Archive for the ‘Bronx and City Island’ Category

New York City’s other Washington Bridge

March 31, 2014

There’s no scandal surrounding this lovely, smaller-scale steel-arch bridge, which links Washington Heights to the Bronx.

This postcard is undated, but it depicts a very sleepy Upper Manhattan.

Washingtonbridgepostcard

The Washington Bridge isn’t very well known and gets little love by New York residents.

But it should. It opened to pedestrians in 1888 and vehicles in 1889, making it older than its similarly named, much bigger counterpart by a good 40-odd years!

Life in a New York University dorm in 1897

January 30, 2014

Today’s NYU students have an array of university housing options available to them. In 1897, dorm options were probably more limited.

Newyorkuniversitydorm1897

This 1897 photo shows the inside of a dorm room at the old University Heights campus in the Bronx, personalized with a horseshoe . . . and boxing gloves? One student is trying to study, the other appears to be playing music . . . college life hasn’t changed.

The caption to the photo, from this fascinating NYU history website, states: “The earliest evidence of university housing is an 1840 list of six students residing in the old University Building on Washington Square.”

NYU had fraternities back then too. Here, some 1890s bros smoke pipes and do bong hits.

The visionary who created New York City

December 30, 2013

The name Andrew Haswell Green typically draws blank stares from today’s city residents, who are unfamiliar with his accomplishments helping to build the parks, museums, and zoos of 19th century New York—not to mention the consolidated city itself.

AndrewgreenIn the late 1850s, Green was a member of the Central Park Board of Commissioners, tasked with selecting the design for the new park.

It was Green who recognized the beauty and brilliance of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s Greensward Plan, with its woodsy and pastoral landscapes. He shepherded the plan, helping it become reality.

The New York Public Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Natural History, Central Park Zoo—give props to Green, now city comptroller, for these late 19th century achievements.

His 1868 proposal to consolidate the city, however, was a harder sell.

Nicknamed “Green’s Hobby,” the idea of combining Manhattan, Brooklyn, and other towns and cities along the city’s port barely gained traction.

Andrewgreencentralparkbench

But Green persisted. In 1890, the city council created a task force to look into the idea. By the middle of the decade, after much debate (and grumbling from Brooklynites), consolidation was approved; the new city was born on January 1, 1898.

Andrewgreenconsolidation1

Consolidation was an economic and practical success. But Green didn’t live long enough to see the results.

In 1903, while arriving at his home on Park Avenue, he was killed, ambushed by a gun-wielding man who mistook Green, then in his 80s, for someone else with the same last name.

The “father of New York City” was memorialized in Central Park with a bench bearing his name. He now also has a riverfront park named for him overlooking the East River at 60th Street.

[Middle photo: NYC Parks Department]

Starlight Park: the Bronx’s answer to Coney Island

July 8, 2013

A century ago, Coney Island wasn’t the only game in town for thrilling rides and carnival magic.

Starlightpark1920

Queens had Rockaways Playland, which bit the dust in 1985. Canarsie had Golden City, which closed in 1939.

StarlightparkdiveAnd the central Bronx had Starlight Park (above, in 1920), a wonderfully named destination on the Bronx River.

Opened in 1918, Starlight Park had everything Coney had bathing pavillions, a shooting gallery, a 15,000-seat stadium for the circus and other events, even a roller coaster.

“It had a big swimming pool with a sort of observation veranda alongside, a sandy ‘beach’ and lockers by the day or season,” stated a letter-writer responding to a New York Times article on the park from 1995. “It had a picnic grove.”

The park even sponsored a little culture for the masses, in the form of opera and big band shows.

Starlightparkcascade1921The stadium was home to the New York Giants soccer team, and a popular venue for amateur boxing and auto races.

Starlight Park only dazzled the Bronx for 14 years.

Closed in 1932, a fire burned down the bathing pavillions in the 1940s, after which the land became a parking lot and then a dumping ground.

Recently cleaned up, it just reopened as a traditional city park—part of the revitalized Bronx River Greenway.

[Photos: George Bain Collection, Library of Congress]

Could a major earthquake strike 125th Street?

June 20, 2013

125thstreetsignOkay, so it doesn’t pose the same level of threat as California’s San Andreas fault.

But Manhattan does have a fault line under layers of schist along Harlem’s main drag.

The 125th Street fault “runs from New Jersey to the East River, skirting the northern tip of Central Park and running southeast to Roosevelt Island,” explains a 2002 New York Times article.

125thstreetbridgeIRTBecause of the fault, the 1 train rises above ground and goes over a trestle bridge at 125th Street (left). The fault also forms the natural boundary between Manhattanville and Harlem.

And it’s not the only one within city borders. Another fault runs beneath Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, and a third under Dyckman Street in Inwood.

So how worried should you be about the potential for a serious tremor?

Well, the last major city quake happened in 1884 and was centered around Coney Island.

“The New York City metro area is susceptible to an earthquake of at least a magnitude of 5.0 once a century,” reported the Daily News in 2011. We might be due for one soon.

Two beautiful bridges of an older New York

June 10, 2013

Most New Yorkers have never crossed either of these beauties.

