Connect the dots

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Native Summer: Boogie Down Bartow-Pell

Are we still in New York City?

Guests enter here

Usually, a trip off the City Island exit means red plastic, oval baskets lined with paper, filled with fried clams, calamari, and shrimp. But before you hit the seafood restaurants, make a pit stop at the well-preserved Bartow-Pell Mansion Museum. 

Now Pelham Bay Park, this piece of land, along the Long Island Sound, was once the home of the Siwanoy natives. After signing a treaty, the land (50,000 acres) was acquired by the Pell family. The Greek-Revival mansion we see today was built between 1836 and 1842 by Robert Bartow. He was a man of all trades: book publisher, paper manufacturer, banker, and farmer. It didn't hurt that he had married into a wealthy tobacco family by making Maria Lorillard his wife. The rooms give a glimpse of how the rich of the 1840's lived. 

Be warned, there is no air-conditioning in this house. True to the period, we suffered in the  heat, visiting on one of the hottest, humid days in the summer. 

Elliptical staircase is also the environmentally-friendly central air

Upstairs sitting room

The reporter at work

Lannuier Chamber

The formal gardens which face the Long Island Sound

Friday, July 1, 2016

Native Summer: Tram to Minnehanonck

Roosevelt Island from the tram

Whenever we would drive along the FDR, I always imagined a scene from One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest in what I thought were psychiatric hospitals across the river, at the skinny island under the 59th Street Bridge. Is that where they put all the crazy people?, I thought to myself. Yes, it was once filled with hospitals but was reinvented into residences that we see today, and in a few years, home to a graduate university center (Cornell Tech).

It's even had several name changes over the years: the Lenape referred to it as Minnehanonck, Varkens Eyelant by the Dutch, Blackwell's Island by the British, Welfare Island when hospitals were its main tenants, and finally in 1971, Roosevelt Island. 

We decided to begin the summer hopping on NYC's only tram and checking out the island. 

As soon as we got off the tram, the free red bus that loops around the island took us from the newer, modern high rises, passed the well-preserved Blackwell house, through the Soviet bloc style apartments that were built in the 70's, and ended at the newly renovated Octagon, a former lunatic asylum. Whether it's Main Street's pavers or the towering apartment buildings, you definitely feel that sense of being somewhere else. Alex was immediately struck by how quiet the streets were. My only experience has been in its 2  schools which appeared spacious, well-thought out, and filled with caring teachers and eager students

Blackwell House c. 1804 (Just like our house!)

Then we hiked to the portion south of the bridge along the western promenade. Here you have prime views of the Empire State, the Chrysler, and Niemeyer's/Le Corbusier's UN Secretariat.

The gothic, abandoned small-pox hospital next to Four Freedoms Park
Finally, you reach FDR's Four Freedoms Park, Louis I. Khan's vision in 1973. The project was resurrected after nearly 4 decades, and the park opened to the public in 2012. It's a garden whose apex brings you to a granite room, the southern most tip of Roosevelt Island. Aside from a few stray tourists, we were nearly the only ones there. It's a peaceful place designed for reflection. His 1941 state of the union speech rings truer today more than ever, a message calling for human rights. 

Perfectly-lined Linden trees

Jo Davidson's 1933 sculpted bust, a WPA work.
FDR's favorite pup: a Scottie named Fala