Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Going Back to the Start: Visiting New York's Original Grid

Roar! There is a ton of great history to NYC.  While some of it has been carefully preserved and landmarked, most of it has been lost to the impermanent nature of cities.  But sometimes a few of these forgotten bits of history still manage to have an effect on the present day. Yesterday I decided it would be fun to see the Brooklyn neighborhood that was the site of New York City's first grid based community!  So I rode my bike all the way down to Gravesend to see what I could dig up!

The square in the center of this satellite image is the orginal grid layout for Gravesend. You can see how it's skewed from the rest of the grid in Brooklyn, that's because it's actually oriented north-south unlike the rest of NYC! Roar! 

It was such a nice day outside so I decided to take my time and enjoy a nice, leisurely ride  to Gravesend...
I may have had to do a little backtracking but it was worth it on a day like today! Roar!
Gravesend was founded in 1643 by Lady Deborah Moody. She founded the town on the principle of religious freedom and believed that children shouldn't be baptised until they were old enough to read the bible! She was proved to be just as progressive in the role of city planner when she chose to lay Gravesend out with a, what was then cutting edge, grid system! You could say she was big on two things: religious rights and right angles! It turns out playwright Arthur Miller also grew up in Gravesend. I wonder if he realized just how liberal his hometown was during the 17th century while he was writing The Crucible! Roar!
They say the name Gravesend comes from the saxon phrase for "Groves End."  Despite all that there sure are a lot of graves here! Here I am at Gravesend Cemetry. Founded in 1658, it is one of the oldest cemetries in the city!
Gravesend was layed out as a square divided into quadrants by two main roads. The land within the each quadrant was then sectioned off and divided by additional paths. Some of those paths still exist as narrow allyways and dead end streets. It's like there's a fossil of the original grid underneath these streets! That makes the streets around here a little weird, though nowhere near as weird as Queens! Roar!
There are still plenty of neat old houses in Gravesend! Here I am in front of a particularly sweet looking one! It's like something out of the Addams Family! Though I'm not really surprised with all the graves around here! Roar!
I threw a sticker up under the F train track on McDonald Ave. Before the F train, the Boyton Bicycle Railroad used to run from here to Coney Island. It was technically the world's first monorail  featuring a single wheel train that pulled its cars along a single rail! Though it did a require a second rail above the car to steady itself, the design was eventually perfected into the monorails of today!

One other fun fact about Gravesend is there was a high profile bank robbery in the neighborhood during the summer of 1972. The robbery ended up serving as the inspiration for the movie Dog Day Afternoon. I wonder if that counts as grave robbing! Roar!

Visiting Gravesend was really cool and it was great to see how various forgotten elements of its history have managed to unearth themselves in the present day. It just proves as a reminder that no matter where you are in the city there is rich history right beneath your feet! Roar!

This trip to Gravesend also marks my blog reaching the 100th post mark! When I started doing this over a year ago I never thought I'd make it this far. I just want to say thank you to all the fans out there who've been so supportive and helped keep this blog from going extinct! I've recieved a lot of fan submission and I want to share some of them starting with this short story that was written for me by old New York historian Diedrich Knickerbocker. Unfortunately the famous hack Washington Irving cut it out when he published! What a jerk!

I've also recieved a lot of different photos from people. Here are a few of my favorites!
It looks like Philadelphia is even getting into the T-Rex spirit! Here is a sticker someone put up outside of Pat's King of Steaks! Roar! I love steak!
 And here's one outside the Hartford Science Center! I love science! Roar!
Beleive it or not,  Los Angeles is also going T-Rex crazy! Roar!
Even Shanghai is going ga-ga for T-Rex! It sure is nice to know that I'm loved all over the world! Roar!
Some people are even taking mementos of me with them as they travel all around the globe! Spread the love guys! Roar!
Why just look at New York City playwright Crystal Skillman! Doesn't she look super stylish in her TREXNYC shirt! R-roar!
And just get a look these two lovely ladies in Tokyo!
Apparently TREXNYC shirts have even caught on in India!
 Wow, my paper T-Rex even manages to get around! Here he is Tucson Arizona!
Sometimes it's nice to be able to meet fans in person! Roar! Kenny likes me! 

