The South Bronx still gets a bad rap. And I do remember what it was in the late 1970s and 1980s. But for us at CatSynth, it has become a place of great curiosity and surprising forms of beauty. A few years ago, I noticed some changes along the southern stretch of the Bronx River in Google Maps. In particular, there was a brand new park.
Concrete Plant Park is literally that, a park built around the ruins of an old concrete plant along the river’s edge. I had to see this for myself. And since 2013, I have gone to see it several times.
To get there via subway from Riverdale is a bit of a challenge. There have never been east-west subway lines traversing the borough, only north-south to and from Manhattan. So a subway trip from the western end of the Bronx to the southeast requires a trip into Manhattan and a few transfers (there is no crosstown subway in Harlem, either). Finally, one reaches the 6 IRT, which heads north into the south and east Bronx. It’s a long ride underground eventually emerging onto an elevated structure over Westchester Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares through the South Bronx. I alight at the Whitlock Avenue stop.
Between the station and the park is the Sheridan Expressway (I-895). This is a strange little highway that hugs the western edge of the Bronx River from the Bruckner Expressway (I-278) north to East Tremont Avenue with connections to the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) and the Bronx River Parkway.
It is sort of a connector from the Bronx Zoo to the Triborough Bridge, though one that isn’t really needed given the other larger freeways in the vicinity. It only has one exit between its termini: Westchester Avenue near the Whitlock station and Concrete Plant Park. One can see the entry ramps leading down to the highway while walking towards the park.
Another ramp leads down from the street level to the park itself. It’s a flat piece of land with grass concrete paths dotted by the refurbished structures from the former concrete plant.
Although it seems to be a trend to incorporate reclaimed industrial elements into public spaces, the structures are still fairly unique for an urban park, and quite photogenic. Here are just a few of the photos I have taken.
The Bronx River itself is an important element of the park’s identity and landscape. The section south of Bronx Park has long been more industrial, and the river and its banks still bear the visuals of that past. A major effort to clean up and restore the river has been underway for a while. And it is much cleaner than it was in the 1980s, though one can still see a lot of detritus collecting along the berms.
Looking north alongs the river towards the 6 Elevated and Westchester Avenue is quite beautiful with filtered lighting.
Although I visit this park for its visuals and geographical placement, it is a local park enjoyed by the local community. On a summertime visit, I saw a lot of families and individuals there, playing sports, relaxing along the river, and even barbecuing. It seems that this park is a successful one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I visit again.
[click image to enlarge]
Once again, it’s time for our traditional end-of-the-year image at CatSynth. The past couple of years have all been good, rich, full, and sometimes complicated. But 2013 has been particularly significant, certainly one that I will long remember. As the title says, it has been a transformational time on multiple dimensions for me, indeed it has touched almost every aspect of my being. There will be more to say on that in the coming days. Music and art have been going very well, too, and one of the main challenges of this coming year will be to build on the successes of this past year but in a more directed way. If that sounds vague, it’s because I haven’t quite figured it out yet.
For Luna, things pretty much are the way the always are. Such is the life of a contented house cat. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanks to everyone who reads and supports this project, whether here at the blog, on Facebook, or through the many personal friendships that grown from here. You are all what makes this work worthwhile!
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).
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.