Sacred Sites Open for Exploration

May 20th, 2016 · Explore New York

New York’s sacred places of worship possess countless life stories and historical chapters as well as inspiring and magnificent art, architecture, and design. Jacob Riis, the social reformer and photographer whose works brought to light the suffering of the poor living in New York City tenements, was one of the early parishioners of the Church of the Resurrection, the oldest church in Richmond Hill, Queens. In the 1990s, those restoring the façade of the 1844 Gothic building of the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn found the original oyster shell mortar and matched it. The building contains splendid Tiffany stained glass windows. In the Lower East Side, thanks to the dedicated efforts to save a structure once in decline, the Eldridge Street Synagogue, a space that long ago provided inspiration to newly arriving Jewish immigrants arriving in America from Russia and Poland, still survives.

That each of these places remains standing and vital to their communities personifies resilience and a miracle. That this weekend New Yorkers and others can see and tour various sacred places of New York City and State is a priceless opportunity. This weekend, May 20 and 21, the New York Landmarks Conservancy is holding its 6th annual Sacred Sites Open House, during which more than 170 churches, temples, synagogues, and meeting houses in New York City and State will be open for exploring the architecture, art, history, and cultural programs of these places. In 2016, the New York Landmarks Conservancy is also marking the 30th anniversary of the group’s Sacred Sites Program, a statewide initiative to foster and support, through technical and financial assistance, preservation endeavors for these historic places.

The Open House encompasses a wide variety of religious congregations, time periods, and architectural styles, from the architecture of a unique Ukrainian Catholic Church that drew from the wooden churches of the Carpathian Mountains to structures of the Gothic Revival, Romanesque Revival, and Shingle styles. Geographically, a significant number are in New York City, yet the open house includes worship sites eastward to the tip of Long Island, upstate and westward to Niagara Falls and Buffalo, and northward to the historic village of Monroe in the state’s rolling farmlands just south of the Canadian border. [Read more →]

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Goodbye to the Greenwich Street Tree

May 3rd, 2016 · Explore New York

The tree wasn’t a towering oak on the rolling landscape of a New York City park, a magnificent elm with big-shouldered limbs, or a bright, showy dogwood welcoming the spring on a village street. It was, in fact, the most unlikely of survivors, sort of scrawny, alone, between city buildings and flanking some very inhospitable pavement and metal. But survive and hang in there? Yes, it did.

In fact, this highly unusual tree on the block of Greenwich Street between West 10th and Charles streets was like no other I’ve seen in New York. It adapted to survive while chain-link fence impinged on it, to the point of the trunk having the fence’s pattern carved into its surface, as documented in a photo essay in 2011. (See “A Tree Grows in Chain Link.”) If this tree ever heralded anything, it might have been the message that life can be tough but don’t let it defeat you.

It survived this way for quite a while. I made periodic walks to this block of Greenwich Street to check up on this tree and say hello, usually during early spring or fall. Even when not visiting, I thought of the special, feisty tree on Greenwich Street. As this winter was giving way to spring, I decided to pay a visit. However, as I was walking the blocks of the West Village, I had a sense that it was like a friend with whom I lost touch for too long. Something could be amiss, and it was – the tree was gone. The fence and driveway looked cleaner and tidier, yet emptier and sadder to this visitor who had felt a bond with the tree. [Read more →]

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Spring’s First Sightings: A Meditation

April 8th, 2016 · Beyond Gotham

Turn off the clock and look at those tree branches, and feel the wind blowing through them. The outdoors provides the lungs of life. Each day what is outdoors vitalizes my life, with breath, space, and an exhalation into a wider world. That is so much why it beckons one to walk, to feel my feet upon the earth, my eyes to what is near and what is at the horizon.

