Archive for January 2008

Sam and Sadie Koenig Garden

January 24, 2008

In my recent wanderings of Alphabet City (part of the Lower East Side and also called the East Village), I ran into a number of vacant lots that had been converted into community gardens.  One identical link between them:  all seemed about the width of a former building that had been removed.  Maybe by being too derelict, or maybe they were destroyed in the bad old days and just needed to have the rubble removed.  Another link:  the imaginative use of the space by those that turned such an open area into something rather nice.

On 7th Street between Avenue C and Avenue D is one of those places:  the Sam and Sadie Koenig Garden.  I don’t know anything about Sam and Sadie, but they’ve got a nice community garden.

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Maybe this is a representation of Sadie?  Probably not, but maybe in a poetical/artistic sense.

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A sign on the fence says it is open Saturday and Sundays from 11am to 4pm or “whenever the gate is open.”  Ya gotta love that.  Being winter, it’s a bit sparse, but I don’t really think it’s a huge source of greenery at any time of year.  (Look at the shadows.)  And the next picture shows how very thin the place is.

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Yeah, it’s about as wide as the truck is long.  But in NYC, you take your green spaces where you can find them.  And I really like the statuary and the little winding path.

-H

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Tompkins Square Park in Alphabet City – Part 3

January 23, 2008

If you’re in the Lower East Side (“LES”), remember you’re in an odd and funky land.

There’s a “holy tree” in Tompkins Square Park.  Got one in your local park?

I kid you not.  Notice the garland. 

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Here’s a closeup of the garland in case it doesn’t show well.

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There are also flowers on the ground as you’ll note.

At least it’s an elm.  It’d be a little ridiculous for a non-majestic tree to be holy, wouldn’t it?

The tree is the site where the Hare Krishna religion was first taught in the United States in 1966.  The devotees (and there are still a bunch in NYC) honor the spot.

I thought I’d read that the City had put a plaque there in commemoration, but none was in sight.  I guess the devotees show up regularly to replenish the flowers and (maybe) get rid of the old.

But, to be honest, that’s not the strangest part of the park.  To me, it ain’t even close.

Remember 9/11?  The biggest disaster in NYC history.  It took place in 2001.  Any idea of the 2nd biggest disaster?  It was the burning of the General Slocum that happened in 1904.  The Slocum was a paddleboat that was carrying 1,300 passengers from the “Little Germany” section of NYC; now known as the Lower East Side.  Most of the passengers were women and children escaping the poverty and filth of the LES on a Church-sponsored daytrip on the boat to a picnic area.  It was going up the East River and burned around 90th Street.  Over 1,000 of the 1,300 died because of virtually zero safety features.  How 1,000 could die just off 90th Street is a testament to how bad the safety features were.  (Wikipedia says that the life preservers actually had iron weights in them to meet the “weight requirements” of life preservers.)

There was almost no punishment for those responsible for the disaster and, I’m told, the inhabitants of Little Germany were so distraught and angered by the follow-up (and cover-up) that the entire community essentially was scattered to the wind as people left NYC.

Well, there’s one (count it) memorial to those victims.  Here it is:

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And here’s the amazing thing:  there’s no text on the memorial; it’s unmarked.  Not only that, but it is in a kid’s area and can’t be reached by anyone without children (no “unaccompanied adults” are allowed in the area).

Remember it when you hear stories about a monument to 9/11.

-H

Tompkins Square Park in Alphabet City – Part 2

January 22, 2008

One part of Tompkins Square Park that the locals are very proud of is the dog run.  From what I understand, Dog Fancy magazine has rated it very high on their list of dog runs.  If the concept is a little alien:  NYC has very strict leash laws and virtually no open areas where you can let your dog be free.  In answer to that, many parks have set aside enclosed areas where dogs can run wild and free.  Well, at least to the extent that the owners are there with them.  You can’t just drop off the dog and wander away.

Actually, the rules are pretty extensive:  no dogs without people (and vice versa), no dog toys, neutered dogs only (puppies can be intact), you’ve gotta clean up after ’em, no barking/digging, no aggression, no dogs in heat, must be properly licensed, collars must be unspiked, and under 23 pounds.

I’ve see runs with few dogs and with lots of dogs.  I’ve seen big ‘uns (way over 23 pounds) and tiny ones.  I’ve seen all sorts of owners with them.  But the one thing I’ve never seen in a dog run is grass.  And it sure isn’t here either.

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As dog runs go, this one is larger than the others that I’ve seen, but I imagine the real attraction is other dog owners.

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The types of owners that would be in Tompkins Square Park are probably about as strange and as interesting as any you might find in the City.

That’s an allusion to the allure of the LES for funky and weird people in general.  Not that they would necessarily be in Alphabet City, but St. Mark’s Place is right next to the park and that place is a real throwback and I’ll be posting on it soon.

-H

Tompkins Square Park in Alphabet City – Part 1

January 21, 2008

The single most dominant feature of Alphabet City has to be Tompkins Square Park.  It is most definitely a park with a past.  Back in the 80’s, it was filled with the homeless and was a major drug market.  In 1988, a riot erupted and served as a rallying point for a lot of the politics of the day and echos of it still seem to be present.

It’s located between Avenue A and Avenue C.  Here’s where I ran into it, coming from St. Mark’s Place.

