Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ends of the Line - Taking the Number 1 Train

Each subway line in New York City, whether underground or elevated, has its own vibe. It comes from two factors: 1) the neighborhoods it travels through, and 2) the neighborhoods at the terminals of the train. This is the first of a series of what you will find if you go to The End of the Line.

I am starting with the Number 1 train. Not because it is the lowest number, or even because it is one of the oldest subways in New York. I start here because this is my line. I grew up on this line, and I have lived somewhere along it for almost all of my life. When I picture a subway in my head, it is always the Number 1 train I see.

Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=138076

The Number 1 train is part of first subway line that was built in New York. The Interborough Rapid Transit System was a private company and the operator of our first subway. Today you will hear old-timers (like me) still refer to the IRT. In 1904 it opened a line that went from City Hall up to 145th Street and Broadway. Today that line has been spilt into three sections. Part of it is the southern end of the Number 6 train, part is the shuttle between Times Square and Grand Central Terminal, and the northern part is now the center section of the Number 1 train. This is the Broadway Local which travels from South Ferry, at the southern tip of Manhattan, to 242nd Street in the Bronx, traveling under or over Broadway for most of its journey. It starts in the financial district and, after passing through some of the cultural centers of the city, works its way through several middle and working class neighborhoods to Kingsbridge, in the Bronx.

On the south end of the line, South Ferry is a place that is well known to visitors and New Yorkers alike. It is the station you use to visit The Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, or Battery Park. You can spend time walking through Battery Park. See my blog about Battery Park here and about the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island here, or take a ferry to Governor’s Island. Built originally as a fort to guard the harbor, and then acting a Coast Guard base, today it is owned by the city and includes parks, art exhibits and concert space.

Governor's Island Ferry

My favorite thing to do at the southern end of the Number 1 train is to take a trip on the Staten Island Ferry. To me, this FREE ride offers the best views of the lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. Oh, did I mention it is FREE? Once you have crossed the Upper Harbor you have to disembark. You can either get right back on to return, or you can spend some time exploring the St. George neighborhood of Staten Island. One of my favorite times to take this trip is a sunset. The sun goes down over the harbor and the buildings of lower Manhattan light up. It is almost magical.

Staten Island Ferry Terminal

Subway Decorations celebrate the maritime history of South Ferry

South Ferry waiting room

Leaving Manhattan

Looking north up the East River at the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Skyline

Hitching a ride on the ferry

 When you return to Manhattan, take the Number 1 train north for about an hour. It ends at the Kingsbridge section of The Bronx. Kingsbridge gets its name from a toll bridge that crossed the old Spuyten Duyvil Creek, built in 1693, that connected the northern tip of Manhattan to The Bronx. Today this stretch of Broadway is a growing commercial center for the western Bronx. This area was often my destination.

242nd Street Station
242nd Street Station

I would come to Kingsbridge for two main reasons. One was the Riverdale Skating Rink. While it is no longer there, this ice skating rink was a favorite destination. This indoor rink was a popular place, and a real neighborhood hangout. Let the tourists and rich go to Rockefeller Center or Wolman Rick in Central Park, we came here. I took figure skating classes, and my brother played in its youth hockey league. We would come up on weekends and spend an afternoon staying from one free skate session to another. Unfortunately The Riverdale Rink is now gone. It has been torn down and now a Self-Storage warehouse is now in its place. 

Today the stretch along Broadway in Kingsbridge is the main shopping area for the western Bronx. With a Target at one end and a BJ’s a mile away at the other, Broadway is filled with Bronxites all day long. It is a place to come to shop and eat. On 231st street is Loesser’s Deli, the last old fashioned Kosher Jewish Deli in the Bronx. On Broadway, just north of 231st street is the El Malecon, home to excellent Dominican food. If you are looking for a place to buy fresh fruit and veggies there is Garden Gourmet, an excellent market that also has a great prepared food section. This wide range of stores attract a true cross section of the Bronx, Dominican, Indian, Jewish, and from many West African countries, Kingsbridge is truly an international cross roads.

Another reason to come to this end of the line is Van Cortland Park. These 1100 acres (third largest park in NYC) include a public swimming pool, a multiuse stadium, several playgrounds and two 9-hole golf courses, one of them is the oldest public golf course in the country. Weekends find West Indian families watching cricket players in their whites, Central American and African families around the soccer fields and Puerto Rican and Dominican families at the baseball fields. All joining together to enjoy the park. During and after the games everyone gathers just south of the Parade Grounds, where there is space for picnics and cook-outs. The smell of lechón mixes with the aroma of curry goat. During the summer the line to get into the pool stretches down the block, and the NY Philharmonic and Metropolitan Opera perform concerts, complete with fireworks. But don’t wait or summer. Van Cortland hosts events all year long. You can find its schedule here.

Van Cortland Stadium

Entrance to the Van Cortland Pool

Memorial Grove

Bar-B-Que and picnic area near Broadway

The heart of Van Cortland Park is the Parade Ground and its Cross-Country race course. The Parade Ground is home to soccer, baseballs and cricket fields. On its edge is a 1.5 mile running track. The Parade Ground is also the Start/Finish area for one of the country’s best and most famous 3.1 mile cross-country courses. The course is challenging because it has a long flat section at the start and finish with hills that climb 160 feet. For over 100 years the best runners in the Northeast have tested themselves against the Van Cortland Park course.

