Monday, August 23, 2010

The Eye of the Beholder

“I know up on the top you are seeing great sights, but down at the bottom we, too, should have rights."
~ Dr. Seuss, Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories

It's not that my neighborhood lacks scenic attractions. The view of the New York City skyline is breathtaking.

You can find places where the sky is so vast and beautiful, it's like brushing up against eternity.

But Hunter's Point, Queens, was never designed to be scenic. This was a working person's neighborhood. As recently as twenty years ago, it teemed with factories, foundries and steelyards. The original residences were humble, initially populated by immigrants from Italy and Ireland and later from Latin America.

Although gentrification has come to the waterfront, the neighborhood's rugged history is still on display.

Sunnyside Yards is the spot where the Long Island Railroad, Amtrak and NYC Transit converge. Thousands of commuters rocket through here on their way to somewhere else every day.

We also have inexplicable architecture.

What were they thinking?

One might ask the same question of the people who built this new high rise with girders jutting out from the front; surely they interfere with the view from within.

Or how about the building on the left, which offers balconies overlooking a fume-generating Queensboro Bridge off-ramp and completely ignores the skyline view to the west?

At least we have the rooftop water towers that have always been one of my favorite sights in New York City; when I was young, I dreamed of living in one. Our local abundance is only fitting since the Rosenwach Group, which makes most of them, is also in the area.

The local court house, first built in the 1880s and then rebuilt in 1904 following a fire, is pretty enough in the conventional way to be called scenic.

If you have seen Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man, then you have seen Henry Fonda inside the jail that once stood behind this court house. (It was turned into a municipal parking garage fifteen or so years ago, although the foundation walls still stand.)

This is the amazing 5Pointz, a monument to graffiti that offers some of its best views to people riding the 7 train. Every year when the U.S. Open is in Flushing, the train fills up with out-of-towners and first-time visitors erupt with gasps as they pass it.

Space Womb, a gallery across the street from MoMA's PS 1, continues to look a bit peculiar no matter how often one sees it. I think that's for the best.

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."
~ Jonathan Swift


  1. Great post! Some wonderful observations. And it brings back a lot of memories. My very first place in NYC was on the edge of Sunnyside/Long Island City (1980...gasp!) ...before I ended up in DUMBO.

  2. Thanks, Walt. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    I've lived here since 1981, and after changing not-at-all for years, the area has mutated dramatically in the past five or ten. But it sounds like you got into Dumbo before it became prohibitively expensive — great move, literally and figurative. What a great area. I was there on Saturday, in fact, for a friend's wedding at Galopagos Art Space.