I've also met a lot of cool people during my adventures in NYC! So far I've met painters, street artists, old friends, directors, colonial pilgrims, pandas, web cartoonists, rock musicians, actors, fellow adventurers, sports team mascots, energy drink enthusiasts, political activists, reality TV stars, and live action role players!

There are still so many amazing things to discover here in New York City! It's been a great hundred posts, but I can only wonder what the future will bring! Roar!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Safety First!

Roar! Recently NeighborhoodScout.com put out a list of the safest neighborhoods in NYC based on FBI data gathered from local law enforcement agencies. It turns out the two safest neighborhoods in NYC are right here in Brooklyn! My own neighborhood of Bushwick didn't rank very high so I decided to pay a visit to the two safest neighborhoods and even the playing field!
I rode over to Prospect Park then cut over to 5th Ave and rode all the way down to Bay Ridge which was ranked as the second safest neighborhood in NYC!
Oh no, looks like someone might be jay-stomping over in Bay Ridge! This will take them down a peg or two! Roar!
Roar? And what's this? It looks like someone might have put up some graffiti! Maybe Bay Ridge really isn't as nice as it seems?! I wonder what the safest neighborhood will be like?
On my way over to NYC's safest neighborhood I passed this crazy house full of all sorts of kitschy memorabilia! This place looks like it belongs in Gerritsen Beach! Roar!
I rode up Bedford ave into Midwood, the safest neighborhood in the city, and threw a sticker up on this street pole! Oh yeah, I can practically see the property values falling! Roar!
This looks like the perfect place to park my bike! Roar! 
Good thing it doesn't say no roaring! ROAR! 
Here I am just hanging around by the school! Roar!
I guess Midwood isn't as safe as it might seem! Looks like this fellow has been going around scamming people all throughout the neighborhood! What a jerk! Roar!
I guess one of the reasons Midwood is so safe is that it is a purely residential neighborhood with several different neighborhood watch groups. First is the Nottingham Block Watchers who, like their name suggests, are all about giving back to the rich community members of Midwood! Then there is a local Jewish Shomrim that also patrols the area. With all this security Midwood is pretty much locked down! I better be careful! Roar!
Roar... Maybe all of this wasn't such a good idea after all...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Snuggle Harbor

Roar! Today was such a lovely day I decided I should take Giraffe to the Snug Harbor Cultural Center out on Staten Island. Snug Harbor was originally founded as a retirement home for sailors and was later home to the Governor of Staten Island. Now it's an amazing historical site with a bunch of super sweet gardens!
After taking the ferry over Giraffe and I went for a brief ride up Richmond Terrace where we arrived at the entrance to Snug Harbor. Once inside the first place we stopped was this awesome duck pond! There was even a goose! Maybe we could all play a game together? Quack, Quack, ROAR!
Next, Giraffe and I went over to the old Governor's Mansion. This is a pretty sweet looking house but it could probably benefit from a little work. Then this place would be even cooler than Gracie Mansion! Roar!
Behind the Governors Mansion is a sweet rose garden! I decided to take a moment and stop and smell the roses! Roar!
Up the road a bit there was this beautiful enclosed path that cut across the property. Wow, tis place looks so romantic! R-roar!
Snug Harbor also has it's very own hedge maze! Talk about awesome! Giraffe and I thought about going inside but we didn't want to get lost! That would have been so scary!
They also have this beautiful Tuscan garden! Maybe later Giraffe and I should go get a nice Italian pizza! Roar!
From the Tuscan garden Giraffe and I headed down the healing path past these awesome stone fountains! Too bad the water had been turned off for the season.
Snug Harbor also has one of the two Classical Chinese gardens in the United States! Bao Bao would love this place! Here Giraffe and I are in front of the moon viewing pavillion. I sure wish I thought to come here back during the moon festival!
Next we headed down to the pond and snuggle under a willow tree.  So cute!
Next Giraffe and I had some fun doing some live-action role playing in the reeds! "Roar! I'm coming to get you!" "Oh no! Eeee!"
Roar? Where did Giraffe go? I guess I better go look in these tall reeds and see if I can find her! Hold on I'll be right back...

