Sunday, July 31, 2016

The New Brooklyn Navy Yard

Whenever my husband and I visit New York City we spend most of our time in our favorite borough - Brooklyn, where I was born, raised and lived for most of my life, and where my husband immigrated from Italy as a child.  We have family and friends that still live there and it's always so wonderful to see everyone again. Brooklyn has always been the borough of immigrants--the beginning of many people who came to the USA from all around the world.  Both of my parents were born and raised in coal country in Pennsylvania, and both of my grandfathers were coal miners, but my parents met in Brooklyn during the years around WWII, when my mother and father lived and worked in Brooklyn, as jobs were more plentiful in New York City at that time. Brooklyn has now also become a beacon for many young professionals from across the country who want to live and work in New York City, but found Manhattan too expensive. They have actually made the prices for rent in Brooklyn become almost as high as those in Manhattan in many neighborhoods, but the renaissance of Brooklyn becoming a very desirable place to live and work has brought many new opportunities to the borough.

One example of a changing Brooklyn is the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In all the years I lived in Brooklyn, I had never visited the Brooklyn Navy Yard or area, and I was curious to see how it has changed with the times, as I had heard it has reinvented itself.

(All photos in this post will enlarge for easier viewing if clicked on) 

The Brooklyn Navy Yard opened in 1806. The area produced merchant ships from the time of the American Revolution, but the land was purchased by the federal government in 1901 and became a US Navy shipyard five years later.  By the American Civil War the yard has expanded to employ about 6,000 men, and at its peak, during World War II the yard employed 70,000 people, 24 hours a day.  Ships such as the first ironclad ship, the Monitor, was built. Maine was built in 1890, the battleship North Carolina in 1937, the 1942 battleship Iowa and Missouri, were also built here. America's first angled-deck aircraft carrier the Antietam was built in 1952.  The Navy decommissioned the yard in 1966, after the completion of the USS Duluth, and the yard was eventually sold to the City of New York. 
In 1967, Seatrain Shipbuilding, owned by Seatrain Lines, signed a lease as a nonprofit body to run the yard for the city but closed its production in 1979. By 1987 the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation failed in all attempts to lease any of the six dry docks and buildings to any shipbuilding or ship repair company.  Without a future in shipbuilding, the Brooklyn Navy Yard now focused on using its space to become an area of private manufacturing and commercial industry.  

As my friends and I entered through the security at the gatehouses of the Yard we began by walking around to see how redevelopment was slowly taking place.  $700 million in new development is underway, and employment in the Yard is planned to more than double in the next few years, from 7,000 to 20,000 jobs by 2020.  As you can see by my photos in the collage above, the Yard is now a mix of old and new buildings with many more new uses in development planned/

My friend suggested that we visit the 117-year-old former Brooklyn Navy Yard Paymaster building, where now the Kings County Distillery has been located since 2012.   They produce moonshine, bourbon and other whiskeys,  using New York State grain and traditional distilling equipment to make their distinctive spirits. Their whiskeys have won numerous awards from the American Distilling Institute, the Craft Spirits Association, and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

They are proud to be located just steps away from where the legendary 1860 Brooklyn Whiskey Wars took place and the former distillery district of the waterfront. Their walls had interesting information about that era. The Smithsonian Magazine has an interesting article about the Whiskey Wars on this link (click through the advertisement on the arrow upper right on the Smithsonian link)

Information on how the laws changed to allow for the distilling of whiskey again in New York--click on the photo to enlarge it to read.  We enjoyed sampling some of the different whiskeys that the Kings County Distillery produced, and we also enjoyed speaking with the friendly staff on our tour.

The Kings County Distillery conducts tours Tuesday through Sunday at 3:00 PM and 5:00 PM and on Saturday every half hour from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM with the last tour ending at 4:00 PM.  For more information about the tours and admission price click here.

Next, we visited Rooftop Reds, in the Yard, wherein the spring of 2015, they introduced the world's first commercially viable urban rooftop vineyard in New York City.  With the help of the upstate New York  Finger Lakes industry and Cornell University, they developed a planter system to grow grapevines that fill their 14,800 square foot rooftop, to one day produce a sustainable and completely Brooklyn vintage of wine. As they wait for their vines to mature they offer events such as rooftop happy hours, pop up dining, and educational viticulture tours and rental opportunities. Until the first rooftop harvest, they are serving wines produced in the Finger Lake region in their bar area.

