium at the exclusive West Side Tennis Club was, until 1977, the home of the U.S. Open; and was a major concert venue during the 1960’s, playing host to the likes of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Mathis, the Monkees, and of course, Simon and Garfunkel, who grew up mere blocks away in Forest Hills proper.  The stadium appears in the 2001 film “The Royal Tannenbaums” as the place where Richie Tannenbaum’s illustrious tennis career comes to a painful end; and is where Don Draper attends a Rolling Stones concert in the third season of the mini-series”Mad Men” – (http://gothamist.com/2012/04/02/the_rolling_stones_at_forest_hills.php) (link includes photos of the real concert)

These golden years are gone, and the tea garden hidden behind the Inn that once hosted celebrities and weddings is now a crumbling patch of slate.  But not much else has changed.  Houses here have now been in the same families for generations, and residents (rightfully) possess a gushing pride.  The only reason I moved out was because I was getting married and a bigger place was out of my price range.  However, I still visit from time to time, and though I’d walked the same streets time and time again, I am always taken with its beauty, and marvel at its closeness to Manhattan, and the hectic commerce of central Queens.

Church of Christ, Scientist

The New York City Landmarks Commission, which has done a lot of good for the preservation of important sites across the city, is woefully negligent of Queens.  Despite its architectural  uniqueness and innovation in city planning, the neighborhood, including the magnificent Forest Hills Inn, has yet to come under its protection.  Even more glaringly, the disused stadium which once drew international sporting and musical attention has also failed to be protected.   But this is an issue for another article…..

In the meantime, for more about the Gardens, including some great old photos, visit:  http://regoforestpreservation.blogspot.com/

As a contrast, this is what is happening only a few blocks away.