Of Orchid’s and Cherry Blossoms.

It’s Spring in New York City and that means that days are getting longer, the trees are finally looking green and as always our allergies are kicking into high gear. Yet as an amateur photographer, capturing the changes in the seasons have been a welcome change compared to my usual urban focus. Spring is also so synonymous with re-birth or nature, that watching the slow flowering around the city has been a beautiful experience.


Nature up close allergies and all.

The first pictures come from the New York Botanical Garden’s Orchid show. Marking the unofficial start to the season, the theme for this one was orchidelirulm, named for the Orchid mania that swept through Britain during the 19th century. Orchids were extremely popular and remain so to this day as being some of the most diverse flora ever produced on Earth.


Some of the Orchid’s on display at the Orchid Show 


Orchids account for an estimated 6-11% of all seed plants in the world. 


The second shot is from Sakura Park in Morningside Heights. named for the Japanese word for Cherry Tree, The park bloomed early last month, the first trees were planted in the early twentieth century, and are part of the 20,000 cherry trees planted by the parks department. Some of those can also be found at the Cherry Walk along the West Side Highway.


Early bloom at Sakura Park with Riverside Church in the background 


Blossom Close-up 


Riverside Park Scene

Another shot comes from the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn. This one looked in transition between bloom and post bloom greenery. Well you know the old saying, a tree grows in…


That Classic Brooklyn Tree 

Not to be out done this beautiful shot comes from the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Their iconic Cherry Blossom Festival was held last week and the trees along the esplanade bloomed right on time. While I was unable to attend, this shot is the aftermath of all the rain, which has left a beautiful carpet of pink on the grass.


Inside the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Cherry Esplanade


The Pink Carpet 

The trees next to the Japanese Pavilion trees had bloomed earlier in the month and the one here just hangs lazily next to the pond.


Hang 10

Lastly, Perhaps my favorite shot are the cherry blossoms from Roosevelt Island. The contrast of the rows of Kwanzan Cherry Trees with the skyline of East Midtown creates one of the city’s most iconic and temporal scenes in the city.


Cherry Blossom’s with the Ed Koch Queensboro-59th Bridge in the background. 


Under the canopy. 

Thanks for reading and looking see you soon!


Winter Storm Jonas: The storm to end all storms

As of 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, New York’s Central Park, measured 25.1 inches of snow. It’s already the third highest accumulated snowstorm on record. After a week of wondering whether or not we will get such a blockbuster storm, well…

With over 84 million people in its cross-hairs, Winter Storm Jonas, will at the very least will go down in memory as one of the biggest snowstorm to hit the Eastern Seaboard. I will remember it as the storm I took pictures. So here is my collection of great shots. In short I was Ray in the video.


Looking south on 5th Avenue


The General Grant National Monument, a.k.a. Grant’s Tomb under a pristine blanket of snowfall


Grant’s Tomb neighbor, Riverside Church, a bulwark against the maelstrom.


The former Low Library building under some serious snowfall.


When in doubt, take the local, which is what most subway lines were today. It was also a way to get around and stay warm.


Where were you when the blizzard of ’16 hit?



The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on 89th Street and Riverside Drive.


Children of all ages sledding down the hill behind the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.


Looking east at West 87th Street.



Crossing 43rd Street in Times Square


Times Square looks brighter when the weather isolates her from the city. More so than when under normal circumstances.


Yup that’s me in a misguided attempt to be Mary Tyler Moore. No article of clothing was harming in the making of this picture.


Citadel of Knowledge

So there you have it. My four hour adventure during Winter Storm Jonas. I hope you enjoyed the gallery. I will be posting a few other shots on Instagram which you can find at ayindestevens and at Twitter at AJStevens50. Till next time friends.


Walking Riverside Drive, A “The City I love” project Part 1: Uptown Beginings

The Project

The goal is to walk the entire length of Riverside Drive where possible from Inwood down to the Upper West Side. I’ll try to average one mile per day and try to write or document via photos what I see along the way. Riverside Drive has a very diverse history and exploring it from stem to stern sounds like a fun project. After all, if The New York Times could do it why not me?

The reason why I decided to start from the north and not the south is to in order to get the trickiest part, which is the highway sections out of the way. Also as you head south the Drive gets progressively wealthy as you go along so you get a chance to notice the change in subtle ways. If you choose to head from North to South you may also notice that you are going back in time with much of the northern section predominately 1920-s 1930’s to the southern half which is more late 1800’s inspired. Also Riverside Drive is one of the least altered streets in Manhattan so it will be easier to notice the difference as you walk from one end to the other. If you choose to do this project you don’t have to do all but pick parts of the drive to explore on your own.