Every day its show unfolds. We miss so much if we simply walk past the life before us…the peace, beauty, the manifestation of time and seasons. Recently, I walked at the college campus I’ve come to think of as one of my central parks. Suddenly, the sight apprehended me, the bright yellow of a flowering bush along the big pond. It caught me by surprise and created delight. I looked closely at each yellow bud-burst, shooting with abandon and order, simultaneously. The bright yellow was my first sighting of the spring flowering. [Read more →]

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The Grief and Questions Over St. Agatha’s

February 27th, 2016 · Beyond Gotham

As they dismantle the stones, roof, and interior of the former St. Agatha Roman Catholic Church, the demolition crew is taking apart memories, history, art, and part of a community’s fabric, to be replaced by a nondescript pharmacy in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania. At the corner of Spring Avenue and Fifth Street in the downtown, the CVS Pharmacy will be right across from another national-chain drugstore. The demolition company isn’t to blame. It’s doing the work of a large corporation. But if stones could wail, these surely would.

During this past week, a crew using a jackhammer, aerial boom, and other equipment has been taking down a structure that a congregation built nearly a century ago and dedicated in 1918. Italian immigrant stonemasons shaped the stones of the building and an outdoor grotto.

It’s one place in a town of 7,740 residents in Western Pennsylvania, hundreds of miles away from dozens of properties in New York City that have been facing their becoming vulnerable to the same fate – including a church in the Bronx; a cemetery that dates back more than 250 years in Staten Island; the monumental building on Manhattan’s West Side that first powered the New York City subway in its first days; and an 18th century farmhouse in Gravesend, Brooklyn. Earlier this week, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) considered a backlog of 95 sites, prioritized 30 of them for historic landmark designation, and took most of them off its calendar without judging the merits. ( plans to follow up on the ramifications of the LPC’s decisions in a separate post soon.) They had been on the LPC’s backlog list for years, 85 percent for more than two decades while the commission considered other places for designation.

The historic and beautiful church building in a Western Pennsylvania town and dozens of places in a city of 8 million are connected by meaning, memory, significance, and art. Once someone razes them, they’re lost forever to a neighborhood and city or town, alive only in recollections, historical documents, and images. On a day when I was researching about the New York City hearing, I saw a photo of St. Agatha’s that an Ellwood City resident had taken when the crew had ripped off part of the bell tower, leaving a jagged edge on the tower. It set off a feeling of deep mournfulness.

Since then, as I’ve learned, I’m far from alone in that mourning for a place that is disappearing in my home area. It doesn’t mean that every older building should be saved, but many people know intuitively, quite deeply, and, most of the time, correctly when some interests in society have gone too far in destroying what should be saved and allowed to live on. In the face of huge commercial interests, such as a national drugstore chain, citizens can feel powerless. Still, they know, in their minds and souls, that an incalculable loss is taking place. [Read more →]

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Art Deco’s Wisdom of the Ages, Part II

January 29th, 2016 · Explore New York

How many schoolchildren over the decades glanced above the doorway to see a woman reading to a boy while a girl nearby is working on an abacus? It is a simple, beautifully sculpted panel, attentive to detail, as the architectural historian William Rhoads writes, “down to the shoelaces.” The scene is one of two on the carved stone panels on the Marlboro Middle School in the Hudson Valley, an Art Deco-style school completed in 1937. Today’s school buildings are far smarter, in using energy efficiently and caring more for the environment, but they aren’t as full of the wisdom of storytelling in their exterior design. In those historic panels, the designers imparted the value of learning.

Like the reliefs of the Marlboro school, the architectural panels of another Art Deco-style structure, at 20 Exchange Place in Lower Manhattan, hearken to know-how. They, too, tell stories intended to elevate mankind, in this instance on the exterior of a major bank. Although City Bank Farmers Trust Company had to scale back its ambitious plans to be the “world’s tallest” skyscraper when the Great Depression ravaged the economy, the bank still invested much in the exterior’s decorative elements that look not only to the present but to other eras for meaning. The building’s splendid, ornate doorways exemplify this best, showing both historic means of transportation, like sailing ships, and the newest of that era, in airplanes. [Read more →]

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The Tree as Artist and Art Form

December 30th, 2015 · Explore New York

To Paul Klee, a tree embodied the creative process. In a public lecture, the artist likened the artist to a tree. The artist is deeply rooted in the world, while the artist’s work is similar to the tree’s crown, as the book Art and Phenomenology explains. “Standing at his appointed place, at the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths, ” Klee observed. “And the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel.” In Klee’s conceptual view, the manifestation of the human body into artistic creation and the tree’s shaping are intertwined.

