Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Perhaps the most important addition to our neighborhood, and to Manhattan and New York generally, is the opening of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island.

Originally known as Hog Island when Dutch governor Wouter Van Twiller purchased it in 1637 from the Carnarsie Indians, and then Blackwell's Island after a brief time when it was known as Manning's Island (his father-in-law, Captain John Manning, who captured it from the Dutch in 1666), its name was changed to Welfare Island in 1921 to highlight its main use since the opening of the Smallpox Hospital in 1856 as designed by James Renwick, Jr.  

Since 1973, however, when it was named after our 32nd president, we have known it as Roosevelt Island.  Finally, and I'll wager that until recently many didn't even know there was this memorial planned, we have it on view.

After getting off the Tram (which was opened in 1976 as a temporary measure, but has since become an attraction in itself - and is now integrated into our Metrocard system so that you don't need their own special tokens!), one walks back toward Manhattan (Roosevelt Island, in spite of itself, is part of the borough of Manhattan, by the way) and then to the left, walking down along the parapet. 

Yesterday, October 24, 2012, was the so-called "Grand Opening." The weather wasn't quite so "grand," and continued damp and chill throughout the day.  It was perhaps more intimate, however, and I enjoyed communing with this environment.
I mentioned the Smallpox Hospital.  That is certainly an attraction, and one worth examining.  Let's see what we have to examine: 

Well!  Not really inviting, is it?  But on closer inspection, the structure has been re-enforced a bit.  It was made a landmark on November 25, 1975, which put a stop (or at least a slowing down) to its continuing decay.

We can see, as we walk on down to the new park, other aspects of the building:
The east face of the Smallpox Hospital

The Southern facing side

We have now arrived at the beginning of the park, which comprises just 4 acres.  Yesterday, I had to come down the eastern side of the island because of some work being done on the pathway.  In fact, as one looks at the picture just above, the ground in the forefront was quite slippery in the rain.  I have been assured, by the very person in charge, Ms Sally Minard, President of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park LLC, who was there yesterday morning (and who assured me that I was the very first tour guide of the city to be there!) that this situation will be corrected quite soon. 

So!  How does it all look?

 At first I was struct by the massiveness of the stone, and its comparative plainness.  Compared to what?  Oh, I don't know - maybe my imagination?  But - I'm not going to be a quick judge!  I'm going to stay a while and become acquainted with what is the last work of Louis Kahn, a great architect suddenly felled by a heart attack in Penn Station soon after he had drawn up these plans.  A little respect is only right. 

 I was immediately struck by these steps.  There seemed something very inviting about them; with the sight of the trees in the near distance, even something inviting ...
Oh, my God!

It's true, FDR isn't exactly in a spot light; look up to the top of this post, and you'll see him closer.  But on first approaching this memorial his head is almost a mystery.  Yet, well, he invites you to approach. 

I felt it quite literally took my breathe away, and he died at only 63 years of age.

I walked behind this sculpture (by Jo Davidson), and saw the four freedoms that Roosevelt cited in his speech in January of 1941: 

We are not there yet.

So, in the "room" that Louis Kahn designed, let's look out, and across the East River: 

Can we at least hope?

Monday, July 30, 2012

OMG!  Another birthday!  (And another Public Walk - look at the bottom of this post!)

Saturday, July 21, was my birthday.  A sort of significant birthday - I'll go into why later (or not!), but I wanted you to hear and see a bit about my day.

First it wasn't in New York City, but, significantly, it was at a place that 100 years ago people from the city visited, and during the "season" sometimes for the whole three months: the Mohonk Mountain House.  Do you know it?  An extraordinary place - and well worth a couple of hours' drive up to New Paltz.  After all, who wouldn't want just an afternoon's vacation?

Here's Jake, my son, gazing up over Mohonk Lake at Skytop 

We had paid a day's fee per person down at the Gatehouse, and were taken up to the Picnic Lodge by their shuttle.  After walking through their garden, which was attractive enough - 
we walked over to the building itself.  Now, Gail, who you see above admired the flowers in the garden, and who is an architectural historian, has very clear ideas about architecture.  You see, what some of us - my son and I, for example - think charming,
Gail feels is awful!  What's this?!  She exclaims.  This pastiche, this conglomeration - this Victorian hodgepodge!!

Oh, Jake and I laughed, stop quibbling! It's Mohonk!

