Open House NY

After meeting his friends for breakfast on Sunday Kid Flash and I decided that we would hit some of the sites included in Open House New York. Open House New York is a two day event where buildings, parks, and other sites all over the five boroughs are opened to the public for tours. Most of these sites are normally closed, or charge admission to gain access, but for this one weekend they are open to anyone who cares to come and stand in line long enough. We chose a handfull of places to try and visit, but because we got a late start we were eventually only able to make it to two of them.

The first was The High Bridge Water Tower. This tower on the east side of Manhattan was formerly part of the Croton Reservoir system and had a water tower on the top of it that helped service the water needs of northern Manhattan. The water tank burned in the 80's but it has been replaced by an observation deck that overlooks all of northern Manhattan, part of Queens, and part of the Bronx. From the height of the tower you can see 9 or 10 of the bridges that cross onto Manhattan, including the George Washington. The restoration of the tower is amazing, and is part of a larger restoration project in the works for that area that will include the High Bridge. High Bridge was partially a pipeline from the reservoir, and partially a pedestrian bridge between Manhattan and the Bronx. I'll be excited to see that project complete, it was a great area and High Bridge was cool. I'd love to walk across it. Anyway...

There was a moderate line formed by the time we got there, but it ended up only being about 45 minutes long. After that there was a climb to the top of the tower. Waiting at the top was a park ranger who gave a brief talk on the history of the place, and tried his best to explain what had gone on in the tower, and answer our question. I say tried because there was a guy there who was obviously an engineer or something and kept asking questions about the reservoir system and how the water was pumped to the top of the tower, etc. The poor ranger tried his best but just wasn't up the task of the physics of the place. It was obvious during the climb that this place wasn't typically open to the public. Some of the hand railing was missing, and the floor boards were uneven in places. Still it was incredibly exciting to see this space. Even with the park rangers and the lines it had the air of having snuck in somewhere forbidden, but really cool. Part of the point of this whole thing I guess.

The views from there were amazing. Kid Flash was able to point out the building he works in across the river, we could both see our neighborhoods. The GWB from that angle was also awesomely cool.

After that we realized that we were running really late and so we prioritized which place from our list we thought we might be able to get to in time. The decision was to head over to Roosevelt Island and to try and see the Octagon Lighthouse. Neither of us had ever been to Roosevelt Island, so it seemed like the best choice.

We got to The Octagon just as they were letting the last group in. The Octagon was originally built as part of an insane asylum, and is the last standing part of that structure. It's a beautiful building, and probably would have been incredible to see 20 years ago, unfortunately it has been bought and incorporated into a luxury apartment complex. The portion that we were allowed to see is now the lobby of that complex, including the gym, and the play room. It's a great renovation, and I'm sure the apartments are beautiful as well, but looking at the photos of the wrought iron spiral staircase that once dominated the space (in place of the very modern one I photographed here) made me sad for what was lost. Still cool to see though.

Roosevelt Island itself was bizarre. The entire island is dominated by high rise apartment buildings, and by virtue of it's placement in the East River directly between Manhattan and Brooklyn I'm sure the apartments are quite pricey. There are a few dots here and there of older, cooler structures, but the apartment buildings really do provide the only visual cues about the island. The overly homogenized sameness of all the buildings lends the place a highly artificial quality that is eerie in a way. The lack of street traffic (most of the island is off limit to cars) as well as foot traffic left the place feeling pretty vacant. Kid Flash also observed a distinct lack of retail spaces in the places where you'd normally expect them to be in NYC. The whole thing added together meant that the island, while part of New York was VERY distinct from it, and different. It was a fun discovery, but not a place that I think I'd want to go to on a regular basis.

Next year I'll be looking to do this again, but with some better planning. There were some really tempting places on the list of available sites that I'd love to spend a few minutes in.

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