Archive for September 2007

Marble Collegiate Church on Fifth Avenue

September 25, 2007

This is just a simple post about a nice little church building that I’ve walked by many times, but only recently noticed.

Empire State Building and Collegiate Church

This picture is from somewhere around 5th Avenue and 26th Street in the middle of Manhattan.  When I originally took the picture, I was thinking in terms of a post commenting on the Empire State Building and how it really doesn’t capture the hearts of New Yorkers.  It’s not a bad building, but it isn’t one that you admire in the way that the Chrysler Building is admired.

The picture above captures some of the plainness of the Empire State Building.  It isn’t an ugly building by any stretch, but it is only notable because it’s the tallest building in the city…now.

Anyway, the nice church in front of it does capture the difference between big and beautiful.  That was how I was thinking of characterizing it.  It’s not a deep thought by any means, but this blog is all about introducing and presenting NYC (I’ve had several tourists point at the Chrysler Building and ask if that was the Empire State).

But the church is the subject, let’s stop my straying.

It’s formal name is the Marble Collegiate Church.  It’s part of the Reformed Church of America.  That’s a puzzle to me and I’m usually pretty good on that sort of stuff.  Apparently is the new version (or “a” new version) of the Dutch Reformed Church.  The church itself says it’s been around since 1628, making it plenty old. 

It’s got a great front door.


On the day I walked by, the surrounding fence was covered with ribbons.

Ribbons on Marble Collegiate Church

The ribbons are posted to symbolize the deaths of American soldiers (gold), prayers for the Iraqi people (blue), and prayers for peace (green).  The writeup doesn’t give any indication whether the ribbons are part of a protest or simply exactly what it seems to indicate:  prayers for peace and help to the grieving.

And was this the reason for me doing this post?  No.  Nor was the relative ancientness of the church.  Instead, it turns out that this is where Norman Vincent Peale spent 50 years of his ministry.  He’s famous for his teaching on “the power of positive thinking”.  There’s a statue of him in the courtyard.  Barely visible due to the ribbons. I had to climb up on a ledge to get a decent shot of the statue.


And, tucked away well to Dr. Peale’s left, is another statue.


It appears to be Joseph, Mary, and Child; possibly on their flight to Egypt (Matthew 2:14).

It’s small and well out of the way whereas the statue of one of the church ministers is big and front and center.  Make of that what you will.


A little too weird

September 24, 2007

Just a very quick post on the most unusual thing I’ve seen in a while.  I was on the subway recently and had to change to the Shuttle to get from Times Square to Grand Central.  As I was going through the Times Square station, the usual spot for entertainers was in use by a Michael Jackson impersonator.  I’ve seen him lots; he plays a DVD of MJ music and dances while in costume.  He’s very talented and quite a showman.

But…what about the group behind him?

A bunch of clowns.  At first I thought they had “dibs” on the space after the impersonator.  I’ve never seen such a group and thought their schtick might be a bit interesting so I stuck around for a couple of songs.  There was a break in the music (they passed the bucket, I gave a buck – hey, I took his picture) and the clowns just started walking around.  And it looked like the impersonator was far from done.

One of the clowns passed by me and I spoke up and asked him if they were doing some street performing.  “No,” he answered, “we’re just dressed up as clowns and walking around.”  (A little paraphrasing there as I didn’t write it down word for word.)

I presume he was just kidding me…but I’ve been agog with the idea that the next big fashion statement to come out of New York City is to dress like a clown.  America, are you ready for it?


Flowers on Taxis in NYC

September 23, 2007

All cabs are yellow…unless you look at the hoods/trunks/roofs nowadays.

It seems that something like 5% to 15% of all cabs have this sort of flower stencil on them nowadays.  I started noticing it a couple of weeks ago and it turns out that from Sept to December, the taxicabs are celebrating 100 years of motorized service in NYC with some colorful additions to the topsides of some cabs.  The painting is done by a group of disabled children and their supporters.

The paint job is a handpainted decal.  It makes for an interesting sight to see on an occasional cab, although I think it’s better to keep them non-universal.  That would be a bit much.

I’ve only seen one taxi with the hood, roof, and trunk decorated. If it has the decal, it will always be on the hood. The ones with just the hood and not the trunk decorated seem to be lessening.

I don’t know how many patterns there are.  I’ve seen as few as one flower to as many as three.



You can see writing on them.  It’s from the children that paint the decals. 


Ankling through Greenwich Village in the rain

September 22, 2007

The weather has been so good for so long that I barely check the weather anymore.  A few days ago I had seen the all clear for another beautiful weekend…and got surprised.

I initially went down to Union Square and found the usual artists and farmers markets in full bloom, but nothing else of any particular interest.  One artist’s work caught my eye and that of others.  He was painting a nice depiction of Union Square.

Although in a wheelchair, he stood up a moment later and did some moving around.  I don’t know if he uses it as a medical necessity or just to cart his stuff around.  I suspect the latter.  And…if I were really cynical I could make a further guess.  I won’t…at this time.

