V is for Veterans

Located at 55 Water Street, Manhattan, New York
Website:  https://www.vietnamveteransplaza.com/

Vietnam Veterans Plaza

The central focus of the Vietnam Veterans Plaza, created as a lasting memorial to New Yorkers who served their country during the Vietnam War, is a wall made up of glass blocks, on which are engraved excerpts from letters written by the men and women fighting the war in Vietnam. When you consider that the average age of a GI in Vietnam was 19, you can imagine the feelings expressed in these letters. It is heartrending to read some of them. At the website, you can actually read these letters; click on the photo below and then on the website, just click on a name.

The Vietnam Veterans Plaza, on a 90,000 square foot plot overlooking the East River, was opened in 1985. In 1982, then New York City Mayor Edward Koch campaigned for a memorial to honor the 250,000 men and women of New York City who served in the United States armed forces from 1964 to 1975, and especially the 1,741 who lost their lives in Vietnam. He established a 100-member commission to create a memorial that would reflect the conflicting emotions of the Vietnam War. 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Commission raised money from private donations to finance the memorial. The same year, a mayoral task force selected Jeannette Park (previously named in honor of The Jeannette, the flagship of an ill-fated Arctic Expedition) as the future site for the memorial.

The winning design, by architects Peter Wormser, William Fellows, and writer/veteran Joseph Ferrandino, is a wall of translucent glass blocks, on which are engraved excerpts of letters, poems, and diary entries written by men and women of the armed forces, as well as news dispatches. A granite shelf runs along the base of the monument, on which visitors often place tokens of remembrance.

To fill the glass blocks, the commission sought words written during the years of the Vietnam War. Some 3,000 letters, poems and diary entries were submitted from across the country, and excerpts from more than 80 of those submissions were chosen for the memorial. Excerpts from 83 letters are etched in the memorial’s glass block and granite wall, 70 feet long and 16 feet high. The wall is lighted by an interior lighting system.

Mayor Koch dedicated the Memorial on the evening of the tenth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam era in May 1985.

In 2001 Vietnam Veterans Plaza underwent a $7 million restoration and redesign that transformed the site. The Friday before Veterans Day 2001 was selected for the rededication of the reconstructed plaza.

The plaza currently features a ceremonial entrance that provides access through the site from Water to South Street. At the stepped design’s center is a round, black granite fountain that forms a curtain of water. 

The ‘Walk of Honor’, a series of twelve polished granite pylons with the names of all 1,741 United States military personnel from New York who died as a result of their service in Vietnam, leads to the memorial wall. When I visited last in October 2022, the site was undergoing repairs and some areas were not accessible to the public.

A compilation of letters and poems received by the commission for consideration to be included on the memorial was published under the title Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam. 

The publication of the book coincided with the dedication of the memorial. The book offers context for the excerpts of the letters and poems selected for inscription on the Memorial. In all, 208 pieces written by 125 people were chosen for inclusion.

26 Apr 2023

U is for Union

Located at E 14 Street to E 17 Street in Manhattan, New York
Park Website:  https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/union-square-park

Union Square Park

Union Square Park is a bustling city park, a center of activities and events and home to the largest green market in New York City. 

The park gets its name from its location… at the union or intersection of two major roads, Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue). The park, named Union Place initially, was designed on the lines of the fashionable residential squares of London and opened to the public on July 19, 1839.

As New York City’s downtown expanded northward, Union Square became an important commercial and residential center, with houses, hotels, stores, banks, offices, manufacturing establishments, and a variety of cultural facilities coming up around it. One of my personal favorites in the area is the ’18 miles of books’ at the Strand Book Store!

The grounds of Union Square have frequently served as a choice location for public meetings, including parades, labor protests, political rallies. By the early 1880s, Union Square was a hotspot for the political life of the city. On September 5, 1882, New York City’s Union Square was the location of the first recorded Labor Day parade in America. 

The parade represented broad swaths of New York and New Jersey labor organizations and ensured that all trades had proper representation at the event, from bricklayers to jewelers to cigar makers. 

With the overwhelming turnout and the deep significance of the parade, enthusiasm for the establishment of a Labor Day holiday increased. In 1884, the first resolutions were passed to solidify Labor Day as a state-wide holiday. The federal Labor Day holiday was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland in 1894.

