Fun with Highways: Southern Bronx River Parkway

There is a mixture of stress, melancholy and chill in the air. So it seems like a good time for another fun with highways. Today we look at the southern extension of the Bronx River Parkway. It veers away from the verdant parkland along the river that contains the Bronx Zoo into a dense section of the central and south Bronx, crossing both the Cross Bronx (I-95) and Bruckner (I-278) Expressways before ending at an odd ramp onto Story Avenue in the Soundview neighborhood.

bronx-river-parkway-south-extension

It was built in 1950s, long after the northern more park-like sections of the parkway were built. It does have a small strip of parkland to either side for most of the length, but with the surrounding neighborhood quite visible, include the commercial strip along Westchester Avenue and the elevated tracks for the 6 subway line. Indeed, the parkway is visible from the platform at the Morrison-Soundview station over Westchester Avenue.

Morrison–Sound_View_Avenues_(IRT_Pelham_Line)_by_David_Shankbone
[By David Shankbone (attribution required) (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

The southern terminus is a bit unusual, with ramps south of Bruckner Expressway to Story Avenue through bare parkland. It looks as if something more ambitious was planned here.

bronx-river-parkway-terminus

The Soundview neighborhood has a lot of the large brick apartment buildings found in other parts of the Bronx. These ones look to date back to the 1940s, though I can’t say for certain.

Soundviewbxrow
[Photo by Wikiki718 on Wikimedia Commons.]

The deep sunset light off the buildings is something sees quite often in the city in the late autumn and winter and the days shrink. I find the image fits my mood at this moment.

On and off the 1 and A trains in The Bronx and Manhattan

Each trip to New York has been characterized by particular subway lines, and on this trip is was the 1 (Broadway / 7th Avenue) and A (8th Avenue Express). I usually began in the Bronx, not far from where I encountered the Bronx cat, getting on the elevated section of the 1 over Broadway.

At 168th Street, I regularly switched from the 1 to the A. This is an odd station. The tunnel for the 1 train is quite deep underground and the platform is in cavernous curved hall with old-time light fixtures.

It is an eerie place, but was the most important transfer point of this trip. The tunnel connects to the more conventional station for the A train above via elevators, the only station I know of that is arranged this way. From 168th Street southward, the A served as an efficient spine along the west side of Manhattan, connecting to Chelsea, the village, and on into Brooklyn.

This worked well, until the elevated section of the southbound 1 was closed last Monday. After weighing the options, I decided to walk the route instead. It was actually the first time I had ever walked on Broadway south of West 230th Street – in all the times I crossed the Broadway Bridge over the Harlem River, I had never done so on foot. The view from the bridge looking over towards Spuyten Duyvil and the Hudson River beyond is quite scenic.

Broadway continued south from the bridge to the Inwood section of northern Manhattan. This is another area I had never walked through before. Among the more interesting things was this mysterious looking archway behind some storefronts on Broadway near 216th Street.

I had seen it before from the elevated tracks, but now on foot I had a chance to take a closer look. It seemed to be incorporated into one of the auto-repair places, but nonetheless completely out of place from the current landscape. I posted it to Facebook and Twitter as the “mystery arch”, and a friend pointed me to some information about the arch and associated mansion. It is in fact The Seaman-Drake Arch, and its story from a grand landmark to a forgotten one is a bit sad. But it is still there, even surviving a 1970 fire, and could be restored and protected if there is enough interest. (It was still for rent as of this 2010 article).

Broadway continues south to 207th Street, where the A line begins. Before descending into the subterranean station, I saw a sign reminding us that this section of Broadway is in fact U.S. 9.. But rather than following the highway, I descend the stairs to catch the A and resume my regular journey.

The chance to explore a new neighborhood, so close to one I already knew, was an unexpected gift from what was annoying subway-line closure. I will have to come back to see more detail sometime (when it is warmer).

Weekend Cat Blogging: Bronx Cat

After the Issue Project Room show in Brooklyn last Saturday, I headed north to the Bronx. Out on the street in Riverdale in the Bronx, I came across this cat:

The cat was a bit shy, keeping a bit of distance, but not running away either. It eventually went up one driveway.

It seemed to be a pet cat, not a stray, and after several entreaties came up to me, even head-butting my hand. It is always a treat to encounter cats when out and about.


Weekend Cat Blogging Thanksgiving Edition is hosted by Jules and Vincent over at Judi’s Mind Over Matter.

The Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this Sunday by Nikita and Elvira at Meowsings of an Opinionated Pussycat.

And the Friday Ark is hosted by the modulator.

Fun with Highways: South Riverdale

Today we look at a long walk from a long time ago. It was probably 1979, and in the summer, a time when I was often with my grandparents in the Bronx. I had already acquired the lifelong fascination with streets and roads that I retain to this day, and my great aunt (my grandmother’s sister) planned a long walk for us in a neighborhood that alternatively could be called “South Riverdale” or Spuyten Duyvil. It on the western edge of the Bronx along the Hudson River and just north of the northern tip of Manhattan.


[Click image to enlarge]

This walk is quite a vivid memory. It is odd to realize that I can retrace most of it on a map. I know that we started out from what was then the intersection of West 230th Street and Riverdale Avenue, heading south up the hill to Johnson Avenue. The hillside was steep and wooded (as it is today), but then enough that you could see the flat city blocks towards Broadway to the east. We eventually turned right onto Kappock Street, which curved its way further up the hill amidst more buildings.

From there, we turned north onto the service road for the Henry Hudson Parkway (NY 9A), which we followed for a distance. Though this mostly provided a view of the parkway itself, one could also look past it towards the Hudson River. Ultimately, we turned away from the parkway onto West 235th Street, crossing Johnson Avenue again in the “downtown” section of Riverdale. The exact route we took to get there is a bit fuzzy, but I attempt my best guess in the map above.

We stopped for a rest and refreshment (probably juice or milk as I hated soda), before continuing on West 235th towards Riverdale Avenue. It is on the side of steep hill with ledges separating lanes, so we walked along the higher section and descended the hill back to West 231st.

In November of 2002, I wandered back along West 230th Street out of curiosity to see how things had or had not changed. An old library building I remembered was still there, as were most of the larger commercial buildings. But the area around the intersection at the end of 230th was completely reconfigured, with wide green spaces separating different directions. The nearby high school campus had gotten a lot bigger. One small street from the start of the original walk, Ewen Street, appeared to have been completely removed.

It would like to re-create the original walk on a subsequent trip to New York, along with photos. It might even happen this year.

The Bronx Museum

I always like to discover new places when I visit New York, and one of those on my most recent trip was the Bronx Museum.

From the D train, one alights at the 167th Street station along the Grand Concourse. Two blocks south is the museum’s impressive new building. The structure is a start metal facade with odd angles and geometric details that one often sees in contemporary buildings. But the repeating patterns also evoke the old narrow apartment buildings that used to cover this an many other sections of the Bronx. Inside the lobby, a large installation by Bronx-born conceptual artist Vito Acconci fills the space with airy undulating shapes that complement the exterior architecture.

It turns out this piece is made from Corian, which the artist uses to make solid but seemingly pliable forms. The numerous holes allow air and light to become part of the piece. I think the protrusions that look like seating are in fact seating for visitors, but I did not ask. (As an interesting side note, it turns out that Acconci has already been mentioned on this blog in this review closer to home.)

One gallery featured paintings and works on paper by the Cuban-American artist Emilio Sanchez, all depicting commercial buildings from the Hunts Point neighborhood. Hunts Point is at the southern edge of the Bronx, known for its huge produce market and concentration of auto-repair shops.

These colorful canvases strip the buildings and street down to essential elements, the rectilinear forms of the structures and lettering of the signs.

The sources for these paintings were images from the 1980s, a time when the Bronx had gone through a precipitous multi-decade decline that give the borough its reputation. None of the urban decay that was undoubtedly present on the streets at the time is present in these pieces. Indeed, the colorful palette and idealized shapes celebrate the neighborhood.

Also on display was a large exhibition entitled Muntadas: Information >> Space >> Control by the artist Antoni Muntadas. Through video, photographs and other media, the artist explores “the relationship between public and private space, the media, how information is conveyed, interpreted, and manipulated, and the way that public opinion is shaped.” One wall featured five photographs of scenes from the Bronx, with the opportunity for visitors to write the own responses. Among the photographs were the infamous Charlotte Street building facade from the late 1970s, and a more recent image of a girl interacting with a gorilla at the Bronx Zoo.

Both of these are familiar aspects of frequent visits to the Bronx as both a child and an adult, the bleak landscape of the 1970s and 1980s and the natural oasis and curiosity of the zoo. As such, this was the most personal aspect of the exhibition. The other pieces, which included videos, images and printed words taken out of their original context, was interesting, but not quite as resonant. Though I did enjoy seeing a clip from Goddard’s Alphaville among the images.

