Gold for Vancouver’s Green Roofs

This post is the third part of a short series covering similarities between Vancouver, British Columbia and the Bronx — noted while I was vacationing there last summer. I introduced the series, through the remaining days of the 2010 Olympic Games only — here.

Green Roofs are not usually leading the list for what’s on top of most Bronx buildings. The Bronx apparently has 15 green roofs, including the 10,000 square foot of green on the Bronx County Courthouse Building.  A roof tour sponsored by the BOEDC last summer was full by the time I heard about it. I do look forward to seeing the 15,000 plants and 10 different kinds of grasses and flowers the next time the opportunity comes up.

In Vancouver, we could see the sprawling green roof of the Vancouver Convention Centre from our hotel room.  All six acres of it. Over 400,000 indigenous plants and grasses grow on this roof as well as 240,000 bees. It is apparently the largest green roof in Canada and the largest non-industrial green roof in North America. I spotted someone in an orange vest walking atop. No tours allowed though. We went over and asked.

All that green eye candy is so lush and attractive and off limits, yet these roof top meadows are not public parks or gardens.  These are working living roofs.

Vancouver may have the Bronx beat in sheer square footage but I am happy to see some initiatives taking place in the Bronx on existing buildings and on buildings where Bronxites live in affordable and low income housing.

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March 1, 2010 at 12:58 am 2 comments

Sorry Vancouver, More Waterfalls in The Bronx


This post is the second part of a short series covering similarities between Vancouver, British Columbia and the Bronx — noted while I was vacationing there last summer. I introduced the series, through the remaining days of the 2010 Olympic Games only — here.

Vancouver’s waterfalls, the ones I spotted, were in the front yards of downtown office buildings. And they seemed to be everywhere.

The Bronx has several natural waterfalls. This is certainly not a well known feature of The Bronx landscape but certainly should be. I will go out on a limb to say that the Bronx has more waterfalls than any place in New York City. (Someone please correct me if I am wrong or conversely back me up if I am right). I ferreted out the waterfalls in the Bronx two summers ago and that post is still one of the top posts of this site.

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February 24, 2010 at 1:34 am 1 comment

For Art Deco — The Gold Goes to The Bronx

This post is the first part of a short series covering similarities between Vancouver, British Columbia and the Bronx — noted while I was vacationing there last summer. I introduced the series, through the remaining days of the 2010 Olympic Games only — here.

This is a tough category for Vancouver to beat out the Bronx.
And it did not.
The Bronx has more examples of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture than most cities on the planet. This has been chronicled a lot recently, here and here– as 2009 marked the 100th year of the Grand Concourse. In fact, the NYC Landmarks and Preservation Commission has turned its attention to designating a historic section of the Grand Concourse between 153rd and 167th streets.

So what does Vancouver have. Vancouver has the Marine Building which is the only remaining Art Deco skyscraper in the city. At one time, it was the tallest building in the entire British Empire and once owned by the Irish brewer Guinness. The Marine Building is easily noticed — it is red brick while the surrounding downtown buildings are glass. And the front entrance is completely adorned with seashells, ships, waves, various sea urchins — all aspects of a bustling port town such as Vancouver.  Regrettably, I did not go into the lobby, which is apparently decked out.  The “Vancouver” Rough Guide notes that builder J.W. Hobbs envisioned the lobby as a “27m-long ‘Grand Concourse’ adorned in the manner of a Mayan temple laden with treasure”. Grand Concourse?!! I am taking that comparison literally here!

Almost any building along the entire stretch of the Grand Concourse is a profound Art Deco specimen though I’ll toss in a couple of Off-Concourse examples. One is the building housing Burger King on 161st opposite the Bronx Courthouse. I noticed it by accident — among the waving BK banners are lovely images of horse heads along the top edge.

Another is the irresistible and spooky old Westchester Station on Westchester Avenue at the Bronx River — best seen from above on the 6-Train as it makes the turn near the Whitlock Avenue station. I don’t know if this crumbling station qualifies as Art Deco. Its facade is still gilded and I love the slices of citrus(?) motifs. The station was closed to passengers in 1931, but the entrance resembles the front of the Marine Building which was completed in 1930.

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February 22, 2010 at 2:04 am 3 comments

Vancouver Has Nothing On The Bronx


Vancouver is my new favorite city.
Since spending our vacation there last summer, we’ve dangled the possibility of our exodus in the face of the US frequently.
Moving to Vancouver is often the consequence of our if/then sentences:  “If such-and-such happens, then we are moving to Vancouver.”

Vancouver is beautiful.
Green in spirit and landscape.
The people easy going and quick to say “I’m sorry” if they flub your order or inconvenience you.
[Though I'm told this is a Canadian personality trait. Even still, it was refreshing to hear.]