Well, in that case - but ah!  Look at this!

Yes, a day's vacation is something to consider when you live amid all the hubbub and hullabaloo
of New York City.  We began our walk around the lake.

Certainly nothing to carp about here, Jake and I agreed.  The peaceful blue water, the calm sky, and for once a day not plagued with intolerable heat and humidity ....  Ahhh.

Yes, life is good for our inveterate authority on things architectural.  We stroll on around the lake.

Not exactly a beach, but a place one could bring a row boat up to for a little while perhaps, but a view over a "sky lake" - one whose waters mainly come from the sky, although I believe there's a quite adequate spring underneath.  (But I shall have to consult Mohonk and the Smiley family - the owners - about this!)

We rest at one of the many gazebos that are located all over the 2200 acres of the establishment.  Did I say this was a restful day?

Gail presses on, but gradually, gazing out through the trees onto the lake below.

We gain purchase on a somewhat higher ground. 

And now we're perched on one of those ("heinous!") porches, looking down at the beach and the swimming dock for hotel guests.

But we now have begun the walk up to Sky Top!  And can see the Mountain House from on high.  "It's better from up here," Gail volunteers.  Good!

Then, how about from here?  Better yet? 

Now at Sky Top, I'm poised to ascend the steps to the top.  But, alas, not Gail!  She shall await.  Too bad!  She missed this: 
Well, to say that was exhilerating is almost to miss the point: it was extraordinarily relaxing to be away for a day, and to be so high in the sky, to see so far, and to have no hurry, no pressure, no time to worry.

We walked over, once we had descended all the way, to the stables! 

Read the sign!

No problem for Jake!  Say "Cheeze!"

Our Next Public Walk
Yes, our next Public Walk will be on August 4, starting at 10:00am, for two hours, and we will start at Beanocchio's on York Avenue (between E. 75th St. and E. 76th St.).  

"But, where will we walk!?" you ask.  Ah, there's the question! 

We will begin at the new bridge over the FDR Drive to the Promenade along the East River, and walk toward 5th Avenue, along E. 78th Street - but branching off of it frequently to catch interesting sights and bring you all up to date on what's new in the "hood."  Like: 
The Second Avenue Subway 
The Second Avenue Subway! 
To reserve a place on our tour (limited to 12 persons), please register your name and phone number with The Street Teacher  (click on the highlighted words), and please note the following:
Date: August 4, Saturday, 2012
Time: 10:00am 
Meeting Place: Beanocchio Cafe, at 1413 York Avenue.
Length of Walk (hours):
Length of Walk (miles): 1.5
Cost: $20 per person (cash) or $20.75 (credit card)
(Pay at beginning of tour.)
To Reserve: Click here to send e-mail and reserve a spot.  Remember to include your name and phone number!

For information only, call 917-921-9273

Note: If you take the subway, the 6 train will stop at E. 77th Street and Lexington Avenue.  When you exit, walk away from Lenox Hill Hospital and toward 3rd Avenue, and proceed to York and Beanocchio's, between 75th and 76th Streets.  
If you come by bus, the M31 ("Yorktown") will cross town on 57th Street and proceed up York Avenue, and you can exit that at 76th Street, right across the street.  Buses are, of course, liable to be a little slow, so please keep that in mind.  
The Crosstown M79 will stop at York and 79th, just 3 blocks north. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Spring Walks with the Street Teacher

Good day, desk dogs!  This spring time note is to alert you at your desks to the real wood out there in the world, and to urge you to really escape that wood under your blotter by walking in the park - wherever your park may be!

This shot was taken in the morning one day, looking down into the gulf of a wilderness area only recently trimmed - no!  It was in Central Park, just off the 102nd Street transverse, looking down into the woods where the Loch is that drains water from the Pool into the Harlem Meer.

Still don't know where that is?  For shame!  Anyway, and seriously, that is my shadow looming over the picture, we at The Street Teacher shall be taking long and short walks throughout both the City and the neighborhood (remember?  We also walk bridges!) this season.  Perhaps you have heard?  I will be leading a walk up along the Harlem River on Saturday, April 28 - the day after Arbor Day (which is always the last Friday of April).  But I heard today that the Harlem River Park, where we'll be walking, is also the site of a wonderful new community art project.  Check it out - and sign up for the walk at this link.
It should be a wonderful day for a walk - and this is only half way!  