Examine a branch or trunk or crown, feel the tree’s presence and qualities, and it will speak to you or move you in some way. A single tree is one of the most soulful, persistent, and expressive of nature’s creations. Trees speak to us, energetically and visually, on a deep level.

The human body and the body of a tree are in kinship. The About Trees Exhibition at the Zentrum Paul Klee museum in Bern, Switzerland, seeks to explain this connection. The roots, trunk, and crown correspond to the feet, body, and the head. We can only wonder at their strength through the seasons and weather’s vagaries. On the whole, trees outlive humans, their lives spanning the generations. The glorious American elms on the Central Park Mall looked at children playing and the Sunday strollers at the turn into the 20th century the way they do the drummers, skateboarders, and walkers today. This is not to say that trees aren’t frail or vulnerable. [Read more →]

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Symbol and Story in Art Deco Panels

November 18th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham

Buildings possess energy that can at times elevate or depress the people who view and inhabit them. Like other art, architecture can both be in and rise above its times. Talking about the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression, bandleader and jazz singer Cab Calloway once said that people really needed entertainment when the bottom fell out of the economy. “It’s one way to get out of the gloom,” he said, as the book New York Deco quotes Calloway as observing. The same could also be said of what people saw in the Art Deco buildings of the late 1920s and 1930s.

Art Deco’s energy, artistic beauty, pizzazz, and ebullience are striking, given the boom-to-bust economic climate that the era spanned. Art Deco was enthralled with technology, progress, machinery, inventions, and worldwide travel, which its designers captured in decorative elements such as soaring airplanes, streamlined automobiles, and luxury liners. Its symbols, ornamentation, and shapes spoke that language in the bubbly times before the market crash and even after the Great Depression battered the economy as well as the living situations of millions.

Yet, Art Deco drew from the history and myth of yesterday as well as looked forward, which is part of what makes it fascinating. The approach newly imagined forms from the past and borrowed from visions of the future, blended into a wholly unique look. As historian Richard Striner, who has focused extensively on Art Deco in a number of books, has observed, Art Deco inhabited a middle range between antagonistic design ideologies – the militant traditionalists and the radical modernists, who waged an “architecture war” during the 1920s and 1930s.

Some sought solidity in the forms of the past, while others focused on the ultra-modern. Art Deco did both. The style was streamlined, eclectic, and flamboyant, signaling the modern, while also hearkening to traditional symmetry and hierarchy. Its creations juxtaposed ancient imagery with futuristic visions, and in doing so, they encapsulated the tension and anxiety of the era, according to Striner. [Read more →]

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Sweet Summer Days, Moment by Moment

August 25th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham

Very few summer-twilight evenings go by without a thought of playing hide-and-seek games decades ago. We grabbed every moment of fun out of the evening’s dwindling daylight. We tried to trick each other by switching jackets and sweaters in the dusk in order to fool the one who was “it” in hide-and-seek into calling the wrong name of who was hiding where. Sometimes, it actually worked! This was our play with the light and dark. These evenings afforded primary lessons in getting the most out of each day and savoring the summer’s light and the beckoning outdoors.

Those small-town summer evenings in Western Pennsylvania – which friends and dear ones who grew up in cities have their own versions of – were delicious and seemed forever-lasting. In such hours – the long baseball games at the ballpark; the falling asleep after a swim, feeling the breeze while dreamily seeing the full-green leaves outside my bedroom window; the catching of worms during the evenings for bait we would use to fish the next day – the days felt never-ending. Nothing else existed outside of these moments. What we possessed was enough. This was summer abundance. [Read more →]

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The Lessons of LG Sparing the Palisades

July 3rd, 2015 · Beyond Gotham

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings,” wrote the pioneering conservationist John Muir in his 1901 book, Our National Parks. On Tuesday, June 23, the mountains – that is to say, the cliffs of the Palisades – were the focus of good tidings for all of us and for future generations. LG Electronics, the multinational electronics and appliances manufacturer, confirmed it has changed course in its intention to build a new North American headquarters at a height that would have protruded far above the Palisades cliffs and defiled a majestic view. The Korea-based company revealed that it had reached an agreement with a range of parties on a new design for a much lower-level complex.