So let’s begin.



Riverside Drive during the 1910’s Photo by The American Art Publishing Co.

If Park, Madison, and Fifth Avenue are to the east side of Manhattan island in terms of New York City’s upper crust, then its west side counter parts should include Riverside Drive. A street with a colorful history, with railroad barons, gilded age mansions, trophy wives and of course the ‘Master Builder’ Robert Moses. A man which no neighborhood of this great metropolis was spared, for better or worse from his influence.

Riverside Drive, a byproduct of the creation of Riverside Park is one of the city’s most scenic areas that is often overlooked compared to its flashier neighbor to the east, Central Park. Riverside Park and Riverside Drive were started in the late 19th century as part of the development of the West Side of Manhattan. For much of the 19th century, the area was a hodgepodge of estates, industry and small villages clustered along the Hudson River.

That all changed when Fredrick Law Olmstead, the creator of Central Park was given 191 acres to play with to create a new park in 1872. Essential to the design was the Drive which Olmstead merged with the park plan to create one singular project between the two. Olmstead’s former collaborator, Calvert Vaux did the landscaping for much of the first half of the project. While much of the land was acquired by condemnation, the Hudson River Railroad now acquired by the New York Central  Railroad would remain in place, while the park was developed around it. The first sections of Riverside Drive opened in 1880 and was completed five years later.

In 1911, Riverside Drive was extended further uptown to Audubon Park, now today known as Audubon Terrace with a series of viaducts, the most famous one being just north of Grant’s Tomb.  With the extension, Riverside Drive absorbed Boulevard Lafayette. A planned road from Audubon Park.  Longtime residents, the Grinnell family used their political connections to connect the two roads in order to boost their property values. Which creates a triangle-shaped aberration in the city’s grid.

In fact much of how the park that we see today was given to us was actually by Robert Moses under the West Side Improvement project.  The project, which were the cost of two Hoover Dams, included the grade separation of the railroad and the Henry Hudson Parkway. Perhaps most importantly it practically buried the railroad and created a man-made hill that covers the tracks that is with today. However it should be noted that the Parkway also in certain areas isolates both the park and drive from each other and I will try to document where that has happened.

Part 1: From Dyckman Street to Plaza Lafayette.  


Tiled mosaic of the Dyckman-200th Street Station

So on a mild Friday afternoon, I set off from my apartment in Washington Heights to the subway to Dyckman Street which is the northern terminus of Riverside Drive. The last address is 1825 Riverside Drive, which reminded me of the Flatiron Building downtown. Opposite the apartment buildings is Fort Tyron Park, which today is home to the Cloisters, an outpost of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


1825 Riverside Drive, the last building on the Drive

On the next block, Riverside Drive merges with the Henry Hudson Parkway, so to continue I returned to Dyckman Street and towards the Hudson River. Once your turn left you will see three bridges. The first, is a concrete arch bridge that instantly reminded me of the art-deco bridges in California. Originally when the Parkway was a four-lane highway, it carried bi-directional traffic. When it was expanded, a second but lower bridge was added. The last bridge is the old Hudson River Railroad which were acquired by the New York Central in the late 1800’s. Today the tracks are now under the use of Amtrak. Its bridges is the lowest of the three. It’s between the latter two bridges that access to the greenway can be found.



The Bridges over Dyckman Street

So for the next mile or so I walked the greenway, with the cars roaring to go upstate on my left and a low stone wall to my right. The path narrow due to the fact that leaves covered up most of the right side of the pathway. So much for staying on that side. Luckily, they weren’t many joggers or bicyclists on the path but I constantly looked behind me, the reason being the road bends a few times so it made sense just to be cautious. The Cloisters came into view and then disappeared under the trees as I headed further south. The park has a massive arch bridge that leads to the Cloisters, the bridge was probably created so that people driving from the parkway can access the museum.


Cloisters approach and bridge

Further down, there is a massive collection of arches made out of Maine granite situated near the southern end of the park. It is all that left of the grand Billings estate. It served as the driveway to the home, formerly owned by Charles Kingsley Garrison Billings. The driveway alone cost $250,000 and the rest of the house was so grand it would put even the Rockefellers to shame. Sadly, Billings, an avid horseman, grew tired of the house, and sold it to interestingly enough the Rockefellers. Almost immediately, the Rockefellers wanted to give the land to the city and tear down the house. However, lovers of the home and its architecture spared its demolition but not from the laws of nature. In 1925 the house burned to the ground, the Rockefellers again offered the land to the city and this time the city accepted. In 1939 the Cloisters Museum, which was given to the city by John D. Rockefeller Jr. opened to the public. Today only the driveway and lawn of the Estate remains however the driveway is largely cutoff from the park.


