of ”guests” from the past.
In yesterday’s New York Times, there was an item in the Streetscapes column about a room at 70 Pine Street from which you have extraordinary views of Lower Manhattan and New York Harbor. The article remarks on the beauty of Governors Island as seen from the 66th floor of the building and mentions:
A reporter for The New York Evening Post visited in July 1932 and noted that “Governors Island, with its unfulfilled promised of harbor prettiness, seems to ride at anchor almost at one’s feet.”
The view of the Island today is definitely different than it was in 1932 (there was no Picnic Point then and the southern part of the Island would not yet have become home to the non-historic Coast Guard era buildings that are there today); but it seems that even 80 years ago people couldn’t get enough of the great view of the Island.
Not only is the view of the Island remarkable, but so are the views from it. The Island’s perimeter roadway affords incredible views that can be seen whether you are walking or biking. Visitors to the Island can see the Statue of Liberty, Jersey City, Lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Brooklyn Waterfront and the Verrazzano Bridge, all in one trip around the 2.2 mile loop.
And while visitors today are experiencing these great views, visitors in the future will have even more opportunities to see New York Harbor and the surrounding land in ways they never had before. The Governors Island Park and Public Space Plan includes new hills from which visitors will be able to experience extraordinary, 360 degree panoramic vistas of the Harbor.
In less than two short months, you too can come over to the Island, get on a bike or take a walk and enjoy some of the great views.
Polo matches took place on Governors Island during the 20th century, mainly between World War I and World War II. The game returned to the Island once a season for the past few years with the Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic. Last year, more than 10,000 members of the public came out to see Prince Harry and Nacho Figueras play on the South Island Fields, where polo was historically played.
Usually it hurts our feelings when people say Governors Island is creepy or compare us to Shutter Island or Lost, but we’re going with it this week because ’tis the season to be spooky. We thought about retelling Megan Taylor’s self-rocking hobby horse story or the one about the baby ghost that tried to push a former collegue down the the stairs in the Admiral’s House. But if you’re a Coastie, Brat and or National Park Service Ranger, we bet you have even better ones, so we’re encouraging you to drop us a line in the comments section below. We double dare you. . .
Oldies But Goodies
As the 2010 season on Governors Island draws to a close, it is fun to look back at all the events and activities that this summer brought. While on the Island, have you ever paused to wonder how it would have been to spend a day recreating on Governors Island 100 years ago? Despite being a hard working Army headquarters, recreation did occur. Wonder no more, the following illustrates Governors Island’s lengthy history of fun!
Governors Island garden parties then.
Military drills then:
Fanciful costumes then:
Musical interludes then:
For all the exciting change on Governors Island, maybe some things remain the same…..
Governors Island visit is cheaper than in 1794 & other transportation tidbits
Yup, that’s right. A trip to Governors Island now costs you $.00, that’s $.03 less than you would have been charged in 1794 for a trip in a rowboat to help Governor Clinton construct the Island’s fortifications. Factoring in inflation, the fact that the US dollar didn’t exist, and the big improvement in boats — well, that’s trickier math than we need to do— that rowboat ride might cost you in the range of $2.00 today.
You can still paddle to the Island (if you are a Kayak owner) but transportation has improved. Those pricey rowboat rides were supplanted first by oar-powered barge ferries, then by steam tugs and finally by our beloved vehicle and passenger ferry, Coursen, which makes the daily runs to and from the Island and has done so since the early Coast Guard days.
Once you are on the Island, we’ve got bikes and we’ve got trams…but what we don’t have is a teeny tiny railroad. We once did! In 1918, the “world’s shortest railroad,” a locomotive and three flat cars on 1.75 miles of track was used to carry coal, machinery and supplies from the piers to shops and warehouses on the south island.
Thanks McKim. Thanks Mead. Thanks White
In the late 1870s a trio of architects joined together to form the firm McKim, Mead and White. The influences on their work were many but they had a taste for order and grandeur and were involved in a number of prominent urban design schemes as well as buildings. The team was behind the design of Columbia’s Morningside heights campus and they also had a sweeping vision for Governors Island.
In their vision, an entire new campus of formal buildings was laid out on the recently created south island. It retained only Castle Williams, Fort Jay, and the South Battery in the historic district. However the principals of the firm all died by the time a final plan was adopted in 1928 and much of the original scheme was abandoned.
Never the less, the influence of McKim, Mead and White is very evident, particularly in the construction of Building 400. The structure was the first permanent building built on the filled area. The architects did big and imposing really well. They were behind the sorely missing original Penn Station as well as the Brooklyn Museum, the Manhattan Municipal Building and the Boston Public Library, among others.
In addition, the imposing structures of Buildings 12, 333, 515 and 555 are all attributed to the firm. Many of the other structures were based on the original Beaux Arts plan developed by these architects.
The current and future island have much to offer; 2.2 mile promenade with harbor views, a green for picnicking, lounging and swinging while gazing at the Statue of Liberty, and a dynamic and exciting future park and open space. However, only one hundred years ago these places were part of the harbor. The original island comprised only what is now the historic district, north of the Colonels Row green. The island measured 69.4 acres, half of its current size.
At the end of the 19th century, military commanders were determined to expand Governors Island to accommodate a full regiment. Developments in Manhattan provided a way for this to occur. In the 1880s, New York City’s population boomed, creating the need for improved transportation systems. The military made arrangements with the City of New York to dump the fill created by the construction of the 4th Avenue subway, New York City’s first, at Governors Island. Between 1900, when construction of the subway began, and the project’s completion in 1912, the city deposited about 4,787,000 cubic yards of fill on the south side of the island, creating 103 acres of new land.
The initial expansion was created by the construction of a rip-rap bulkhead on each side of the proposed Island extension. The rip rap wall was an experimental engineering technique, but it was successful and the bulkhead enclosure was filled with the subway excavations and topped with a combination of clay and sand.
The increase in the Island’s size took place in the midst of a contentious battle between the City of New York and the federal government for the use of the Island. While plans to expand the military establishment on island proceeded, city officials dreamed of using the island in a host of different ways from an air strip to an immigrant processing center (a role eventually assigned to Ellis Island) and a city park. However, the military persevered and the new expanse of island was used for military staging and to house regiments.
During the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created to provide jobs for the country’s masses of unemployed. Part of this initiative was the Federal Arts Program (FAP), giving employment to countless artists and craftspeople. Many Governors Island buildings were updated or expanded as part of the WPA program, and Pershing Hall benefited from a FAP commission to Tom Loftin Johnson for murals to adorn its principal hallways.
Johnson’s 90 foot mural in Pershing Hall depicts American military history. A close look at these detailed murals reveals many notable national characters, some with particular connections to Governors Island:
A host of less well- known figures can also be found and a heap of symbolism:
Pershing Hall will be open to the public August 7-8 for the African Film Festival. Check out this excellent event and take a look at the fantastic murals while you are there.