WHAT TO DO ON A BALMY FALL SUNDAY IN NEW YORK
Copyright Vladimir Kagan 2010
Take a boat ride…of course!
I have lived most of my life in New York…. and almost of it with a river view, alternately of the Hudson or the East River. I have watched the Circle Line boats glide past our windows for over 60 years and always had the urge to take a ride. Today was the day!
It was a snap decision. My old intern for the past year and a half and his beautiful girlfriend, were in town from his Post-graduate studies of Architecture at Cornell. Having just seen a tourist-laden boat glide up the East River, I suggested an afternoon cruise. There was no hesitation on the decision and off we trotted down to Pier 83 (on 42nd Street and the Hudson). Naturally, on a lovely sunny day, the line of tourists was substantial…. I am certain that we were the only New Yorkers other than the tour-guide…a robust Irishman and native New Yorker. His patter was brief and informative.
We started with a spectacular view of the Aircraft Carrier Intrepid, (now a must-see museum). Backing out of our birth, we had a full view of the colossus Norwegian Cruise ship; The Norwegian Jewel, about to set sail on her weekly tour to warmer waters. The empty and mostly derelict and demolished piers on the waterfront gave mute testimony to the once bustling shipping that New York hosted. More than a hundred ships in the harbor at a time…. I remember well, rejoicing at the rare sight of the Queen Elisabeth, the Queen Mary next to her, the Mauritania, and the Il De France all in their berths at the same time.
The magnificent World War ll Aircraft Carrier, Intrepid, now a must-see museum
I even remember during the war, the tragic sinking of the SS Normandie, the most beautiful ship afloat. “Shortly after 2:30 in the afternoon on February 9, a cold, clear Monday in 1942 at Pier 88 on West 49th Street in New York City, Clement Derrick was removing the last of four stanchions in the Grand Salon of the Normandie, a lavish ocean liner that was being converted into a troopship as the USS Lafayette. As his welder's torch penetrated the metal, sparks suddenly spat out onto nearby bales of burlap that had been wrapped around the ship's highly flammable life preservers. The resulting shower of fire could not be quenched, and by 3 p.m. much of the luxury liner, the pride of a once-free France, was engulfed in flames”. Over-zealous fire fighters pumped her full of water until she finally capsized. I bicycled down to Pier 88 the next day to see the burned out remains of the proud ship, lying on her side like a beached whale… Though there were many rumors of sabotage, that was not the case.
The French luxury Liner SS Normandie burning at her pier in 1942
Like a beached Whale, the SS Normandie lies on her side ready to be scrapped
Starting our cruise down the Hudson, we enjoyed a prolonged view of the majestic Empire State building. A few miles down were the only two restored Piers in full exuberant use: Chelsea Piers; once the proud home of the America Lines, where coincidentally, I landed back in 1938!
Lower Manhattan, devoid of her Twin Towers, presented a more prosaic sky-line…. new building have sprouted along the waterfront, many are residential…(unheard of before 9/11) Ten yeas after that fateful day, the cavity that was the Trade Centers is still there, though finally being filled in and replaced with the World Tower, soon to be the tallest building in New York.
The new skyline without the Twin Towers....the crane in the background, finally is the start of the new Tower being build ten years after the tragedy
Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty are a must on any water tour…. and I will say, they are magnificent monuments of America’s past. Ellis Island as an architecture is a glorious edifice, though in its hay day, it was a dreaded experience. Its restoration, by grateful descendants of the thousands of refugees that passed through its doors, donated the funds to restore and preserve it. (A project accomplished without spending any public money!)
Dreaded Ellis Island, the scourge of all immigrants, is a Victorian architectural treasure
The Statue of Liberty, a gift from the French, as a tribute to America’s 100th anniversary. is a glorious lady. Her copper glowing an apple-green color in the afternoon sun. Did you know that Gustave Eiffel designed the stone base of the statue? (I didn’t).
The Statue of Liberty, a gift from France for America's 100th anniversary
In the distance loomed the impressive Verrazano Bridge connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn. We were told that it is longer than the Golden Gate Bridge…. certainly, a heroic welcome to any ship plying the waters underneath. (However, it is best known as the start of the New York Marathon).
Circumnavigating the south tip of Manhattan, we were treated to a generous dose of History: Indian, Dutch, British and American. On our right was the Ghost of Governor’s Island. In colonial days, a powerful fortress occupied the leading edge of the island, guarding the entrance to New York harbor. More recently, it was the domain of the Army, then the Coast Guard and finally reverting back to New York. A glorious piece of real estate, except NO ONE lives there! The hundreds of visitors, who come to enjoy its parks, gardens and singular views, depart on the last ferry. In the distance, the Brooklyn waterfront and Red Hook, an isolated and neglected section of town, once thriving with piers and warehouses, about to become the latest refuge for artists and eccentrics looking for the new undiscovered SoHo, NoHo, Williamsburg and the other gentrified corners of New York.