Billings private driveway cars probably drove up to 15 m.p.h. back in the day now cars zoom by at 60, missing the grandeur of years pat.

Not long after seeing the driveway, the lush and parklike aspect of the area gives way to apartments that overlook the river. Also nearby is Inspiration Point, a lookout stop that was designed for motorists to stop, take a break and admire the scenery. Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article in 1989 discussing the characteristics of the structure.


Part of the Inspiration Point lookout.

“A two-way drive, it had a wide sidewalk on the river side; this was an environment where the automobile and the pedestrian were meant to mix agreeably. Drivers were encouraged to stop at the roadside in a large turnoff in front of the $150,000 shelter, the last stopping place before the end of the drive at Dyckman Street.”


View of the GWB from lookout

However, shortly after the completion of the shelter Robert Moses’s planned West Side Improvement project doomed the shelter and it now today, the shelter is now slowly crumbling to nature. 27 years later some things have changed, but it still has the feel of a “picturesque ruin,” as detailed further in the article.

“As the automobile changed from a pleasure vehicle to mere transportation, the pleasure drive lost its patron in road planners. The Miller Elevated Highway (or West Side Highway) below 72d Street of 1931 to 1933 was meant for moving, not inspiring, people. But it was Robert Moses’ Henry Hudson Parkway of 1937 – although an idyll compared to the modern interstate – that made the bed of the old isolated Riverside Drive a through highway, with a bridge crossing the Harlem River.

GRADUALLY, increased traffic turned what had been a walking/driving experience into a no man’s land for pedestrians. The walkway is now overgrown and concrete bumpers now barricade what was the original promenade.

The shelter at Inspiration Point itself now suggests despair. The doors to the toilets are walled up. Cast-stone copings, indeed whole sections of balustrade, have been pushed over, down the steep slope. The rotting wooden roof has miraculously escaped destruction by fire, but whole sections have fallen off or hang precariously at the edge. Water damage has buckled the elegant coffered ceiling and most of what remains looks like driftwood scavanged from a lost civilization.”



Plaque dedicating the ‘Improvement’ to Riverside Drive, little did they know…


Up above are art deco apartment buildings built in the 1920’s before the stock market crashed. Also overlooking everything there is a house actually perched over the retaining wall! I wonder how much the insurance is going to cost if the thing falls over.


No explanation here

The final landmarks that come into view are the George Washington Bridge on the right and the Castle Village apartment complex on the left. The complex, which features five cruciform towers were the basis of the ‘towers in the park’ concept of modernist architecture. The concept was widely reproduced in many of New York City’s housing developments both public and private during the postwar era. Its social effects are still being felt today.


Castle Village apartments. Completed in the mid 1930’s these apartments were meant to be shelters for Manhattan’s middle class residents back in the day. The more things change the more things stay the same I guess.


In 2005 the retaining wall, dividing the property and the ramp leading down to the Parkway collapsed. No one was hurt and the wall was repaired. Today you can see the distinctions between the replacement wall and the original. When I passed by, no vehicles were parked there. However, I think if you’re going to park a car along that wall, it might be the safest place to do so.


The Castle Village retaining wall the original section is to the right.

The footbridge leads me to Plaza Lafayette and the end of part 1 of the trip. I’ll save the Bridge photos for part 2 of the project. I will continue further south, pass through more Art-Deco structures, see parts of abandoned Riverside Drive access points and deal with that pesky triangle.  Also follow on Instagram with the #WalkRvierside to track my progress.


The City I Love: New York in May 

There are many ‘transition’ months when you live in New York. None more so dramatic than May. March might have the swings from biting cold to mild and October has its gradual chill with some twists along the way. May on the other hand, goes from hot to hotter and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

Trains resting at 168 Street The one on the right is the newer model

Trains resting at 168 Street The one on the right is the newer model

As our winters get longer, our spring and fall’s feel shorter, summer on the other hand feel at times both unbearable, wider and never ending. That’s what makes May so interesting, it’s when the city is at all cylinders firing up before it gets too hot to do anything, including that 3:30 Starbucks run just to hold you over till 5 p.m. Everything has to be done before it becomes impossible to do anything disruptive. Such as the summer swap of old subway cars from the C to the J/Z lines since they are mostly elevated. If they did it next month chaos would ensure. Further proof of May being a transition month

The trees are now completely green, not to mention the pollen on the ground. The sunsets become radiant and more impressive as each day passes and so comes Manhattanhenge the famous time of the year when the sun slinks into the grid. It is the most illumination the side streets get if you’re not in Times Square. Sadly though, we were denied one of modern man’s most illuminating accidents. Thanks to the arriving cold front that brought the much needed rain to our parched city. Proof you can’t always have it all. Thank Heavens we have another one in July.

