The weather finally broke and it was a nice day to continue the walk. It has been a mild winter but it is hard to find time to do much with work and my volunteer activities plus the job search to keep me busy. Wednesday brought a sunny, warm day to New York City and I was going to take full advantage of it. After a busy morning at the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, I took the A Train up to 207th Street and was about to complete the last leg of Washington Heights. I walked the entire stretch of Dyckman Street leading to Harlem River Drive to FDR Drive which covers the whole east side of the river. This part of my walk took from 1:45pm to 7:15pm. I walked fifty-two blocks both ways with stops in all parts of High Bridge Park.
First off, there are many changes going on all over Washington Heights since I started the walk in June. There is scaffolding all over the place and many businesses are starting to change hands. There have been more upscale looking restaurants opening up all over the neighborhood, more renovations in the parks and more white residents jogging in the parks and walking their dogs is telling me that the neighborhood is transitioning. So many apartment buildings and brownstones are being renovated that the whole look of the neighborhood is changing.
I started the walk on Dyckman Street walking by the very top of High Bridge Park by Fort George Hill right across from the Dyckman Houses. This part of the park could be quite pretty if it were not so full of trash. The beautiful rolling hills and trees are loaded down with garbage. It’s sad in that this part of the park is in such bad shape since it gives the impression of what Manhattan must have looked like when the Dutch arrived with rock formations and hanging trees. If cleaned up and properly landscaped, it could be breathtaking.
I walked down Harlem River Drive making stops inside High Bridge Park along the way. It is sad that most of the park is full of trash and not well maintained. All along the highway though interesting rock formations and flowering trees enhanced what you really saw by walking next to it.
By the time you get to 175th Street, you can’t walk any farther and you have to make your way into the park, which I had been through many months before the Fall. The parks system is working on the pathway from 175th Street to about 170th and then it stops again. You will have to walk down Amsterdam Avenue to about 166th Street where the park meets the local school parks and then take the path extension through High Bridge Park.
During the day, I would trust this path but I would not venture through it after twilight. As you wind down the paths, go off the beaten track around 170th Street and you will see all the natural cliffs that overlook the Bronx. This winding pathways can be rugged so make sure you have comfortable walking shoes when venturing off the paths. The natural rock formations are unusual and there are many places to view the surrounding area.
What was fascinating was the graffiti art work by the overpass at 175th Street. This form of tagging is all over Upper Manhattan and rather than a hindrance, the artists (or ‘taggers’) have an interesting display of faces and animals that would belong in any inventive gallery. The ‘x’ed out eyes on some of the cartoon like work hark back to the work of Keith Haring in the 80’s. Since these band of ‘gangs’ often paint over each other’s work, these pieces of art are in a constant state of flux and are ever changing.
The famous High Bridge Water Tower that is located in the park between West 173rd and 174th streets was built in 1866-72 to help meet the increasing demands on the city’s water system. The 200 foot octagonal tower was designed by John B. Jervis in a mixture of the Romanesque Revival and neo-Grec styles and was accompanied by a 7-arce reservoir. The High Bridge system reached its full capacity by 1875. With the opening of the Croton Aqueduct, the High Bridge system became less relied upon; during World War I it was completely shut down when sabotage was feared. In 1949, the tower was removed from service and a carillon was installed in 1958. The tower and the cupola were rehabilitated and restored in 1989-90 and the tower was designated a NYC landmark in 1967. Located behind the Highbridge Play Center, it is fenced off and you can only see it from a distance. (Wikipedia).
The Water Tower in High Bridge Park
The Highbridge Play Center located at West 172nd and West 174th Streets was built between 1934-36 in the Art Moderne style. It was built on the site of the reservoir and features a very large swimming pool that has been closed since the Summer. It was designated a NYC Landmark in 2007. (Wikipedia).
These two landmarks are located once you exit the path off Harlem River Drive and take some time to walk around this part of the park. Another landmark you should not miss is the High Bridge, which is the oldest standing bridge in NYC. Built in 1848, it was built to carry the Old Croton Aqueduct over the Harlem River. (Wikipedia).
The bridge is fun to walk over and offers the most beautiful views of the river and the surrounding park. On a clear day, you can see for miles around and once the foliage comes back a nice view of the park.
The pathway brought me back to the Morris-Jumel Mansion park, which I had visited right after the holidays and to the end of the park at 155th Street. I exited the park at 158th Street and walked down the Historic Brush Staircase. Named after John T. Brush, the owner of the New York Giants baseball team that used to play in the Polo Grounds, the stairs were built in 1913 and were used to go from the ticket booth that was located on the top of Edgecombe Avenue to the stadium below. When the Giants moved out and the stadium was knocked down in 1967 to be replaced by a public housing project in 1968, the stairs were in a state of disrepair. (Google).
Renovated in 2014 and rededicated, the stairs takes you from the top of the park at 158th Street back down to Harlem River Drive. The stairs are a steep walk so remember to hold onto the rail on the way down. At the bottom of the stairs is a very scary vendor selling Spanish food that looks like it has not passed inspection so avoid it and maybe grab a coke like I did that afternoon. Make sure to look at the inscription on the stairs as it harks back to a time when this was a major sports area and a footnote in NYC sports.
I ended the afternoon by crossing 155th Street and walking down the stairs by the bridge into the lower part of 155th Street where the public housing was located. I have to say that I was pretty naïve to walk through this area with my ‘CIA’ hat on (Culinary Institute of America where I am an Alumni).
The Polo Ground Towers are a 15.5 acre parcel of land in which four 30 story towers were built on the site of the old stadium. It was a scary part of the walk as even the cops that were located by the Community Center would not get out of their car. It was funny though in that no one looked at me weird or even bothered my but I could see that the firemen on the fire truck exiting the projects and the police looked at me strange.
Polo Grounds Apartments
Everyone who lived there just went upon their business without even noticing me and I just walked around the projects down 155th Street and up and around Fredrick Douglas Drive and around Harlem River Drive West. There is a series of supermarkets, convenience stores and small restaurants. The area is isolated and pretty self-contained. I have to admit it is not the most pleasant place to live and looks plagued with problems.
The funny part is that when you cross the street onto 154th Street, you can see where the buildings are starting to renovate and it looks like new residents are moving into the area just one block away. I made my rounds down Fredrick Douglas Boulevard around the block and headed around the projects on my way back to Harlem River Drive and then crossed over to the overpass where the sidewalk started to go back up Harlem River Drive across from the end of the projects. That was another interesting part of the walk.
As you walk up the left side of the highway facing the river, you will realize the true beauty of Manhattan island by way of the river. Many pleasure boats, rowing teams and flocks of birds habitat this area. It has a whole culture just based on the river and from across the street you don’t see the faults of High Bridge Park. Just the visuals of the park and the rock formations jutting out.
As I finished the walk at Dyckman Street and crossed over Broadway, all the upscale outdoor cafes were open and loaded with customers signaling that the warm weather was back and winter might finally be over. Mother Nature has a way of toying with us but it looks like the cold days are behind us and we are looking forward to a warm Spring ahead.