In 1997 the United States Department of the Interior designated Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark because of its significance in American labor history. 

The park has undergone numerous redesignings and improvements over the years. In 1872 the park was redesigned by landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. In the 1920 and 30s, improvements took place including dedication of the Independence Flagstaff at the center of the park. 

The flagstaff, commemorating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, has intricate bas-reliefs and plaques that feature a procession of allegorical figures representing democracy and tyranny, the text of the Declaration of Independence, and emblems from the original 13 colonies. 

There are several other monuments in the park too, including an equestrian statue of George Washington, a bronze larger than life statue of Abraham Lincoln and a statue of the leader of Indian independence struggle Mohandas Gandhi on a traffic island on the southwest of the main park.

Take a look at the events happening in Union Square Park.

Union Square Park hosts New York City’s largest greenmarket where farmers sell what they grow, raise, catch, and bake locally. It is operated year-round by GrowNYC and is held four times a week – Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 8 AM to 6 PM. The stalls are located on Union Square Park’s north and west plazas and sell everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, heritage meats and award-winning farmstead cheeses, artisan breads, jams, pickles, a profusion of cut flowers and plants, wine, ciders, maple syrup and more.

25 Apr 2023

T is for Theodore

Located at 28 East 20th Street, New York, NY 10003
Museum Website:  https://www.nps.gov/thrb/index.htm

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, a brownstone townhouse, is where Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, lived from his birth on October 27, 1858 until he was 14 years old. The museum is designed as a memorial and place to interpret Roosevelt’s ideals and legacies. The site opened to the public on October 27, 1923. 

The museum building contains five period rooms: the parlor, library, dining room, nursery, and master bedroom, two museum galleries a library, auditorium, storage, and a bookstore.

Museum galleries are filled with Roosevelt memorabilia and exhibits pertaining to Roosevelt’s life, career, and politics. The collections include manuscripts, published books and articles, cartoons, and photographs, as well as many of Roosevelt’s letters and journals. Also included are original historic objects and furnishings from Roosevelt’s childhood home, as well as other objects from his later life.

The library is filled with a collection of Roosevelt books and other research material. 

The Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace was established as a national historic site in 1962 and donated to the National Park Service in 1963. 

The house gives the definite impression that it belonged to a wealthy family, with flowing silk curtains and expensive furniture and chandeliers. While all the period pieces of furniture and decorations are heirlooms, the original home, was demolished in 1916, after the family moved uptown and the building was used for commercial purposes for a number of years.

After Roosevelt’s death in 1919, the site was purchased by the Women’s Roosevelt Memorial Association, rebuilt and decorated with many of its original furnishings by Roosevelt’s sisters and wife.

The reconstruction of the birthplace was designed by one of America’s first female architects, Theodate Pope Riddle. 

The reconstruction of the exterior and the period rooms within it was based on the memories of Theodore Roosevelt’s sisters and wife.They were instrumental in determining spatial configuration, wall and floor finishes, furnishings, and furniture placement in the rooms. The restoration was also based on house descriptions from Roosevelt’s autobiography and the townhouse next door that had belonged to Roosevelt’s uncle and was still extant when the reconstruction began. Original elements from that home, which was identical to the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, were incorporated into the reconstructed home. 

Called Teedie as a youngster, he started life as a sickly yet bright boy who exercised to improve his health and began a lifelong passion for the ‘strenuous life’. 

Under President Theodore Roosevelt, congress passed the Antiquities Act in 1906, which authorizes the President to declare, by public proclamation, historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest situated on federal lands as national monuments.

After becoming president in 1901, Roosevelt used his authority to establish 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, four national game preserves, five national parks and 18 national monuments on over 230 million acres of public land. Today, the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt is found across the country.

The story of how a sitting president of the United States got associated with the most popular children’s plush toy starts when the president, on a hunting trip in 1902, refused to shoot a captive bear. And the story was published far and wide. Morris Michtom and his wife Rose, Brooklyn business people, had the idea to create a stuffed toy bear and dedicate it to the president who refused to shoot a bear. After receiving Roosevelt’s permission to use his name, the toy was mass produced, becoming famous all over the world as the Teddy Bear.

He is one of the four presidents the country honored and immortalized on Mount Rushmore. 

Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 “for his role in bringing to an end the bloody war recently waged between two of the world’s great powers, Japan and Russia”.