Grant's tomb with decorative bunting for the Memorial Day Holiday

Grant’s tomb with decorative bunting for the Memorial Day Holiday

            Other than the ‘henge, its festival season here at home. From street fairs to outdoor concerts and film showings to parades that add to the chaotic variety that is New York. From local Memorial Day parades in Queens to those pesky 6 a.m. concerts in Central Park, New Yorkers and visitors alike partake in these rituals of warmer weather. While all might seem repetitive we take comfort in the familiar like the $1 lemonade that’s really just water some flavor. The fact that it returns every year is proof that summer has returned.

             Here’s to June and is it winter yet?

P.S. Stay tuned I’ve come up with a brilliant idea (or two) and please follow me on Instagram with the handle @ayindestevens  and on Twitter with @AyindeJStevens

P.P.S. Finally got up to the Empire State Building after a long absence so here’s one good shot

View from the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building with 1 WTC in focus

View from the Observation Deck at the Empire State Building with 1 WTC in focus

The snowstorm that wasn’t (at least in NYC)

Hey all!

So as you’re all aware of Winter Storm Juno, which came roaring into the Northeast earlier this week. It seems to have set up a new pattern of panic here at home. The storm is forecast, the elected officials give press conferences, supermarkets clog up, everyone hunkers down, only then to wake up only to find that it was a total wash and communities to the north bore the brunt of the storm, again. After all we were expecting snow of epic proportions. 20-30 inches they said, record breaking, for the books, yadda yadda yadda, The city only got a grand total of 9.8 inches of snow. some other parts of the city saw a bit more but cities like Boston, Portland and the island of Nantucket got slammed with the snow that should have been ours to reminisce with the grand kids.

I mean this was what we were supposed to get!

Brooklyn street scene from the Great Blizzard of 1888, the storm brought and official amount of 21 inches to the city but, the image argues otherwise . image courtesy of wikimedia.

While most were treated to a government sanctioned snow day, others were inconvenienced by the storm and the reaction of local officials to the whole thing. Nothing has stung more than the shutdown of the subway system due to the storm.

The snow has ended and still there is barley anyone on the street

The view down 7th Avenue.

Many people don’t know this but one of the reasons why the subway was built was in reaction the storm pictured above. After the blizzard of 1888, which paralyzed the city for days, attention was paid to the elevated railway system, which failed due to its exposure to the elements. So the idea of an underground system that was not subjected to this for of nature’s abuse began to appeal to the powers that be in New York. The subway can be many things but it’s reliability during a snowstorm is one of the appeals of having a mass transit network.

I've seen Grand Central busier on Sunday's at this time

It’s 4:45 do you know where the commuters are?

Of course, two things have upset this long held virtue of the system. First, was the December 2010 blizzard. This storm was only forecast to reach 6-10 inches only to be walloped by 19 inches. It was like the blizzard of 1888 in respect: It caught people completely off guard. not only that but also 40 trains and 600 buses were halted throughout the system. This has fundamentally changed how those who run the system look at storms.

The Second change is the person who in charge of New York State. Governor Andrew Cuomo. When Governor Cuomo made the last minute announcement, at 4 p.m. that the system would do a full shutdown at 11 p.m. It was a complete reversal from the earlier announcement of the system reverting to a limited local service plan after 7 p.m.

Anyone wanna build a snowman in Central Park?

While you could argue Cuomo did what he did in the interest of safety, he also inconvenienced a great many New Yorkers who don’t fill in the typical nine-to-five working patterns people such as my mother who might ave been stranded at work if the snowstorm hadn’t been as lenient as it was to the city. Other professions like bartenders, service staff and hospital workers, who operate outside of the nine-to-five parameter were left in the cold. Add a ban on non-emergency vehicles on the roads that commenced the same time the subways shut down, you’ve effectively shut the alternative way to get home in situations like this.

In fact, with the exception of Long Island and Eastern Connecticut, the rest of the region was able to recover quickly due to the shutdowns implemented. However, the idea of shutting the city is less practical than the maybe the suburbs. One reason against shutting the city is that New York has one thing on it side, geography. While in the past New York was quite hilly, much of it has been either smoothed out or flattened which makes it easier to plow with much of the city pretty level it makes it easier to plow the city streets. Also New York’s budget for snow removal is a bit larger and is run by the city not an individual county of a state entity. Also with the city’s integrated grid system it makes it easier to get from side of the city to the next.