Hell Gate Bridge, which has connected Queens and Randalls/Wards Island since 1916, is used by railroads only.

Hellgatebridgepostcard

High Bridge, built in 1848 and spanning the Harlem River between Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx, has been closed since 1970.

It’s supposed to reopen to pedestrians in 2014 after a lengthy renovation—fingers crossed!

Highbridgepostcard

In the meantime, there are ways to experience them up close though. To really absorb the loveliness of the Hell Gate, head to Astoria Park, particularly the enormous public pool there. The bridge looms large in the background.

High Bridge is a little trickier. Highbridge Park in the Bronx affords wonderful views, and you can get close to the iron bars that blocks access to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway.

The Vietnam vets outside a Bronx subway station

May 25, 2013

When I first saw it, I thought it was honoring fallen soldiers who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But this mural, at the end of the line on the 4 train at the Bronx’s Woodlawn station, memorializes Vietnam War veterans.

Bronxveteransmural

It’s been there since 1985, enduring graffiti tags ever since.

Outdated subway signs that still point the way

April 17, 2013

There are regular subway signs, and then there are the ones that give clear directions—in these cases, using names no longer widely used.

The Port Authority Building, the Art Deco structure built in 1932 that stretches from 14th to 15th Streets on Eighth Avenue, must have been important; it scored its own sign in the station at that corner.

Portauthoritysubwaysign

Google bought it in 2010, and it now serves as their famous New York City headquarters. I wonder what old-school Port Authority employees would think of the trick doors in the library and Lego play area.

Here’s a peek inside, courtesy of The Wall Street Journal.

I’d never heard of the B and D trains referred to as “concourse trains.”

Concoursetrainsignarrow

But they made up a branch of the IND called the Concourse Line, opened in 1933 and running from 145th Street (where the photo was located) and 205th Street in the Bronx, under the Grand Concourse.

Pennstationsubwaysignage

Penn Railroad sounds quaint, but it’s easy enough to decipher. I wonder how many tourists and new New Yorkers know what BMT and H&M mean—and no, it certainly has nothing to do with the store!

A Bronx road inspired by the Champs Elysées?

April 15, 2013

GrandconcoursesignParis’ Champs Elysées is one of the most famous streets in the world, a multilane thoroughfare running about a mile.

And according to articles, books, and the Bronx Historical Society, the Champs Elysées was the inspiration behind the Grand Concourse, the five-mile avenue stretching from Mott Haven to Van Cortlandt Park that opened in 1909.

GrandconcourseIt’s easy to see a resemblance. Both feature wide sidewalks and many trees, and both are framed by beautiful architecture—block after block of circa-1930s Art Deco and Art Moderne residences in the Bronx.

Also, the Grand Concourse was designed by Alsatian-born civil engineer Louis Risse. It’s conceivable that Risse modeled his creation after a French thoroughfare he would likely be familiar with.

But was the Champs Elysées his inspiration? Despite the legend, no one really knows, according to Boulevard of Dreams, a book about the Grand Concourse by Constance Rosenbloom.

“Louis Risse does not mention the Champs Elysées, even in passing, in his detailed description of the thoroughfare he envisioned in the West Bronx,” writes Rosenbloom.

Grandconcoursewiki“Beyond the fact that Risse was a Frenchman who knew the Champs Elysées well from his youth, and beyond the superficial resemblance between the two streets, with their sweeps of roadway and sidewalk demarcated by seemingly endless rows of trees, no evidence exists that the grand Parisian boulevard was in Risse’s mind as he set about creating his own masterwork.”

“Yet, whatever the engineer’s intentions, the two streets share a great deal beyond mere beauty, namely, a more ineffable quality that has to do with their singularly urban environs. Like precious gems enclosed within fine settings, both streets were enhanced by the grand buildings that flank them.”

Secret signage of defunct New York hospitals

April 8, 2013

GouverneurhospitalFDRdriveEver found yourself on the FDR Drive near the South Street Seaport staring at this kind of spooky structure?

It’s set amid 1970s-era apartment buildings and housing projects, making its rounded wings and red brick exterior stand out considerably.

There’s an interesting history behind it. This is the back of Gouverneur Hospital, founded in the late 19th century to serve the crowded immigrant communities of the Lower East Side.

This particular building was constructed in 1897, and it’s marked by a lovely terra cotta sign and ornate carved front entrance at 621 Water Street.

Gouverneurhospitalsign

As for its curious rounded design, it served a health purpose. “[It] was believed that tuberculosis bacilli hid in corners, so the shape was an early attempt at preventive medicine,” explains this New York Times piece.

Gouverneur Hospital still exists in a more modern facility nearby on Madison Street. The 1897 building, though, now provides housing for New Yorkers living with HIV and mental illness.

Unionhospitalbronxsign

I love the lettering on this sign for Union Hospital of the Bronx, opened here in 1922. It’s not easy to see beneath the contemporary signage for Union Community Health Care, a facility that took over this space on 188th Street in the Bronx.

Here are a few more old city hospitals that have been repurposed into—what else?—high-end apartments.


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