The news prompted relief and joy among the many people who have cherished the Palisades and who urged LG to not construct a tall tower. It also shows the power such a place holds for many and provokes a fair amount of questions as to LG’s original actions.

LG’s decision and the settlement followed some 11 months of intense discussion and, finally, a consensus of the involved parties, which included Scenic Hudson, the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Instead of the original design for a tower that would have risen 143 feet above grade – which would have made it the first building prominently visible above the ridgeline along a 20-mile stretch of the Palisades, as Scenic Hudson noted – LG will construct a shorter complex. [Read more →]

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Spring’s Fleeting Beauty, Eternal Truth

May 29th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham

In the face-chilling, hand-freezing, blustery cold of a January night, who could have pictured these blossoms and flowers? In winter, many do not notice the gnarly branches of a crabapple or pear tree or the twisting limbs of a lilac bush, though they possess their own character and loveliness. Yet, there they are, strong, upright, swaying in a stiff wind or covered under snow.

Then the day comes, one we cannot time or set an alarm for by our human clocks. The tiny deep blossoms of a crabapple tree in the city park or on a campus shoot forth, seemingly appearing overnight, or the orchard of a local apple grower suddenly has rows and rows of white, tender, and glorious blossoms flowing in a warm breeze.

Apple Orchard Beauty

Apple blossoms

The springtime blossoming and flowering are of untold, exquisite, and often short-lived beauty. (Part 1 focused on their exquisiteness.) The apple and cherry blossoms, gracing a landscape with white and pink that just a month earlier was winter-worn, bloom one to two weeks or so. The longer-lasting visits from flowering trees, such as the deep reddish purple of an Eastern redbud, can last a few weeks before giving way fully to green.

In each blossom and flower lies the principle of fleeting beauty and eternal truth. In the blossoms and flowers lay deeper verities, whether lush magnolia blossom, tiny woodland violet, or delicate dogwood flower, about life’s cycles of dormancy and rebirth, endings and beginnings, stillness and motion, dark and light, bold hues after subdued color. “If spring were in the teaching business, which it isn’t, we would now be hearing a basic lecture on philosophy,” wrote naturalist and author Hal Borland. “All the elements are there, spring after spring, and all we have to do is supply the words and attend their meaning.” [Read more →]

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The Insights That Blossoms Teach

April 30th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham

About a month ago mounds of hardened snow still covered parts of the landscape and the bare tree branches shivered in a much colder wind. The Northeast United States waited and waited. Even for a professed winter lover, spring’s warmth and expected bursting forth felt long overdue. Some signs were there, in lengthening daylight, the return of some migrants outside my window with their birdsong before dawn, and the quickening ice melt

But this past two weeks the breakthrough finally arrived in this part of the Northeast. On a landscape dominated by late winter brown and gray, plumes of bright color — light green, bright yellow, and creamy white — appeared, so welcome. Finally, the buds had opened, and the blossoms and flowers of the new season arrived, the yearly miracle before our eyes.

Like others in the natural world, we are a species of rituals, of many types. Some fast to honor particular holy days each year or hold festivals to mark a natural occurrence. Some are sure to see the Rockettes or the Rockefeller Center tree each Christmas season in New York. Others venture to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania annually to view the hawks during their autumn migration. The time of buds bursting and blossoms appearing is my Christmastime. It’s one of rituals, including walks along certain pathways and visits to particular trees each year. I have a date with them, only they hold the timing. [Read more →]

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Cleveland’s Streamline Station Survivor

March 6th, 2015 · Beyond Gotham, Columns and Features

Let’s play word association: Think of the word “Greyhound.” Chances are, the terms “sleek,” “aerodynamic,” and “futuristic” are not likely to jump to mind. Decades ago, however, they may well have. Not too long after the automobile and road travel gained wider public acceptance, Greyhound was one of the forward-looking companies seeking to captivate those who wanted to go far distances on America’s roads and to make such travel accessible for all. The best of smooth, fast, and sleek long-distance highway trips didn’t have to be reserved for the well-to-do.