Since we indulged in samples of whiskey earlier, we did not imbibe any of the wine at Rooftop Red, but we enjoyed their views and the exercise we had walking up the four flights of stairs to visit this rooftop dream in the making.

In fact, one of the views we had from this part of the Navy Yard was a juxtaposition of the old Civil War era "Admirals Row" buildings being torn down in the Brooklyn Navy Yard with the backdrop of expensive new condominium buildings in downtown Brooklyn that have been popping up in the skyline.

Happily, one of the vintage handmade brick buildings that have been preserved is Building 92--the former United States Marine Commandants' Residence, and built-in 1858 by Thomas Ustick Walter, who is considered one of America's most important 19th-century architects.  Building 92 is now a museum that tells the story of  the "Brooklyn Navy Yard: Past, Present, and Future." It introduces the generations of people who worked or were stationed at the Yard and those who lived in the communities surrounding it. They shaped the Yard over time, and are now are creating its future.

We also saw a part of Steiner Studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It is the largest film and TV studio outside of Hollywood. Opened in 2004 on a 15-acre site containing 580,000 square feet of studio space.

Besides assorted movies and television shows being filmed there, commercials, photos shoots, music videos, Broadway rehearsals, and other events use the studios. 

You may recognize this building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard as the place where one of the 2016 Democratic debates between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders took place at the Duggal Greenhouse.  It has the capacity to hold 3,000 people in its 35,000 square foot venue space.

The location of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, along the coastline of the East River, gives it a wonderful view of midtown Manhattan and the Williamsburg Bridge.

As we walked around we came upon a placard for an event happening that evening called "Fly By Night" by Duke Riley and hosted by Creativetime in the Yard.  My friends heard about this event, especially through a Wall Street Journal article, and thought that perhaps we could see if we could get a standby pass to see it.

At dusk, in a union of public art and nature, over 2,000 pigeons would be encouraged to fly overhead, wearing tiny LED lights instead of the small leg bands that were historically used to carry messages in the past. Duke Riley wanted to pay homage to the role pigeon keeping had in New York and other areas, as domesticated pets and revered for their companionship, sport, and service. When we were children, my friends and I remember seeing rooftop pigeon coops in Brooklyn and watching their owners let them fly in beautiful formations overhead, so this concept was not unusual for us, although we did hear that it was somewhat of a controversial demonstration for this event. 

Fortunately, we were able to get standby tickets to the free event.  As we waited, "crowd watching" was almost as entertaining as the event itself, as we saw some famous people in attendance.

As soon as the blue hour arrived, after sunset, Duke Riley and his assistants whistled and gently swirled flags overhead, while the pigeons took flight and swooped and fluttered in the air like glittering, twirling diamonds.  It was a peaceful and magical sight to see. If you would like to see a short video I took of the pigeon flying overheard go to this link on my Mille Fiori Favoriti facebook  page.  I'd be pleased if you follow my facebook page as well as following me on Instagram, and on Pinterest.

We did not have the opportunity to visit the Brooklyn Grange Farms in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, that operates a 65,000 square foot commercial space on top of building 3, as well as the many other hundreds of tenants in the Yard that allowed visitors. We did enjoy the new developments we did tour and look forward to seeing more in the future, such as the Mast Brothers large chocolate factory and headquarters that will soon be located in the Yard. The coffee company Brooklyn Roasting and Russ and Daughters, who are a century-old purveyor of pickles, bagels, smoked fish and babka, and the first Wegmans Grocery Store in New York, will also be opening in the next year or so.  It is all good news for Brooklyn and I'm happy to see my old hometown thriving so well!

 If you want to visit the Brooklyn Navy Yard click here for further information. 

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Times Square, Broadway Play, and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel

It would be hard to find a more exciting place than Times Square in New York City. There, the bright lights of Broadway have always been a beacon to travelers in the city, drawing them to its entertainment areas. Over 330,000 people pass through Times Square daily, many of them tourists. This area is known as the "Crossroads of the World" and has become the New Years Eve capital of the USA since 1907, as millions gather to watch  the ball drop down the pole high above on the top of One Times Square building seen in the middle of the photo above.

