Several children splash through the dancing waters of an interactive fountain, a guitarist plays at P.D. O’Hurley’s bar, a woman points out a gargoyle in the flower garden to her toddler daughter, and dogs and humans socialize at the dog run. A man lies on a landing, with his khaki-dressed legs draping over the steps, as he looks straight up at an open sky. All along the pier, people lounge in the sun and grass, leaving the sweat of the streets behind to catch the evening breeze off the Hudson River. New York City’s Pier 84 is a tale of resurrection. Not so long ago a crusty, decaying though very interesting pier, it’s now a playground and a refuge.
It’s also my nominee for one of New York City’s great places to view a sunset. (This is the first designated “Great Sunset Spot”; Mindfulwalker.com plans other periodic explorations of both sunrises and sunsets through New York’s five boroughs.)
Pier 84 (located right off 12th Avenue near West 44th Street), opened three years ago after a restoration and renovation, is the largest public pier in Hudson River Park, and it offers a bunch of everything for those who love the city’s edges of water: a classroom and interpretive area; an interactive water play area with pumps and little canal gates; fishing; bike rental; water taxi stop; and more. The Circle Line boats are to the south and the Intrepid is to the north. The view west is the Hudson, an open sky, and the hills of New Jersey’s urban places on the Palisades, as fine a place as any to watch the sun dip nightly. The view east is of Midtown’s skyscrapers, a reflection of differing shadows and light as evening progresses.
On a warm, slightly muggy summer evening this week on Pier 84, this show is mine for not a cent. At the western end of the pier, the breeze cools, the Hudson’s waves roll easily, and the shorebirds flap in the distance. A lone kayaker glides by, rhythmically paddling at one with the river. You have the feeling of water all around. Often when I look across the river here, I get the sense of a whole land out there, America spreading westward just beyond that hill of the Palisades. Here the sky is as open a place as anywhere in the city.
The steeple of a church in Weehawken, with a flag flying, stands out in the evening silhouette across the river. The sun becomes a huge orangish yellow-gold ball, bathed in pink hues, as it moves lower toward the horizon. To the north, the willowy outlines of the George Washington Bridge lie, with faint pink clouds and misty fog around the bridge. Along the river ply the boats, ferries, and barges. Still, all seems to move in slower motion, even the jets flying low above the western horizon. As the sun dips below the horizon line, it leaves a red glow around the trees atop the Palisides’ cliff.
As the sun sets, the streetlights punctuate the Hudson’s western shoreline. Light, shadow, and color play minute by minute in a varied symphony. The river’s surfaces have a silvery glow with blue speckles bubbling. In the distance, the western sky grows rosier and pink-edged clouds hold the sun’s remaining reflections of twilight. Pointing out a big cloud rimmed in such light, a woman says “that’s the God cloud.” The river turns all shimmery, and as time moves on, the western sky becomes streaked with blue-gray and purplish clouds in formations that invite childlike imagination (a profile of a face, a puppy dog).
Turning back east toward the city, I see the lights of the Chrysler Building and the rest of Midtown Manhattan coming up as the night darkens. The evening’s sunset is over, not quite like yesterday’s, surely not the same as tomorrow’s.