We walked by a huge and abundant community vegetable garden completely open–no high fence, no gate, no lock & key.
I could stand on the sidewalk and reach in for a vine ripened tomato, which as an Australian friend pointed out, is my particular thinking as an American — that tomato could be mine, while a Canadian is thinking, that’s not mine!
That week, Vancouver was sunny and clear with temps in the high 70s.
They’d had a rare heat wave (in the 90s) the week before, so we were even luckier.
We had the best grilled salmon (at a Japanese street festival) and sushi (at Mr. Tojo’s) to ever touch our lips.
I read somewhere that Vancouver is considered the Miami of Canada, never mind it being north of Seattle and Portland.
A shop owner told me that unlike New Yorkers, Vancouverites do not live for long work days.  They want to leave the office promptly at 5:30 or 6:00 so they can get outside and play.
Marine or Alpine — take your pick.

The drive from Vancouver up to Whistler was magnificent.
Peaks on each side of the Sea to Sky Highway. Peaks of the islands rising out of Howe Sound on one side and peaks, some snow-capped, on the other.
Olympic signage along the way the closer we got to Whistler: Alpine Skiing Here!

Vancouver certainly is not a perfect city.
It has a serious homeless situation and a thriving bustling skid row.
And the downtown is all glass.
Ahh, but what does Vancouver have on the Bronx?
Until we can stake a claim there, I was eager to look for anything that allowed me to say, well, we have that in the Bronx.
And I found myself saying that a few times…
Over the next few days, while the Olympic torch burns in Vancouver, I will feature here a few of those moments I discovered the Bronx in Vancouver.

Stay tuned…
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February 19, 2010 at 3:56 am Leave a comment

Blooms and Blaze in the Cold and Rain

Rose Garden at NY Botanical Garden

Rose Garden still in bloom at the NY Botanical Garden.

We had the whole botanical garden to ourselves recently.  It was cold, rainy, windy and super grey.  Who wanted to be outside that day? We Did! We walked through the native forest which was still quite green, then along Magnolia Way. And we saw no one. Not even a hare.

I was shocked to see roses still in bloom in the Rose Garden!  We went straight there. And I forgot how cold my fingers were. The rose garden had that look of smudged lipstick and messy hair.  Rose petals were strewn about the pavement…petals withered and blooms missing while some still going strong.  I like this look.

A sweet contrast to the Kiku exhibit which has just opened.  I’m not one for my blooms in rank and file formation.  But the Japanese maple trees are ablaze.

Bonsai trees at Kiku Exhibit, NY Botanical Garden.

Bonsai trees in the Japanese Autumn Garden at the NY Botanical Garden.

Kiku Exhibit at the NY Botanical Garden

Japanese Autumn Garden at the NY Botanical Garden.

Kiku Exhibit at the NY Botanical Garden

Kiku (chrysanthemum) in rank and file formation at the Japanese Autumn Garden.

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October 26, 2009 at 11:10 pm 7 comments

10 Things to Do During Lunch Break While on Jury Duty in the Bronx

Executive Towers at 165th Street and the Grand Concourse.

Executive Towers at 165th Street & the Grand Concourse. Notable curved balconies and the only circular driveway on the boulevard. It was the last luxury building built on the Concourse in 1963.

The spring before last I was called for jury duty and spent those gorgeous hour and half lunch breaks chatting on my phone in the park across the street from the Courthouse.  What a waste!  If only I’d known then what I know now about that area and The Grand Concourse. I could have taken a short stroll in any one direction to find something of interest.

So here are 10 Things To Do During Your Lunch Break While On Jury Duty at the Bronx County Courthouse:
(To maximize your time “sightseeing” I suggest bringing your lunch. That way, you don’t have to spend precious time waiting for and paying for lunch).

1. Stroll around the Courthouse itself. {built 1931-1935} The statues that flank each staircase are related to the images on the frieze, around the top edge of the courthouse.

Bronx Time Capsule Marker at the Bronx County Building

Bronx Time Capsule Marker at the Bronx County Building

2.  Time Capsule – buried on the courthouse grounds in 1989 — imagine what the Bronx will look like in 2089 when it is opened up.  Fernando Ferrer contributed his cigarette lighter in an effort to stop smoking. I wonder if he misses it/replaced it. What would you put in the Bronx Time Capsule?

3.  Walk in Joyce Kilmer Park:  bring your sneakers and get your heartbeat up by taking an energizing power stroll around the park.  I saw a couple of women doing this in business dress and their sneaks.  As you’re walking, memorize Kilmer’s famous poem:

“Trees”
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

4. The Tree Museum:  brilliant creation by artist Katie Holten who has tagged over 100 trees along the Grand Concourse — each with an accompanying audiocast by Bronxites who live(d) along or near the Concourse speaking their thoughts of the grand boulevard.  Trees in the museum can be identified by a marker on the sidewalk bearing a phone # to call to hear the audiocast. Maps available at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.  The Tree Museum was scheduled to “close” October 12th, but will remain open until January 3rd, 2010.

5. Bronx Museum of the Arts (165th and the GC) It is a great space — modern and open and the zig zag facade follows that of many of the art deco buildings along the Concourse. Check out the current exhibit in honor of the 100th Anniversary of the Grand Concourse.

6. Andrew Freedman Home (166th and the GC) — the grand palace of the Grand Concourse, the only building on the boulevard with a lawn, built in 1925 as a retirement home for poor rich folks.