(All photos in this post will enlarge if clicked on)

I wrote once before--click here-- about the pedestrian area that was developed in 2009 in Times Square on Broadway, from 42nd Street to 47th Street, that is closed to traffic. There were still some table and chair areas but quite a bit less than you'll see in that blog post. There is also quite a bit more security, as most of Times Square is monitored by the police by video cameras, which is comforting to know.  It is in this area, at 1564 Broadway, where the famous flagship TKTS Discount Booths are located. This is where you can buy same day tickets to see a Broadway or Off Broadway musical, play or dance production which are up to half price off!  Don't be discouraged by the long lines--they move quickly, but it does pay to get there early for the best seat selection.

My husband and I decided we wanted to see a play on this visit to our old hometown, as we often took advantage of the half price tickets opportunity when we lived in New York.  There was a wonderful selection of both musicals and plays, but since we recently saw a musical production of the Lion King with our grandchildren, we decided to try a play this time around.

We chose a matinee production of the 5 Tony Award winning play 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," which is based on the 2003 mystery novel with the same title by the British writer, Mark Haddon.  As you can see in the photo collage above, the staging and lighting for this play was very unusual. Props and characters were creatively presented throughout the play, through doors and openings in the grid. It really made the audience feel as if they were experiencing the sights, sounds and feelings of the 15 year old main character, who was a mathematical genius on the autism spectrum, as he tried to solve a mystery. The story gets quite dramatic and was very enthralling. We really enjoyed seeing this production and had wonderful half price seats, as you can see in the photo above!  

Since we were also celebrating my birthday, my husband surprised me with reservations at a special hotel for that evening--the Waldorf Astoria Hotel!

Earlier that day, as we approached 5th Ave on our way to check into the Waldorf Astoria, we had to stop for awhile, as the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade was in progress. New York City hosts many parades down 5th Avenue and the Puerto Rican Day parade is among one of the longest, and attracts 2 million spectators! It has been held in Manhattan since 1958.

It was really an exciting parade with many floats, bands, music and marchers. There were fireman, police officers, teachers, etc of Puerto Rican heritage marching with their respective groups. We also saw the New York Knicks Basketball player Carmelo Anthony pass by in a red car.  After about 15 minutes the parade was stopped to allow pedestrians to cross 5th Avenue, and we were on our way to the hotel again, after we had dropped off our rental car.

The Waldorf Astoria Hotel, located at 310 Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, is an iconic New York City landmark with over 100 years of illustrious history.

The hotel combines art deco elegance with luxury..

...and convenient location in the heart of Manhattan, as you can see by the two cross streets in the photo above. 

A view of the beautiful art deco Park Avenue entrance....

...and the magnificent "Wheel of Life" mosaic floor, designed by French artist Louis Rigal.

It is composed of 148,000 hand cut marble tiles!  You can read more about this artwork and see a short video about it on this link.

The nine foot high "World's Fair Clock" in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria was created in 1893 for the Chicago World's Fair and designed to commemorate Columbus' discovery of America.  It was acquired by the hotel in 1931. You can read about the bronze bas-reliefs that ring its pedestal on the plaque at its base, as seen in the photo collage above.

When we checked into the hotel we were greeted by the divine aroma of the Waldorf's Peacock Alley Sunday Brunch. If you want to see a video describing the brunch click here.  Did you know that Eggs Benedict, Red Velvet Cake and the Waldorf salad were all invented by the hotel? I snapped a few photos with my cell phone as I walked by.

Our room was quiet and comfortable and I was surprised by its two enormous walk in closets!  I was happy to have had the opportunity to stay overnight at the Waldorf Astoria especially since there are plans by the hotel's new owner to close down the hotel in the spring of 2017 for three years to renovate the hotel for over one billion dollars to convert as many as three quarters of its 1400 rooms into private condominium apartments, while upgrading the 300 to 500 hotel rooms to extreme luxury standards. You can read more about the temporary closing and renovation of the Waldorf Astoria on this Wall Street Journal link.

We had dinner that evening at one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Manhattan--I Trulli Enoteca e Ristorante located at 122 East 27th Street in Manhattan.  Their Puglian style home made pastas and entrees and extensive Italian wine list has never disappointed us.  It was truly a happy birthday celebration for me with a wonderful hotel stay, play and dinner! 