Fortress on Guvnors Island that protected New York
The Staten Island ferry connecting Manhattan with remote Staten Island...the only free ride in New York!
A contrast in nautical transportation
Audacious sailboats racing in the upper harbor
Tip of Manhattan skyline with ferry slips
Turning north up the East River (which is really NOT a river, but a fast running, tidal body of water connecting Long Island Sound with upper New York Bay). Until a hundred years ago it successfully isolated Brooklyn, Queens and all of Long Island from Manhattan and the mainland beyond. Its only connection were the hundreds of small ferries and sailing ships. But that was all changed by an enterprising German bridge engineer, John Augustus Roebling, who conceived and built the first suspension bridge over this ferocious body of water in 1883: The Brooklyn Bridge…. Amazingly it thrives today, carrying more traffic than Roebling could ever have imagined. It is a brilliant sight to behold from a small boat looking upwards.
The Brooklyn Bridge, over 100 years old and going strong
Rapidly expanding New York was not satisfied with one bridge. By the early 1900s, three more were built in rapid succession, each an amazing achievement of engineering for its time. All have been converted from their horse and cart days to accommodate modern transportation: subways, cars, trucks and pedestrians. They are monuments of beauty serving our modern day city.
The elegant Williamsburg Bridge, doing its job for over 100 years
Exquisite iron work on the Williamsburg bridge
Along the New York waterfront, we pass by Wall Street: the financial center of the world, (It is chic to rail against the bankers, and our guide did his duty). Just beyond lies South Street Seaport, a historic remnants of the past with restored early Dutch and Colonial buildings dating from the late 18th Century. On the waterfront, Pier 17, a lavish tourist attraction with refurbished proud Clipper Ships of the 19th Century.
19th Century Clipper ships moored at South Street Sea Port with Wall Street in the background
Pier 17 with the Shear Water schooner tied up on her pier
Frank Ghery's latest contribution to the New York skyline (it's almost tame by comparison to what it might have been)
The ribbon of traffic flowing up the East River Drive moves along like an endless chain. On the Brooklyn side are remnants of its industrial past such as the Domino Sugar plant soon to be converted into luxury residences…. glittering glass high-rises dotting the waterfront that once housed piers, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, ferry stations, train terminals and more. Years ago, this was derelict country…smart people bought the land for nothing…(I saw it’s potential but didn’t act.)
The abandoned Domino Sugar Plant soon to be recycled into condominiums....hurrah!
Midtown Manhattan is an impressive nest of elegant tall buildings…. the Chrysler building stands out in its full glory, but so do the somewhat dwarfed Met Life and New York Life Buildings with their gilded spires, built in a more romantic era of New York’s development.
The Empire State Building seen from the East River
The UN Building with the Chrysler Building in the background
The UN with Donald Trump's World Tower overshadowing it (it's much more intrusive than this perspective photo might suggest)
In the middle of the river, underneath the Queensboro Bridge, lies Roosevelt Island. Once a dilapidated depressing eye sore called Welfare Island, it housed insane asylums, infectious disease hospitals, leper’s quarantine and all that needed to be hidden from the wealthy Manhattanite’s eyes. Today Roosevelt Island a bustling self-contained community of luxury apartments for people seeking the suburban life within sight of the city.
The Queensboro Bridge connecting mid-town Manhattan with Queens and Long Island
The Queensboro Bridge with one foot on Roosevelt Island
New York "eats" power and ConEd's massive power plant on the East River faithfully provides it
Upper Manhattan, where our dream trip germinated, is chukka-block full of residential high-rises. I tried in vain to find our building amongst these…. but was reminded that while once, we had a commanding view of the East River from the Queensboro Bridge right up to the Tri-borough, Hell Gate, Throgs Neck, Whitestone bridges and beyond, we now only have a sliver view of the River as new construction over the past forty years has virtually made ours a land-locked apartment.
Asphalt Green, now a wonderful sports center (where my granddaughter swims competitively two hour a day!) was converted from an old asphalt plant.
Regrettably, our cruise, billed as a tour around Manhattan (three hours) was curtailed, as there had been a trestle fire on one of the rail bridges crossing the Harlem River, rendering it inoperative for our boat to continue. (Again the Harlem River is not a River, but a natural channel connecting the East River with the Hudson). We would have enjoyed this portion of the trip as it takes you past some of the most picturesque and bucolic landscape of Manhattan and back under the Washington Bridge…. Instead we turned south and caught magnificent views of the sunset and its afterglow on the Manhattan skyline…. We could not have asked for a more magnificent afternoon… Got nothing better to do?... Then try it!
Our return trip with sunset on the horizon
Afterglow on the Manhattan skyline
Finally back to our pier in the early evening
My wonderful intern for the past year. Will and his lovely girlfriend, Christy
Finally...your hosts on this cruise - Erica and Vladi