Scattered throughout Manhattan (and presumably other boroughs that I don’t go to often) there are older buildings mixed in with new construction. I love these older buildings. They have more character than some of the monstrosities that people are building today, like the hideous Preschool of the Arts @ Cooper Square building, for example:
Who came up with this? What were they thinking?
I’m reminded of a city ordinance in Jerusalem that requires all new buildings to be faced in Jerusalem stone to maintain the character and traditional look of the city. Some might say that stifles creativity and artistic expression, but I’d rather see a traditional, beautiful Jerusalem than one filled with buildings that look like the one above.
Places have a certain look and feel to them that should be preserved. But, that’s just my opinion. I love history in general so it’s not really surprising to me that I would prefer historic buildings. I’m not sure how an ordinance like Jerusalem’s could be implemented here though. How does one build a skyscraper that looks like a 19th century townhouse?
A few months ago, or maybe half a year ago now, I came across a Tumblr blog called “Architecture of Doom“. As it’s name suggests, the blog is home to images of terribly uninspiring and depressing architecture. The effect is elevated by the clean, minimalist white blog theme that seems almost cheery by comparison.
Every time I walk past this set of four buildings in Upper Manhattan, I think of that blog:
These buildings literally straddle I-95.
That’s a highway, running below them. Is it an odd feeling, I wonder, knowing that every day thousands of vehicles roll beneath your feet, under your apartment? What would happen if there were an earthquake? Though I suppose if there were an earthquake in New York City it wouldnt’ matter if there were a highway under most of these buildings or not. They would almost all collapse anyway.
There’s something terribly depressing about this facade. It radiates poverty, depression, and despair. Whether that is true of the people that live there or not, I don’t know.
I walked past these buildings on Tuesday because I was going to the library on 179th Street. I discovered that there’s an app called Overdrive Media Console for iOS that makes checking out digital copies of the New York Public Library’s collection a snap. I hadn’t used my library card since I got it 3 years ago, so it had been canceled. Maybe they thought I was dead?
The Cloisters is the medieval art branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in Fort Tryon Park in upper Manhattan. The building that houses the galleries is an amazing conglomeration of multiple monasteries from Europe that were crated up, shipped here to New York, and then reconstructed on site using a mix of original and modern materials. The attempt was well done and walking through the Cloisters feels like walking through an old monastery. There’s a main chapel, a smaller chapel, gardens and exhibit halls. The gardens are full of growing herbs and plants that were used during the medieval period, from nightshade to hops.
Going to the Cloisters is a pretty short trip. You can easily see everything in a day, and that’s if you take your time walking around and reading all of the inscriptions. The Met advertises that you can pay at either the main branch or the Cloisters and then access both branches in the same day, but I think that’s a bit of stretch, unless you do it on a Friday or Saturday, when the main building doesn’t close until 9 PM. Also, keep in mind that the prices listed at the entrance are “suggested” prices, meaning that’s what they recommend. You don’t have to pay that much to get in, so if you’re a little tight for cash, you can give them a dollar or two and they’ll still let you in.
Another great thing about the Cloisters is the park it’s located in. Fort Tryon park has some great views. Unlike most parts of Central Park, Fort Tryon Park is extremely hilly, with lots of paths, stairs, and great places for photo opportunities. When my wife and I went to the Cloisters, we rode the bus in from the train station, but on the way out we walked through the park. We’re looking forward to going back to the Cloisters in the near future, but we’re looking forward to exploring the park just as much.
If you go up the Hudson River Greenway, between the 181st pedestrian footbridge and where the Greenway currently ends at the northern branch of Riverside Drive at the northern edge of Fort Tryon Park, you’ll find Inspiration Point.
There’s no way to access Inspiration Point except by using the trail. There are no parking spots and no way to pull over to the side of the road, though it looks like there might have been at one time. There is a raised section of concrete there that my wife stood on while she waited for me to finish taking pictures and looking around.
I suppose it’s a spot that not many people will visit. It’s isolated, and regardless of whether you enter the Greenway on the north end or at the pedestrian footbridge to the south, it’s a pretty long walk to get there. Maybe the fact that there are rarely people there is why the area is called Inspiration Point. You can be alone with your thoughts there, if you can ignore the highway traffic directly behind you anyway.
Regardless, the structure is really well made, and really interesting. It has a sort of ancient Rome feel to it, minus the red brick flooring anyway. What was this structure originally built for? I can’t imagine such an extravagant structure would be erected just for the occasional walker on the Greenway. Looking at Google Maps, I got the impression that the section of the Henry Hudson Parkway between where Riverside Drive stops at 181st Street and where it starts again north of Fort Tryon Park used to actually be Riverside Drive and was then converted into the northbound lane of the parkway.
A little further down from Inspiration Point are two pillars on the opposite side of the road that look like the entrance to an old driveway. It is currently overgrown. That, and what looked like an old parking area near Inspiration Point makes me think traffic on that road used to be a lot slower.
On a blog about infrastructure (infrastructureemily.com), I saw a picture of stairs leading down the side of the Inspiration Point structure to another lookout area. I didn’t even notice that. Now I definitely need to go back and take another look. The author of the other blog didn’t try to sneak down there and look around. I might!
Right next to that driveway I mentioned earlier is Billings Terrace. It’s very cool looking from down on the Greenway! I really want to go up there and take a look around. Billings Terrace is in Fort Tryon Park, where the Cloisters and most of the medieval art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art is housed. There are also renaissance fairs there sometimes.
On Sunday afternoon, my wife and I were by the United Nations to take advantage of a Groupon deal I got for the Indigo Indian Bistro on East 50th Street. We didn’t realize the place closed for a while after lunch and before dinner, so we found ourselves standing in the cold with an hour and a half to kill.
I thought about going to the United Nations for a tour, since we were right next to it, but it looked like it was closed too. There weren’t even flags up on the poles. So, we started walking around. First, we poked our heads in at the Japan Society to see if there was anything going on (and to warm up a bit), but they were just finishing up a New Year’s celebration for kids. Then we went next door to look in the Holy Family Church. The building is really weird looking from the outside.
Turns out it’s a Catholic church. It’s sort of nice inside. The giant Jesus on the wall above the priest leading the service was a little scary looking. It made me think about the conflict inherent in the concept of a trinity model of monotheism, and whether or not a distant and cold concept of God was being replaced by the warm and gentle spirit of a man, someone that people could understand and empathize with. That’s a subject for another post, though. I’ve been doing a lot of theological reading that I’ve been slowly digesting, mentally.
After warming up in the church foyer, we went back out to find our next opportunity for passing time. As we were walking away, I noticed a side path that led into a garden that was covered in snow and ice. We figured it was worth a few minutes to go in and look around.
What really peaked my interest was the fact that the garden pool was covered in a layer of ice and snow, and so was the artificial waterfall. I don’t suppose there’s anything unusual about a waterfall icing over in winter, but it’s not something I really expected to see in the middle of Manhattan; not even an artificial one. So, I think the unexpectedness of seeing what I didn’t expect to see made it more worth seeing, if that makes any sense. I’ve also always enjoyed religious settings and architecture, of a certain type. The more solemn and thoughtful type. I’ve always thought religion should be a solemn, thoughtful and meaningful thing.