From the Post-Depression 1930s to after World War II into the 1950s, Greyhound aggressively promoted an image of speedy, convenient, and exciting travel through its buses and various stations that the company built in cities and towns. These days, it may be hard for some to consider such stations and buses as anything more than an afterthought when bus trips too often conjure images of interstate fast-food, vending machine donuts, and stations with the charm of drive-in banks. Not so that time period, however. During this ambitious expansion, many Greyhound buses and stations were in the Streamline Moderne design, a single, unified symbol of sleek movement and modernity.

The Greyhound station on a winter night

This history is likely unknown to many, and one that I literally rode into just after the Christmas holidays when I arrived at the Cleveland Greyhound bus station, just on the eastern edge of downtown. The station, which the transport company opened in 1948, is in the Streamline Moderne style. It’s a still-busy terminal that Greyhound’s go-to architect of the period, William S. Arrasmith, designed. Cleveland’s was the most ambitious the company constructed for this purpose following World War II, and it was the last for which Arrasmith employed the Streamline Moderne style, according to Docomomo International, a key organization for the preservation of modernist architecture. [Read more →]

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A Message in a Lobby

January 26th, 2015 · Columns and Features, Explore New York

It was just before Christmas, and thousands were in the mad rush and jostling along Fifth Avenue, with their cameras and shopping bags, to see the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. The shoppers lined up at the boutiques and gift shops in Midtown Manhattan. Just south, however, is a building that doesn’t make a list of must-see places during the holidays. It’s on mine, however, in my annual holiday rituals of walking along the avenue: the lobby of the Fred F. French Building, at the northeast corner of Fifth Avenue and 45th Street. Jewel-like only begins to capture the feeling of quiet elegance of its ground floor during the holidays, with decorated trees of bright twinkling lights and glistening bulbs, the shiny bronze entrances and elevator doors, and the radiant gold, deep blue, and dark green of the Art Deco ceiling.

The French Building lobby, I remind myself, is never to be taken for granted. This is all the more so considering what The Guardian newspaper recently called the “supersizing” of Manhattan, especially the construction of luxury residential housing towers, and the vast changes to various neighborhoods occurring at a rapid pace elsewhere around the city. Looking at the French Building or other places of architectural distinction or beauty prompts even more gratitude when juxtaposed with the fate of others that are falling to the wrecking ball. [Read more →]

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Autumn’s Cure for Nature Deprivation

November 20th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

Nature is grand both in big spaces, such as mountain cliffs and ocean horizons, and in small patches, as in one leaf, a square foot of roadside, or a plant curled around a building column. Nature rewards the attentive. From the time he was a boy, Richard Louv has known this as much as anyone on the planet. For years, Louv has been saying that, individually and collectively, too many of us are tuning out nature and teaching our children to grow up with this deprivation as well.

On an evening in late October, Louv brought his message about “nature-deficit disorder” and the solutions to it to a packed lecture hall at SUNY New Paltz. The author of eight books, Louv coined this term to capture the malady and the consequences of living with no direct connection to nature. In myriad ways, too many adults have forged the kind of world where children learn about saving the rainforest in their online lessons, but they do not play outside in the schoolyard. Too often, children and adults have their eyes glued to screens, but they fail to look out windows. “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” Paul, then a fourth-grader in San Diego, told Louv, according to a passage in his book Last Child in the Woods, which examines the lack of nature in children’s lives, its link to illnesses and societal problems, and the ways to address this harmful trend.