His reputation as an outdoorsman, naturalist, rancher, and conservationist has earned him a unique place in our country’s history. The motto on his Coat of Arms says: Qui plantavit curabit – He who planted will preserve.

24 Apr 2023

S is for Snug

Located at 1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, NY 10301
Website:  https://snug-harbor.org/

Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden

Located on the north shore of Staten Island, Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden consists of extensive parkland grounds and gardens with meandering idyllic walks.

The architecturally classic buildings located in the park house various institutions like the Staten Island Museum, Noble Maritime Collection, and the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art.

A Smithsonian affiliate, Snug Harbor presents seasonal arts and crafts exhibitions and performances, all year round.

Snug Harbor has an interesting history. It was originally built as a home for retired sailors, with the name Sailors’ Snug Harbor.

In 1801 Captain Robert Richard Randall had bequeathed his Manhattan estate, in his will, for the purpose of starting a marine hospital for aged, decrepit and worn-out seamen. However, by the time arrangements could be made to build the home, the Manhattan location was not suitable and the trustees opted for Staten Island as the best choice. And the Sailors’ Snug Harbor, a name suggested by Randall himself, was founded in 1831.

The first building opening in 1833, with 37 occupants. As the number of people seeking refuge grew, more buildings were added, including a chapel, music hall, and more dormitories.

Over the next century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor expanded from its original three buildings to 50 structures and 900 residents from every corner of the world. By the turn of the 20th century, Sailors’ Snug Harbor was reputedly the richest charitable institution in the United States and a self-sustaining community with farms, a dairy, a bakery, workshops, a power plant, a chapel, a sanatorium, a hospital, a concert hall, dormitories, recreation areas, gardens, and a cemetery.

In the mid-20th century, the Randall endowment started to run out. Also, the number of residents also was going down as programs like Social Security and Medicare provided a financial safety for retired sailors. Several buildings at Snug Harbor were demolished in the early 1950’s as they were in disrepair.

In the 1960s, steps were taken to save the main buildings from demolition. The five main buildings, built in the Greek Revival style, were designated as New York City’s first landmark structures. They are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the early 1970s the dilapidated Snug Harbor had become economically nonviable, and the Trustees decided to move the home to North Carolina. Major parts of the land, including the area of the landmarked buildings, were sold to the City of New York.

Following the recommendation of the committee, appointed a committee to investigate uses and develop a strategy for the site, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center was set up in 1975. It was opened to the public on September 12, 1976. The first art exhibit at the site opened in November, 1977.

Today Snug Harbor consists of 28 buildings, fourteen distinctive botanical gardens, a two acre urban farm, wetlands and park land on a unique, free, open campus.

It is home to the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, Staten Island Museum, Staten Island Children’s Museum, Noble Maritime Collection, Art Lab, Children’s Harbor Montessori School, and Staten Island Conservatory of Music, entries to some of which are ticketed.

The different gardens, Rose Garden, Pond Garden, Perennial Garden, Herb Garden, Healing Garden, Potager Garden, Shade Garden, etc., are main attractions of the place, along with the several beautiful walks.

The Music Hall, built in 1892, hosts year-round concerts, dance and dramatic performances, film and video series, and poetry and fiction readings. 

The Newhouse Galleries exhibit contemporary art, and the Botanical Garden is one of the largest in the New York area, complementing the Connie Gretz Secret Garden and the New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden.

The New York Chinese Scholar’s Garden is one of two authentic classical outdoor Chinese gardens in the United States.

Based on Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) gardens, it is a compilation of different gardens in China. All the architectural components of the garden were fabricated in Suzhou, China, including roof and floor tiles, columns and beams, doors and windows, bridges and paving materials.

Snug Harbor’s Heritage Farm was established in October of 2011 to help the local community.

A 2.5-acre production farm, it uses sustainable, low-till farming practices that focus on building soil health through the use of compost, crop rotation, intercropping, and cover cropping. In 2021, the Heritage Farm grew over 22,000 pounds of produce, donating around 4,000 lbs of produce to local community.

Over 250,000 people a year visit Snug Harbor, enjoying its many amenities. 

Snug Harbor’s educational programs complement and add diversity to conventional classroom curriculum.


Funny story… The mosaic on the upper pavilion incorporates broken pieces of rice bowls, representing China, and broken beer bottles, representing America. The craftspeople wanted to incorporate both materials as a symbol of harmony and unity between the two nations.