Anyway, I wandered off to Greenwich Village (AKA West Village, AKA the Village) just to do some wandering.  Okay, right now the purists are shouting that “Greenwich Village” is the whole area east to west.  True in definition but not really in practice.  If you want to talk about the East Village, you say “the East Village”, but if you’re talking about the West Village, you can use any term you want.

The Village was, as always, wonderfully calm and cool (in all the senses).  The best part of the area is how weird the streets are laid out.  If you know NYC, you know that avenues go north-south and streets go east west.  So how do you get an intersection of 10 Street and 4th Street?  I’m not even going to try to explain the layout.

As I was wandering, it started to rain.  At first, lightly.  Later it grew to moderate size.  I found myself at the corner of Charles Street and Hudson Street under some scaffolding (it does come in handy sometimes even though it usually annoys me).  For a long time it was just me, a little traffic on the car and sidewalk, and a teenage candy vendor trying to sell his wares to passersby.  Very, very relaxing.

It seemed that only about 60% of the pedestrians were using umbrellas.  A lot of them had abandoned themselves to a wet fate.

After a while, I decided to get my own umbrella and then did some more wandering.  Here’s Waverly Street.

And, of course, now that I had my umbrella, the rain lessened.  It did kick up now and then, but no problem.

12th Street is one of those streets in the Village and SoHo that have the old paving.  It has to be a pain for the streets department, but it is very cool.

So, my wanderings around and about the Village were cut a bit short, but it was pleasant and I have to admit after last weekend’s wall-to-wall events, it was nice to stop and just watch a pleasant rainfall.


More on Brooklyn Heights

September 21, 2007

I’ve gotten so involved in parades and the like that I’ve neglected a post I’ve been planning to write for a couple of weeks.  At the beginning of September, I ankled my way around Brooklyn Heights and I’ve written two posts about it (here and here).

But there was more and I wanted to give a little more information about this very attractive and well-positioned place.  So far, I’ve written about Borough Hall and the Promenade, now let’s see what was in-between.

Brooklyn Heights is quite historic.  As mentioned before, its favorite son is Henry Ward Beecher from Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims.


It’s an attractive an modern-looking church that belies its actual age.

A plaque on the church reads “Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims founded in 1847 as Plymouth Church and built in 1849 from designs by J.C. Wells.  This Congregational Church became a center of anti-slavery sentiment preceding the Civil War.  Henry Ward Beecher was its first minister, 1847-1887.  Abraham Lincoln worshipped here twice in 1860.  A fragment of Plymouth Rock is in an adjoining arcade.  In 1934 it was united with Church of the Pilgrims, founded in 1844.  Plaque erected in 1961 by The New York Community Trust”

Inside the courtyard (where I couldn’t go) was another statue of Beecher.  And a frieze of Lincoln.  And of a familiar figure just to the side of Beecher.


You may have to enlarge it to see better (just click on the picture), but it’s another slave figure like in the original Brooklyn Heights post I did.  I have some very mixed feelings about the positioning, but can’t figure out where I stand.  I presume the statues are much older and putting “the great man” on a pedestal next to lowly nobodies is probably par for its time.  But I don’t know if Beecher wouldn’t complain about his relative elevation.  (Of course, I honestly don’t know that he would complain.)

In any event, it is odd that the Heights essentially has the same statue twice within a few hundred yards.  (Note that the statues are very different versions of Beecher, but with the same idea of him elevated next to a downtrodden slave figure.)

The Lincoln frieze is good, but it doesn’t show up well on the picture.

It’s been said that Brooklyn is the land of churches, and I think that’s true.  Both Manhattan and Brooklyn are filled with churches some well attended and some not.  But a lot of them are quite spectacular.  Also in Brooklyn Heights is the Episcopal Church of St. Ann and the Holy Trinity.


Yeah, there’s scaffolding in the front, but the church is big and grand and has a great front door.


But there’s more to the Heights than just that.  The streets are incredibly quiet and pleasant and the buildings are first rate.  Here’s some Pierrepont Street brownstones.


Pierrepont Street also has the Brooklyn Historical Society.

Historically, there’s a spot in the Heights where George Washington was leading the American revolutionaries during the Battle of Long Island.  He eventually had to withdraw in the face of superior force and successfully evaded the British and preserved his army.

There’s a street called Remson Street that had a variety of different architectural types in the same block.


It’s not as evident in the picture, but there is a definite difference among the line of townhouses.  And all, apparently, were build long ago during their respective dates of the style.

One weird thing did happen, the only thing out of the commonplace during my visit.  I was walking up from the Promenade and smelled smoke.  I had noticed a homeless guy about 20 yards ahead of me slow down for a moment or two and then walk on.  And then I smelled smoke.  When I got up to the area he had slowed/stopped, I found a newspaper on fire!  Just a few pages of it and just burning in the middle of the sidewalk.  I let it continue to burn for a few seconds, but once the wind kicked up, I stomped it out.  I don’t know if the guy started it or just observed it as he was going by (kind of like I did).  Hey, it could have been spontaneous combustion for all I know.  It sure did make for an interesting moment, though.