7. Yankee Stadium(s) — you can relax and sit on the benches here at Babe Ruth Plaza, taking in the new stadium and reminiscing on the old, catch yourself between two stadiums. I am no baseball fan but the enormous banners and photos of the players do give you the feeling of walking in a canyon.

8.  Find the Statue of Liberty — on 161st between the Courthouse and Jerome Avenue is a small Statue of Liberty, see if you can spot it. Hint: look on the rooftops.

"Fish House" built in 1936 by Horace Ginsburg. The ultimate example of art deco -- rounded corners, angled windows and the fish mosaic.

"Fish House" the ultimate example of art deco -- rounded corners, angled windows and the fish mosaic.

9.  The Grand Concourse — This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Grand Concourse. It was modeled after the Champs-Élysées in Paris for all its art deco and art moderne buildings —  the mosaics, the rounded curves, the zig zag facades — the most found on any boulevard in the country. “Fish House” at no. 1150, is the ultimate example — including angled windows, designed to maximize sunlight streaming into the interior.

10.  Bronx Walk of Fame – Follow it from the courthouse going downtown, to where it ends at Hostos Community College on 149th Street. A lot of greats here. My childhood favorites Rita Moreno (“HEY YOU GUYS!”) and Sonia Manzano (aka Maria on Sesame Street) are here. For me, Rita Moreno was famous for Electric Company waaay before Westside Story.

Rita Moreno's marker on the Bronx Walk of Fame.

Rita Moreno's marker on the Bronx Walk of Fame.

Bonuses for those jury duty days ending at 2 o’clock:
11Ben Shahn murals at the Bronx Main Post Office (149th & GC) — lobby filled with large murals painted by artist Ben Shahn and his wife Bernarda Bryson Shahn, during the Roosevelt administration. The panels depict the American worker of the 1930s and include one of Walt Whitman speaking to a crowd of people.  In 1933, Diego Rivera asked Shahn to be an assistant on his infamous mural at Rockefeller Center and Bernarda Bryson was a reporter from Ohio who’d come to New York to interview Rivera.

Ben Shahn mural at Bronx Main Post Office.

Ben Shahn mural at The Bronx Main Post Office.

12.  Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos (149th & GC) — directly opposite the Bronx Main Post Office, check out whatever is on exhibit there, it is a bright airy gallery space.

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October 9, 2009 at 11:39 am 2 comments

Podcast: Professor Lloyd Ultan, Bronx Borough Historian (Part 2)

Professor Lloyd Ultan in Bronx Historical Society library.

Professor Lloyd Ultan in Bronx Historical Society library.

Here, at long last, is the second part of my interview with Bronx Borough Historian Professor Lloyd Ultan.
{The first part is here.}

Or download the podcast as an mp3.

Show Notes

00:00 Intro

01:14 What makes the Bronx unique? Its size / parks / types of homes. The Bronx is large enough to be the 6th largest city in America.

02:41 Bronx population is very diverse.

04:45 “The Bronx has always welcomed the other.”

07:03 European immigrants come to the Bronx from Ireland and Germany.

10:00 Eastern European Jews arrive in the Bronx.
Baron de Hirsch Fund established workshops to teach Jewish immigrants industrial skills necessary for living in an urban environment.

11:34 African-Americans and Puerto Ricans arrive in the Bronx.

11:56 In 1980s to 1990s, the Bronx becomes still more diverse.

12:54 Bohemian Community in the Bronx near Fordham in the 1860s:
John Savage, Irish poet
Robert Barry Coffin, writing as Barry Gray, wrote “Cakes and Ale at Woodbine: from Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day”, “Out of Town: A Rural Episode”.

14:15 Edgar Allan Poe lived in Fordham in 1846.

17:08 Small bohemian community of Broadway actors and actresses lived on Wilton Street near St. Ann’s Avenue, west of St. Mary’s Park.

17:50 East and north of Crotona Park, writers gathered in Crotona Park.
These writers were Eastern European Jews who wrote in Yiddish.

18:43 Literary salon in the home of a Bronx dentist and his wife every Sunday.

19:38 Today, artists in Mott Haven
Jazz musicians live on Manida Street in Hunts Point

Additional Resources for topics discussed in this podcast:
The Bronx County Historical Society
Intersections The Grand Concourse beyond 100
New York Public Library: The Bronx on the Web

Books by Prof. Lloyd Ultan
“The Bronx In The Innocent Years, 1890 – 1925″, with Gary Hermalyn (1991 2nd ed).
“The Beautiful Bronx, 1920-1950″ , (1979).
“The Bronx: It was Only Yesterday, 1935 – 1965″,  with Gary Hermalyn (1992).
“Bronx Accent: A Literary And Pictorial History of the Borough”, with Barbara Unger (2000).
“The Northern Borough: A History of the Bronx”,  to be released this year.  It is the first single volume on the history of the Bronx since 1912.

This podcast features Creative Commons music:
One for Me” by SackJo 22
Que Pena” featuring Tamy by s.c.mixer

A Special Thank You for all things IT related to:
Colin Turner, Chief urbologist, urbTek, LLC

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September 21, 2009 at 3:58 am 5 comments

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