Although my visit was during the museum’s free Friday evening, it was almost empty. This gave the space a bit of a lonely feeling, but also complete freedom and peace to enjoy the galleries. Granted, it was the Friday after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year, and an exceptionally warm evening for late November in New York, so I hope the emptiness I saw was an exception. Nonetheless, I am glad I had the chance to finally visit, and it was great to see the positive changes that are happening in the area. I strongly recommend a trip north on the D line to check out the museum and its surroundings.

An Independence Day post

In addition to fireworks, barbecues and the occasional embarrassing musical tribute, Independence Day is an opportunity to reflect on living in one of the world’s most unusual countries, even as it sometimes tries to pretend that it is a normal country. The latter comes out the imagery one sees today, with celebrations and streets lined with flags, and people and places that we try to think of as representative of the term “American”. Here I look some images and ideas from my personal and family history that are part of “American” that most readers, both in the U.S. and beyond, would not usually associate with the typical 4th of July.

You likely will not see the tenement buildings of New York’s Lower East Side, where half of my ancestors, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe (primarily Austria as well as Russia) settled at the beginning of the 20th century.

My mother’s family later settled in the central part of the Bronx – richly vital neighborhoods at the time that would later be synonymous with controversial building and demolition projects (think of the Cross Bronx Expressway) and still later with urban blight and decay.

It’s even less likely that you will see the countryside of Uttar Pradesh in India, with the other half of my ancestors came from.

My father from this part of India came to study in Minnesota, and numerous other relatives have settled in various towns and suburbs arounds the U.S over the years. Indeed, the equivalent image to the New York City tenement builds for the Indian side of my family might as well be the New Jersey Turnpike, another image you are unlikely to see in today’s celebrations, but is quintessentially American.

These are the states that I can think of immediately where relatives either currently reside or did so in the recent past:

New York
New Jersey
California
Maryland
Virginia
Georgia
Florida
Minnesota
Illinois
Wisconsin
Michigan
District of Columbia (Washington, DC)
Arizona
Texas
Indiana
Pennsylvania
Connecticut
Hawai’i

The Hawaii story is fun, actually. As it was related to me by a friend and former colleague who is from Hawai’i, he was playing with his band and a middle-aged man from New York approached them – ultimately, this led to his reciting his somewhat edgy poetry with their music in the background. It turns out that the poet is my cousin – our names are quite different, so there is no way my friend would have made the connection if I had not told him (the surprised reaction was priceless).

The family story is really a complex interplay not only of ancestral origins which get much of the attention, but of class, religious practice, geographical preferences, and the changes people experience even within a single lifetime. This complexity is another feature of American culture and history that is often hidden from our usual imagery – even the positive imagery that celebrates diversity, immigration and multiculturalism leaves out the complexity. And it is hard to think of life here without it – the idea of a homogeneous heritage in a single hometown with people who look and sound like each other seems…well, foreign.

So where does that leave things for me, now, in this story? Well, it’s complex as well. I find myself coming full circle to my Jewish ancestors in the Lower East Side – perhaps I may even live there sometime in the future. Some of my most experimental music pieces include instruments and idioms from Indian music. Some things have little to do with my ancestry, jazz which I have been returning to in the last year as a musical practice, the bits of East Asian culture I picked in both Asia and California, are all part of the mix. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that I might find myself in Hawai’i sometime doing improvised music and poetry. And like others, I am figuring out how to take all of these things make something of it in what seem to be rather challenging times. In the end, there is no conclusion, on the personal, family or national narratives – and it seems appropriate that way.

Weekend Cat Blogging: Tiger!

For this Weekend Cat Blogging, we present a particularly magnificent cat:

This is a Malayan tiger, though as one may be able to tell from the vegetation it is not in its native Malaysia, but rather is at the Bronx Zoo in New York.

It is hard to watch one of these tigers and not immediately see the similarities to the domestic cats that share our homes:

Like many other tiger species, the Malayan tiger is very endangered, with possibly only a few hundred left in the wild. The Bronx Zoo has a breeding program and recently saw the arrival of three cubs, though I did not get a chance to see them personally.


Weekend Cat Blogging #286 is hosted by Othello at PaulChens FoodBlog?!

The Carnival of the Cats will be hosted this Sunday by Nikita Cat.

And the Friday Ark is at the mouldator.