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Walk the High Line - Community is Art!

Today is the day - and a sunny (but cool) day it's promising to be! Come one come all to the High Line for a warming walk through art and to artists - make your day come alive!

Yes, we'll ascend the stairs and achieve an epiphany - as we walk through a Community as Art.
We will learn about the history of this great new park, and the neighborhood of which it is now a fantastic part, and learn about the team of designers and architects who renovated this rail line. We'll talk about the the art and artists whose work we'll see there, and which we'll visit as we descend into the largest center of contemporary art in the world.

Meet us at 11:00 am this Saturday, February 25, and next Saturday, March 3 at W. 14th Street and 9th Avenue. Call 917-921-9273 or e-mail The Street Teacher at

The Walk is $20 cash - see you there!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

New! - Walk the High Line to the Artists of Chelsea

This early spring, late winter, will be a great time for art in New York. On March 8 to 11 The Armory Art Show, with more than 120 galleries from around the world displaying modern and contemporary art at Piers 92 and 94 at 12th Avenue and 55th Street, will be in action. Please check the website for all details - for there are some significant innovations in this year's show, such as their "inaugural edition of Armory Film, curated by the Moving Image Fair, and Solo Projects, a section dedicated to single artist presentations, and the Media Lounge, where on-site programs including Armory Film, Open Forum - the lively talk series - and Armory Performance will take place." It's quite a show - look at their website before going!

As you can see by the picture, artists do tend to start young, and this one is in his mother's studio in a great building on W. 21st Street, where many artists work on a daily basis. It may be many years before his work will be at the Armory show, but virtually every artist in the building has an opportunity. And, on February 25 (see below!) The Street Teacher shall be leading a tour from 14th St. and 9th Avenue up the High Line to these studios and galleries as well, getting you a head start on the season.

But for us in February, and virtually every day of the year in fact, there are artists in Chelsea, working every day on new art. In fact, this is one of the most important and influential art districts in the world, with hundreds of galleries - and for us one great building with many working artists.

Meet artists at work in their studios and talk with them about their processes of creation. Ask them what inspires them, and become acquainted with creators of contemporary art. Why, you might even imagine commissioning a work of art for your - home!

The High Line Art Walk

Date: Saturday February 25, 2012
Time: 11:ooam
Meeting Place: W. 14th St. and 9th Avenue, outside The Diner
Length of Tour: 2 to 3 hours
Price: $20 cash, or $20.75 credit card.
Please register by e-mail at

We will start promptly at 11:00. Please try your best. If you find yourself running late, please call 917-921-9273 to let us know, and we'll tell you where to meet us. But please remember: we begin our walk at 11:00am.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Winter is for Walking!

I have been away from my blog for some time now, and I apologize to my followers for leaving them adrift - in the sea of holiday shopping, of family feasting, and now - January fasting! We shall get together again.

But, now, on the subject of food, feasting and fasting, have you noticed that Fairway is now on E. 86th St., between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, on the south side of the street? So, now you can get all kinds of olive oil - and taste each one on a piece of Fairway baguette that they have prepared for you (free lunch?). It's altogether a surfeit of food to be sure - but beware the mothers with their strollers! Traffic jam! Never was a place so demanding of one's patience and stamina for politeness!

But, as I did, you may be able to walk home by one wonderful echo of Yorkville's German past.

This is the Zion-St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, on E. 84th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues - in the evening. Constructed in 1888, by a certain J. F. Mahoney. The church did have financial problems in its first decades, but while originally one congregation - the Deutche Evangelical Kirsche von Yorkville - it joined with the Zion-St. Marks congregations from the Lower East Side's Kleinedeutschland after the terrible event of June 15, 1904: the loss of 1000 women and children in the sinking of the General Slocum at Hell's Gate.

There's more to learn, and this may be a part of one of my Spring Slow Walks, which I shall be detailing soon in my newsletter (The Street Teacher Bulletin - let me know if you'd like to be on that list! Send me a note!).

A New Year, New MacBook! New iPhone!

No, I'm not bragging! Not at all. But, well, my equipment was getting old ... and the iCloud is coming - but I also broke my display on my older MacBook when it fell out of my bag after being checked at the courthouse downtown when I was doing my jury duty. So, now, new.

And there's new stuff to learn! But, I may have more and better pictures (see above - what do you think?) to come.