22 Apr 2023

R is for Rockefeller

Located at 45 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10111
Website:  https://www.rockefellercenter.com/

  Rockefeller Center 

Rockefeller Center is a commercial complex that currently consists of 19 buildings, 12 of them part of the original layout. It also provides a venue for events, art exhibitions, dining as well as shopping. Rockefeller Center has been referred to as a ‘city-within-a-city’.

In 1929, industrialist John D. Rockefeller Jr. signed a long-term lease for the site on which the Center stands, which was owned at the time by Columbia University. Once considered prime real estate, the site had deteriorated since the real estate boom of the late 19th century, and the building of the Sixth Avenue elevated train.

In the late 1920s Rockefeller sought to revitalize the area. The Metropolitan Opera House was expected to occupy a newly built home for it on the land, but the economic downturn, following the stock market crash of 1929, prevented the Opera House from going forward with the plans.

Rockefeller continued with the project, opting to create an exclusive commercial complex. In 1931, construction of Rockefeller Center began, and the 12 original buildings were completed in 1940. Throughout the Depression, the construction of the Center provided jobs for thousands of laborers and helped sustain the building industry in New York City.

The Center is laid out between the Fifth and Sixth Avenues, from 48th Street to 51st Street. Most noticeable about the Rockefeller Center is the beauty and harmony that is visible inside the buildings as well as outside. 

The pedestrian promenade area, the Channel Gardens, designed to lead visitors to a cascade of stairs that descend to the brightly colored, international flag-draped Sunken Plaza, is the most tourist-attracting and recognized locale in the Center. The Channel Gardens consist of six granite pools, each with bronze-cast fountainhead sculptures of Tritons, Nereids and sea creatures. Seasonal decorations adorn these pools and surroundings.

The plaza functions as an ice skating rink in the winter and an outdoor dining spot during the warmer seasons. 

The exteriors of all of the original complex’s buildings, as well as the interiors of the International Building’s and 30 Rockefeller Plaza’s lobbies, were granted landmark status on April 23, 1985.

The frieze above the main entrance to the front entrance of the Comcast Building, known as 30 Rock for 30 Rockefeller Plaza, was executed by Lee Lawrie and depicts Wisdom, along with a slogan that reads ‘Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times’, a biblical quote. The central figure represents Wisdom, who rules over man’s knowledge and interprets the laws of nature. Wisdom grasps a compass that points to the light and sound waves carved on the cast pyrex screen below. Made of 240 glass blocks, the screen is a technical and artistic masterpiece.

The Rockefeller Center is full of symbolic mythological characters who exemplify power and strength, and willfulness. There is Prometheus, who steals fire from heaven for mankind, presiding over the skating rink and there is Atlas, the Titan who taught man astronomy, a tool used by sailors to navigate the seas, and one used by farmers to measure the seasons, in front of the International Building. If you look around there are many more such icons inside and outside the Rockefeller Center buildings.

The dominating sculpture of Atlas, designed by Lee Lawrie, weighing 14,000 pounds, is the largest sculptural work in the Center. He stands 15-feet tall atop a 9-foot high pedestal. The exaggerated physical features cast in bronze are a fine example of the Art Deco style. What’s odd about Atlas is what he’s supporting on his shoulders -not the earth, as in the original myth, but a representation of the heavens.

The murals showing the evolution of machinery, the eradication of disease, the abolition of slavery, and the suppression of war, by José Maria Sert are displayed in the lobby on the 50th Street side, on the walls and the ceiling. The center ceiling mural is called Time.

No mention of the Rockefeller Center will be complete without a few words about Christmas at the Center. The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center is THE Christmas Tree for most New Yorkers, signaling the start of the season. An estimated 500,000 people visit Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree each day during the holiday season.

In 1931, men working on the excavation for Rockefeller Center put up the site’s first Christmas tree. The workers decorated a 20-foot balsam fir using garlands made by their families and the tinfoil ends of blasting caps. The site of their celebration was situated on the same area of the plaza where the tree is now raised each year.

In 1933, Rockefeller Center decided a tree would be the perfect way to celebrate the Center, and an annual tradition was born.

And the skating rink comes to life with the backdrop of Prometheus and the Christmas Tree!

21 Apr 2023