Freeing Kids, Not Scaring Them

The consequences of living a life unconnected to nature are toxic to children and destructive to society and the Earth. However, Louv’s voice is not one of pessimism, and he has formed a social movement out of his concerns. “We have to remind ourselves that we can be hopeful,” he told the SUNY audience on Oct. 21. In fact, he said, the emphasis on climate change and environmental degradation has left too many children overwhelmed by a sense that they can do little to change the fates and heal the world from the ill effects. Instead, Louv exhorted, “we need to go to a place of irrationality” and believe we can solve these problems. [Read more →]

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A Sweet Statement of Deco in Newburgh

October 1st, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

Buildings have a way of speaking to people. Such expression can come through their design, materials, condition, or decorative elements – and ultimately in their presence. In the middle of the long, wide expanse of Broadway in Newburgh, 121-123 Broadway is a forgotten but beautiful small building. Its Art Deco elements and design suddenly draw one’s eye and convey that it was once a bustling, welcoming business on the thoroughfare.

The three-story 1930 building is now shuttered, but the sandstone structure once housed a well-known local furniture store. “Kreisel’s” is in a semi-circle in big letters in the middle of an Art Deco copper-trim decoration above the entrance. The copper could use a cleaning and polishing, and yet it’s still graceful, expressive, and eye-catching, with large rays over the door and geometric and scalloped accents under large horizontal windows. The sun-rays motif makes the building stand out in the row along Broadway.

The Kreisel Furniture Co. building in Newburgh, in the Hudson Valley [Read more →]

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Nature’s Late-Summer Hurrah

September 10th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

“Our appointment with life is in the present moment,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh in Peace Is Every Step. My appointment with life is in the present moment. Even saying these words slows down the moment and magnifies it. This can be a challenge as the days speed up and we think too much and too quickly of tomorrow or back to yesterday, without seeing what is around us today.

In the daily world of many in North America, late August and September bring a busy, surely speeded-up time, as people return from vacations, head back to school, start on new deadlines, and plan ahead and do many things in anticipation of autumn and winter. But nature has its own rhythm, in a summing up of the summer, with fields, parks, and roadsides full of bursting flowers and fruits.

While we may walk different streets and pathways in the years of our lives, always the seasons make their turn, in their own timeless ways. In the Northeast United States, nature is at a time of pause and unhurried movement toward the turn of the seasons. The nights are cooler, a harbinger of what is to come. In the far north, leaves have begun to change colors. In the Mid-Atlantic, though some leaves and plants are changing colors, the trees and flowers are still lush. A green canopy remains above and around us, soothing and clear in the crisp September air. [Read more →]

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What You Can Do to Save the Palisades

August 16th, 2014 · Be a Mindful Activist

Fast forward several years and picture that you are on the east side of the Hudson River, looking across at the steep ledges of the Palisades north of the George Washington Bridge. But where once over many years the cliffs stood out boldly, etched against the skies, now a large office tower protrudes above the Palisades, marring the amazing natural view. The tower defaces the landscape. This is what could easily happen, unless people defeat a corporation’s effort to despoil the Palisades with its corporate tower.

The Palisades provide as natural and pristine a view as one could find in various parts of the Rockies, but the formation sits in the middle of a metropolitan area of nearly 20 million people – and a major area of it is under threat. The magnificent view and natural presence of the Palisades in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, has been unspoiled for generations. It rises boldly to the west above the Hudson River, a beautiful wall of green in spring and summer, a glorious show of many colors in autumn, a starkly beautiful rising of stone and snow in winter. However, a company’s plan to build a tower that will protrude above the Palisades threatens an immaculate view that the citizens of New Jersey and New York first took action to protect more than 100 years ago. That any group of people could envision a tower going up that will rise above the unspoiled view of the cliffs is difficult to understand. [Read more →]

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July Notes: Daylight, Towers, Prison Ships

July 17th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

For early summer, let’s skim the stones across the waters of several Mindful Walker topics.