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In a word, the park is…unremarkable.  It’s moderate sized and it has some wonderful elm trees scattered throughout it.

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Another thing it has a lot of are fences.  Lots and lots of fences.  Maybe it’s something arising from Tompkins’ history as a rallying point of protests and the like (fencing makes it harder for very large groups to act in concert) or maybe it’s protection for the trees and grasses (the population density in the area is very high).  Whatever.  For the most part, if you’re in Tompkins Square Park, you’re not gonna be walking on the grass very much.

A little after entering the park, I saw a sculpture that I had to check out.  It’s the Temperance Fountain.

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That’s “temperance” as in no alcohol.  The fountain was a gift from a man by the name of Henry D. Cogswell and was given to provide an alternative beverage (cold water) to the Lower East Side during the late 1800s.  Cogswell had made his fortune in the California Gold Rush of 1849 and spent a lot of his money in support of the Temperance Movement.

The figure on the top is Hebe – the water carrier, at least according to a nearby sign.  But that’s rather odd.  The Greek mythological character of Hebe was a cupbearer who served nectar and ambrosia to the Greek gods; and we know what a bunch of rowdy debauchers those guys were.  Another way of saying it:  they weren’t temperant in the least.

-H

Alphabet City in the Lower East Side

January 20, 2008

I’ve heard about Alphabet City for a long time.  It’s just one of those neighborhoods that come up in conversation.  It’s named for four avenues with the shortest names in NYC:  Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C, and Avenue D.  (Usually, you see them named as Ave A, Ave B, Ave C, and Ave D.)  I took a tour of the East Village/Lower East Side that the tour guide said something along these lines:

“Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s; Alphabet City streets were said to stand for the following:  if you went to Avenue A, you were adventurous.  If you went to Avenue B, you were bold.  If you went to Avenue C, you were crazy.  And if you went to Avenue D, you were dead.”

Wild overstatement, but those were tough times for the Lower East Side and the poverty and crime in the area were legendary.

And now?  Well, I’ve been through all four avenues and even a bit beyond.  I found some parts still poverty-looking, but other areas looking very, very cool.

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting on the area and some of the things that I saw.  I didn’t see any crime.  I didn’t see anything other than a fascinating, but at times still poor, area of Manhattan that I think is an area that I’m going to see a lot more of; but not when the temperatures have been as cold as they are right now.

Alphabet City itself is located in the east side of Manhattan from roughly Houston Street in the south (think of it as just below 1st Street) up to 14th Street.  It covers maybe a quarter of a mile from Ave A all the way over to the East River.  The most widely known part of Alphabet City is Tompkins Square Park, which is interesting in all sorts of strange ways.

-H

Dale and Thomas Popcorn in Times Square

January 19, 2008

I can’t remember what the show was, but last Friday I was flipping the channels and ran across a show extolling “Dale & Thomas Popcorn” and how it was made and why it was so good and so on.

And I remembered something about a popcorn place in Times Square.  At the end of the program, I went and googled it and found they were the same place.  Or, at least the Times Square Dale and Thomas store was one of the company’s franchises or outlets.

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I had to try it.

It’s on 48th Street and Broadway.  A very busy corner.

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So, on Saturday I went to check it out.  The place is small and very, very clean.  It was also empty of customers, save for Famous Ankles himself.  I can’t imagine that’s a surprise.  It was a cold day and popcorn isn’t really a cold weather kind of food (at least in my estimation).

The popcorn is gourmet quality and they love to tout their flavors.  You can check the link above for their various flavors (and they do have a big variety).

There were two flavors that I was interested in:  white cheddar and black peppercorn popcorn and the chocolate drizzle.

I’m pleased to say that they do give free samples.  I tried the peppercorn first.  That was really, really good.  I then tried the chocolate drizzle; also very good.  And then it was time to make a choice and all I could think of was that I didn’t want to wander the cold streets with a bag of popcorn…so…I bought a sealed bag of “peanut butter & white chocolate drizzlecorn”.  At my leisure, I took it home and ate it later while watching the tube.

Too decadent for my taste.  Really good, but too much for me.  I’m not tempted to buy it again but that’s because I’m a cheap man and at $5.42 for 3.75 ounce bag (a smaller bag than you might expect from popcorn as the chocolate and all has some weight to it), I can resist the temptation.

But I think the peppercorn is calling my name…

-H

Old NYC Farm in Murray Hill

January 18, 2008

In one of my wanderings I spotted this plaque at 35th Street and Park Avenue.

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The plaque notes the center of the Murray family’s “Inclenberg Farm”.  The area of Murray Hill is named after that family and it appears the lady of the family, Mary Lindley Murray, “rendered signal service in the Revolutionary War.”

Good for them…but NYC was Tory for most of the war.

I’ve linked the Wikipedia article on Murray Hill and discovered to my delight how Mrs. Murray did the honors for George Washington.  Apparently she delayed Howe’s pursuit of the Continental Army by inviting Howe to lunch. 

A Quaker waging war by lunching with a gentleman?  Cool.

Of course, nothing of the farm appears to remain…well, maybe up high there are some gardens on the roofs in the area.  Here’s a couple of shots of the immediate neighborhood.

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The above is at the corner where the plaque is situated.  The one below is the old armory just a block away.

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-H