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.
This photo was taken in November, 2001 in the West 4th Street station. Clearly, at that particular time the E train was not running to the “World Trade Center at all times.”
Earlier in the day, I had been at a photography exhibit and benefit for families of September 11 victims. I did purchase a print, a stark image of the ruins of the distinctive steel structure with the Woolworth Building in perfect alignment behind it. I took the print out of storage today – it is quite beautiful in its way, but not something one can hang on the wall. It has fallen out of place in its frame and now appears tilted. Things like that can happen in ten years.
A couple of days ago, I came upon an interactive feature at the New York Times describing the World Trade Center plaza as it had been. The narration by David Dunlap ended with the phrase “the plaza sometimes seemed every bit as barren as it appears in this re-creation…and yet, I miss it so very much.” The statement, attaching emotion to the stark ultra-modern space truly resonated with me.
Ten years ago, I was about as far away from New York as I had ever been – not necessarily in geographical distance, but emotional and personal distance. My life was spiraling downwards precipitously, and would in many ways get worse in the months to come. That morning was a huge jolt in the middle of it. The violence destruction in New York left me with a huge sense of guilt, of not being there, and of being so disconnected from myself and what I wanted in life. The trip to New York in late November 2001 was necessary and important – it was part of long circuitous journey to find my way back. It is still a work in progress.
Meanwhile, the “work in progress” at the site continues:
I was happy to read that the new building has now has its correct name, simply “1 World Trade Center” and not that obnoxious jingoistic name it was originally given. I was little bit disturbed to read this story about the construction process, however.
The new plaza does not have the starkness or detached modernist ideals of the original, but we live in a different time, and it serves a different purpose, of honoring the victims and their families and of reconnecting the site to the surrounding community.
We will see how it unfolds in the coming years.
Some lines in the New York City subway system use diamonds and circles to differentiate between express and local, respectively. This is the case on the 7 (Flushing) line as well. However, I while most trains simply carry the appropriate sign, the trains on this line used lights instead, creating a unique effect:
As far as I know, this is only line which features these lights. The picture above illustrates the green circle representing the local train. Below is a red diamond representing the express:
I was not particularly happy with the second photo, but it does illustrate both the red light and an interesting side-effect that I observed: the reflection of these bright colored geometric lights on the windows both from other trains and within the car itself. I found myself watching the colored shapes dance, and contrast with a few of the passengers sitting in the car or rushing along the platform. Not mesmerized per se, the way a cat reacts to a light pointer, but still focused. I don’t know if anything will come of it besides this brief post.
Many of the stations on the New York subway system have been upgraded over the years, cleaned up and adorned with artwork and location-specific decor. The Bleecker Street Station on the Lexington Avenue line is not one of them. It’s still quite spare and run-down, the supporting columns a bit rusty. As I waited for an uptown #6 train, I took this photograph looking along the tracks and platform:
Just afterwards, I looked across to the opposite platform and saw a young woman making a similar photograph, also looking uptown. Almost as quickly, a downtown #6 pulled into the station, and as the train pulled away, she was of course gone. A typical movie cliche, but our main purpose in this little station was to catch our trains to wherever it was were going next.
Yesterday while was in the F train in New York, a young blond man came through the crowded car soliciting donations. I would not have given him much notice, except that as he was carrying a small black cat, and supposedly collecting for an organization called “Homeless Pets NYC” with a website hpnyc.org. The URL will take you to a site that describes the person I saw and his black cat, and suggests that like most subway solicitations it’s a scam. Very sad.