Honoring the First American Prisoners of War: The words “freedom” and “Independence Day” are inextricably linked, but how often on the Independence Day weekend did any of us think about those who gave their lives for the cause of American freedom from the rule of a monarch? The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, at Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park, is one of the most moving places to understand and contemplate this sacrifice (see “In Our Midst: The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument,” on This hallowed place honors the more than 11,500 prisoners who perished aboard the ships on which the British confined them in New York’s waters during the Revolutionary War. Within a crypt buried at this monument lay the remains of thousands of the captives. In August, an annual event will provide an opportunity to honor these first American prisoners of war.

This is a neglected tragic chapter of United States history. Recently, a commenter, Christine, shared on about how her ancestor, Nathan Ainsworth, was among those who succumbed while British soldiers held him as a prisoner. Ainsworth, born in 1740, died between 1776 and 1777 aboard a prison ship, a genealogy site indicates. [Read more →]

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A Peek Inside Dazzling 29 Broadway

June 20th, 2014 · Explore New York

It’s hard to quantify the exuberance of Art Deco. Its energy can make an immobile decorative element feel like it’s about to move. Its images jump off of flat surfaces. Its zigzags, lines, and circles seem to dance. Such is the quality of the lobby of 29 Broadway, a lesser-known beauty in New York’s Art Deco universe.

The architects Sloan and Robertson – John Sloan and T. Markoe Robertson – designed this beautiful, quirky-shaped, and wedding-cake setback-topped building near Bowling Green. In a city beset by the Great Depression’s joblessness and economic hard times, the building of 29 Broadway provided good work for construction workers and for the craftsmen who won awards from the New York Building Congress for the skill of their stone-cutting, marble-setting, and other work. (For a look at the exterior and more on the building’s history and the architects, see “The Art Deco Pleasures of 29 Broadway” on The 30-story building’s sculpted entrance, bold horizontal bands of black and white, and setbacks give it a soaring quality that taller skyscrapers achieve. [Read more →]

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Traveling Near and Far With Spring

May 24th, 2014 · Beyond Gotham

Edwin Way Teale wrote that spring advances up the United States at an average rate of 15 miles per day. Imagine a new season wending its way up the coastline, through the river valleys, across the fields, and along the mountain ranges. An author and naturalist, Teale knew firsthand of what he spoke. In 1947, he and his wife Nellie packed their Buick, filled its glove compartment with marked maps, and drove with the intention of following “the triumphal pilgrimage up the map with flowers all the way, with singing birds and soft air, green grass and trees new-clothed….” The Teales had been making such trips since 1945. In part, their planning and taking such trips helped them deal with the grief over the loss of their son David, who was killed in World War II in Germany. The spring trip became a 17,000-mile journey and the foundation for Teale’s book, North With the Spring, one of four Teale wrote chronicling and capturing the seasons of North America. Nellie Teale, also a naturalist, played a central role in their explorations.

Starting their “rendezvous with a season” in February, 1947, in Florida’s Everglades, the Teales drove northward and watched, marveled, and delighted in spring unfolding before them. Teale, part scientist and part essayist, weaved stories and documented the flora and fauna of the natural world meticulously – juncos, eagles, grackles, jays, eels, wasps, ants, butterflies, baby cottontail rabbits, wild strawberries, lichen, pixie moss with tiny white flowers, water hyacinths, hemlocks, and tulip trees, to name only a partial list. The sheer variety is breathtaking. I’ve long been inspired by Teale and other gifted observers to be outdoors, slow down, and simply be mindful of what is happening right in front of me.

Observing nature in the ways of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir, Teale saw the interconnection of all living things, as biographies of him note. His photograph, for instance, depicts how water lily leaves formed feeding platforms for migrating birds. During this “season of the young,” as he called it, Teale photographed baby cottontail rabbits and blue jay fledglings. Teale noted how a brown eaglet was waving its wings for the first times, making them stronger, in a bald eagles’ nest in Florida. The couple discovered the beauty of newly growing white violets, hepatica, Dutchman’s breeches, red columbine, and other wildflowers in a woodland glen of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In Virginia, they felt wonder at the subtle, ribbon-like variations of green from tree to tree, branch to branch near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Indeed, spring was on the move. [Read more →]

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