But back to the subway’s the fact that subway was taken out of the equation for such a storm it hobbles the ability for the city to function. Due to the dire warnings all day Monday most people took heed of the impending shut down and the city was a ghost town for much of Tuesday morning things picked up a bit after 2 p.m. and with schools closed everyone was enjoying the day off. Heck, I was able to enjoy Times Square without the hordes of people who descend on it daily, but then again it’s only winter it will pick up.

Did I mention it’s gonna snow again?


Stepping into Christmas…just which path should you take?

“Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind.”

This immortal line from the classic Christmas film, Miracle on 34th Street sums up my observations of the past few weeks. As the Holiday season goes into full tilt, we are bombarded with the familiar tropes. One, the need to buy gifts for loved ones either the immediate family or close friends, two, the hustle and bustle of trying to get the gifts, and three the trimmings, i.e. the tree, decorations, dinner etc; At the same time there is the classic fight within Christmas. Never have I seen a holiday that creates an inner turmoil that only star-crossed lovers, Woody Allen movies, and Hamlet get stuck with. It all started when the early Christians, who wanted to expand their flock placed Jesus’s birth near the winter solstice, an important holiday in Roman Empire. So important you sang song to your neighbors in the nude. In the short term, it was good idea Romans didn’t have to completely give up their holidays and made the conversion less shocking. However, the merriment that came when they merged the holiday’s together was something few would see coming 2,000 years later.

It’s this Vs….

This Images courtesy of flourishonline.com and puzzles-games.eu

In other words it’s always been a divide between Jesus’s birth and the gift giving merriment that came with it. It’s no wonder Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street feels squeezed. This also has led in the recent fight over two terms for the current season;

Whether to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays.’

If one were to say ‘Merry Christmas’ it acknowledges one holiday but we all know they are more than just one and ‘Happy Holiday’s’ tries to be the more inclusive phrase to say when multiple holidays share the week or month.

Yet the debate over whether or not we should use one or the other is at times both mystifying and silly.

The debate works out like this; those in favor of ‘Happy Holiday’s’ (HH), say that it benefits those who don’t normally celebrate or observe Christmas and prevents the crowding out  effect that Christmas often does to other holidays that are celebrated in the vicinity of Christmas such as Hanukah and Kwanza. It also reduces the risk of the assumption that everyone celebrates the same holiday.

On the other end of the spectrum those who favor ‘Merry Christmas’ (MC), say that one holiday does not equate the other and putting them all together makes them less meaningful. They also claim that choosing HH prohibits their freedom of speech and the expression of their faith. MC’s also argue that many other ethnic minority groups don’t grouse about saying HH and really don’t care one way or the other on the matter.

So to sum up the fight is between evangelical Christians against Atheists and those who prefer to be politically correct.

To be fair, evangelicals are trying to at least bring back the Christ in Christmas, who argue that the holiday has become too secular. At the same time however, those who advocate for HH say we do have to acknowledge that our world is no longer the one of Norman Rockwell like bliss and it would be foolish to think that Christmas is some sort of purity contest.

A few years back, the debate took a strange turn when a church in Dallas, which will remain anonymous, created a ‘Grinch Alert’ for businesses that did not use the word Christ, Santa or followed what they considered ‘traditional’ Christmas.

Those businesses who did not comply with these requirements were on their so-called naughty list and the church’s parishioners could avoid these place during the holiday season.

The businesses they went after included a local bank for not having a Christmas tree, a major airline for saying holiday’s too much and if that wasn’t enough, a cashier doomed an entire department store because him or her said ‘you too’ instead of saying MC to the customer back. Talk about getting scrooged

Others in the Dallas religious community immediately disagreed with the method of how the church attacked these businesses saying it made everyone look bad and proved once again that the U.S. Constitution is a two way street. If you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre, you definitely can’t tell half a city that they have to adhere to a standard for Christmas because you think you first amendment rights are being threatened. (Which I highly doubt the founding fathers thought it was going to get this personal).

I myself have often found myself torn between the two. I think personally we should alternate, one of the best things about Christmas is that you make your own traditions and never apologize for how you choose to celebrate. Of course, you choose to allow how you need Christmas in your life, just remember two things; it’s not a purity contest and keep your heart and head open.

After that is what Christmas is all about, the joy you pass on to others.

So Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyous Kwanzaa, Festivus for the rest of us and Winter Solstice if your Wicca. And have a Happy New Year!