When Giraffe and I were leaving Snug Harbor we passed by the front of the Children's Museum. They used to have this awesome sculpture of a praying mantis out front but it was recently damaged when that tornado came through New York City back in September! I sure hope they fix this guy soon because he is pretty awesome! Roar!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Roaring it up IN THE HEIGHTS!

Roar! Tonight Giraffe and I had tickets to go see the hit Broadway Musical "In the Heights!" Giraffe really likes musicals, I think they're... ok. She was really excited to see "In the Heights" so I suggested we head up the neighborhood it's set in to get some context for the show. So Giraffe and I followed Duke Elington's advice and took the A train to the "top of the world" to see what was happening in Washington Heights!
Right when we got off the train Giraffe and I were greeted by a ton of awesome looking Spanish restaurants! We were both feeling pretty hungry so we stopped at this great looking place to eat. I got pernil and Giraffe got beans and rice!
After lunch we headed over to Jumel Terrace to see the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Here are Giraffe and I on the terrace. It sure looks nice!
Roar! Here I am smiling for the camera!
Here we are in front of the Morris-Jumel Mansion. This is Manhattan's oldest house, it was built in 1765 and was headquarters to that t-rex lovin' gentleman, general George Washington! He lived here until 1776 when he was forced to flee New York after Continental Army was defeated in the Battle of Brooklyn.
After leaving the Morris Jumel Mansion Giraffe and I headed over to the corner of 160th street and Edgecombe to visit the apartment building where the famous African-American singer and actor Paul Robeson lived. Robeson was an amazing baritone and recorded a ton of great folk songs with Lawrence Brown back in the 1920's. He is one our favorite singers and it was cool to see where he lived!

After checking out Paul Robeson's house Giraffe and I went over to the Church of the Intercession on 155th street to visit the graveyard and see where someone very special to both of us was buried.
Here Giraffe and I are in the cemetery of the Church of the Intercession where we came to visit the grave site of John James Audubon! After famously studying the birds of North America he moved his family to an estate up here in Washington Heights where he lived until his death in 1851. The Church of the intercession where he is buried also has a funny story behind it. Originally founded in 1846, the Church of the Intercession was where all the rich Manhattanites were to buried rather than at the new cemetery belt establish between the border of Brooklyn and Queens. This way they would never have to leave the island ever again! Roar!
After paying our respects to Audubon, Giraffe and I decided it would be fun to check out the Spanish Heritage museum over on Broadway. Here I am outside the museum in front of a sculpture of El Cid that was in front of another monument about Spain's arrival in the new world. Talk about strange!
Here Giraffe is in front of Bastida's The Provinces of Spain while I am in the hall that contains the world's second largest collection of paintings by Goya and El Greco. They only have about a half dozen paintings by each artist but that is still more than twice as much than any other museum outside of the Museo del Prado in Madrid!
 They also had a lot of nifty pottery including this awesome dragon plate! Roar!
After a fun afternoon, Giraffe and I headed back downtown to Times Square to see the Tony award winning musical all about the cultural heritage of Washington Heights! Here I am outside the theater right before the show.
Right across the street they were opening a new musical all about Scientology. Wow, they sure will make a musical about anything these days! Roar!
We had seats way up in the back that gave us a great view of everything on stage! Shh! Quiet, the show is starting! roar.
Wait a second... This is nothing like Washington Heights! There certainly wasn't any hip-hop dancing in streets while Giraffe and I were there! It just goes to show that mainstream musical theater is only capable of offering superficial story lines that barely pass for reality. At least Giraffe liked it! Roar!