Tortoise and Hare mark the finish line of the Cross-Country Track

Van Cortland Parade Ground

Cross-Country Finish Line

The Number 1 train travels the length of Manhattan and into the Bronx. It connects New Yorkers of many backgrounds and helps bring them into the heart of the city. I invite you to take the Number 1 train, uptown or downtown, and explore someplace new.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Doors of Old San Juan

When I walk around a city I am always fascinated by the doors I see. To me doors are more than just entrances and exits. They represent the spirit of the house. Doors tell you if they home is rich or poor. They can tell you if the owner is attentive to detail. Doors are also secret keepers. Nobody knows what is behind them, but they invite you to try and enter to find out what is happening. Here are some of the doors I found walking around Old San Juan.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Río Piedras and The University of Puerto Rico

El Torre - University of Puerto Rico

 Lots of people talk about the difference between being a tourist and being a traveler. An important aspect is the desire to spend time exploring the places and ways in which local people live. In Puerto Rico I escaped from the more touristy Isla Verde and Old San Juan and took a tour of the municipality of Río Piedras, about ten miles southeast of Old San Juan. The tour was given by the Puerto Rico Historical Building Drawing Society, a non-profit dedicated to the preservation of the architectural history of Puerto Rico (you can read my blog about them here). This was my second trip to Río Piedras. The Amazing Ms. D’s aunt had given my parents and me a tour of the area fifteen years ago and I wanted to see how things had changed.

The town of Río Piedras was founded in 1714. For most of its history Rio Piedras was the agricultural center for San Juan. It became the commercial center for the working people in the area who spent their lives growing the food and working to support Old San Juan. The Plaza Mercado de Río Piedras is still the largest public food market on the island. 

Plaza del Mercado de Río Piedras

When I first came the market, fifteen years ago, was in a beautiful old building. But that building suffered a large explosion and was rebuilt in 1999. Today it lacks the beauty of the Santurce market, but it is a huge, modern building housing the market. There are many fruit and meat vendors along with merchants selling t-shirts, watches and even a botanica.  There is a large food court with offering real criollo food. Alcapurias, frituras and lechon are all available at excellent prices.

My source for excellent Lechon

El Jibaro - providing food to the San Area for three centuries
 Unfortunately, the area around the market has suffered a downturn, very much in a way that is familiar throughout the United States. As more and more shopping malls have opened in the San Juan metropolitan area, shoppers and stores have moved out of the center of town. Today there are many empty store fronts, and what was a thriving business district for over 100 years is struggling.

Avenida de Diego now has many empty storefronts

Someone has figured out who they blame for what is hapening

You can change these things - Organize and Fight. Resist

Even Banco Popular has moved out of the center of Río Piedras
 Near the Mercado is the main plaza of Río Piedras. Here there are some examples of classic Puerto Rican architecture. The city’s cathedral is the Parrioquía Nuestra Señora del Pilar, built in 1714. Along the plaza you will also find La Casa de Cultura de Ruth Hernandez. Dating from the early 19th century, this is one of the oldest houses in Rio Piedras. Built originally as a store and rest stop along the main road from Ponce to San Juan, it now serves as a community center where the residents of Rio Piedras take classes in music, dance and the arts. It has been restored and now houses into classrooms, a dance studio and a performance space.

Parroquía Nuestra Señora del Pilar


Finally, I visited the flagship campus of the University of Puerto Rico. In 1901 the Escuela Normal Industrial, Puerto Rico’s first school of higher education, moved from the town of Fajardo to Rio Piedras. Founded a year earlier, its mission was to train teachers for the island. The Normal School consisted of two buildings and 20 students. One building was used to educate the instructors, the other was a school for children, where the students could put what they learned into practice. 

In 1903, Puerto Rico’s government passed legislation founding the University of Puerto Rico which incorporated the Normal School as its first division. In 1908 is was designated a “land-grant” college and it expanded greatly over the next twenty-five years. In 1935 the U.S. Congress included Puerto Rico in the financial spending of the New Deal and the University was given millions of New Deal dollars to build its campus. Over the next five years Rafael Carmoega and Francisco Gardón designed and oversaw the construction of the heart of UPR’s campus.

The jewels of the campus are the buildings built during this period. They were designed in the style of the architecture of Sevilla. They sit around a beautiful, tree lined Quadrangle that serves as a gathering place for students. The highlight is the Franklin D. Roosevelt Tower. Serving as the entrance to the campus, this 30 story tower is both an icon and a paean to education and the ideals of Pan-Americanism. On either side of the entrance are ceramic columns representing the ideals of education. Over its entrance are the crests of Harvard University in Cambridge MA and St. Mark’s University in Lima Peru. Inside the entrance is the “Bronze Circle.” The national shields of all of the countries of the Americas are inlaid into the floor in tribute to the idea of Pan-American education

El Torre

Escudos of St. Marks University (Left) and Harvard (right)

Circle of Bronze

The Quadrangle

The original library for the university

When I travel I look for ways to get beyond the typical tourist experiences. Often that means walking through neighborhoods on my own. I get to explore how people carry on their day to day lives. I am very happy that the Puerto Rican Historic Building Drawing Society gave me the opportunity to see into the lives and education of everyday Puerto Ricans.