It was such a beautiful June evening that we decided to walk back to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel after dinner. As we walked on Park Avenue we saw the Empire State Building on East 34th Street.  An impressive sight in itself but do you notice the golden glow in the lower right corner?

A few more steps and we saw that the glow came from the bright setting sun going down in the west, and high above the moon shining in the sky.  It stopped us in our tracks and we took this cell phone photo. It was the end of the perfect New York City day!

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Saturday, July 16, 2016

Statue of Liberty from a ride on the Staten Island Ferry

On our trip to New York City in June my husband and I were going to meet friends in Battery Park in Manhattan for dinner in one of our favorite restaurants.  Since we were in the area a few hours early, we decided to take a walk and when we saw the sign for the Staten Island Ferry we decided to hop on and take a little cruise of New York Harbor!  It is a nice way to cool off on a hot day, and the view of Lower Manhattan is one of the best, plus it passes by the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, which are always inspirational sights to see!  The very best part of a ride on the Staten Island Ferry is that it is free! Yes, a round trip to and from Staten Island--one of the five boroughs of New York City--is free!

(all photos in this post will enlarge if clicked on)

We boarded the ferry and left the Whitehall Terminal, on its 5.2 mile run to the St. George Terminal in Staten Island.  Some interesting facts about the Staten Island Ferry: It has been operated by New York City since 1905. It carries over 22 million passengers annually, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has an on time performance of 96 percent, making it one of the most reliable forms of mass transit. On a typical weekday, five boats make 109 trips, carrying approximately 70,000 passengers. During rush hours, the ferry runs on a four boat schedule, with 15 minutes between departures.

New York Harbor is a busy shipping, commercial and private pleasure boat location. 

This is the view of the Statue of Liberty that is visible at first.  She is a National Monument sitting on a pedestal on Liberty Island.  Her full name is Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World, and she was a gift to the United States of America from the people of France in 1886.  You can read more about the people influential in history on this link.

Getting closer!

We can now also see this view of Jersey City, New Jersey, from the harbor.

As we approach the Statue of Liberty we get a good view (click on photo to enlarge it) of her golden lamp and of all the people standing on the pedestal and on line waiting to board one of the Statue Cruise boats that brings one to the island.

Emma Lazarus wrote the sonnet entitled "The New Colossus," in 1883 for an auction to raise funds for the pedestal it stands on.  Her sonnet was a tribute to the symbolism of Lady Liberty.  The poem can be read in full on a plaque inside the pedestal in the museum at the base. This is what it says:

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame 

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

 - Emma Lazarus

For the 12 million immigrants who entered through New York and the Ellis Island federal immigrant processing station, between 1892 until it closed in 1954, they certainly saw the Statue of Liberty as a welcoming sight.  The chance for a new life, new opportunities, new dreams. One of the immigrants that gazed upon her was my own grandmother and I found her name and ship she immigrated on as a young woman in the early 1900's on the Ellis Island Archive that contains passenger lists of more than 51 million immigrants, passengers, and crew members who came through Ellis Island and the Port of New York from 1892 to 1957, at this link.  Perhaps you can also find your own immigrant ancestor on this link?

When the Staten Island Ferry arrives at the St. George Terminal in Staten Island all must disembark. You can then just go through the turnstiles again in the terminal to get on the next ferry returning to Lower Manhattan. You can see Jersey City, the Statue of Liberty and then Lower Manhattan in the distance in the photo above.

A closer view of all three.

As we began our voyage back to Manhattan, I could see another ferry on its way to Staten Island.

We cruised by the beautiful Statue of Liberty again....

...and cruised closer to Manhattan.

One last look...

...and a good view of Ellis Island. It is now open as a Museum of Immigration and very worth seeing. 

I loved this view of another Staten island Ferry passing the Statue of Liberty. I can't imagine that the pilots of the ferry, or the daily passengers, ever get tired of that view.

We are now headed back to Lower Manhattan as dusk approaches, and we were anticipating our dinner that evening with friends. 

New York Harbor and the East River and Hudson River are always busy with sightseeing boats, water taxis and ferries. It's a great way to sightsee and get a different perspective of New York City from the water. If you are a really adventurous tourist, you can also take a helicopter sightseeing ride

We were pleased we had time to take our little free cruise and enjoy once again some of the iconic sights of New York City, especially the Statue of Liberty.

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