Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bridge of the Week #12; Macombs Dam Bridge

This week's bridge is one that a lot of people might not have heard of, but is probably the most significant bridge in the history of New York sports, in at least three sports, not because of what takes place on the bridge, but because of what takes place, and has taken place, in the immediate vicinity on both sides. Macombs (rhymes with tombs) Dam Bridge is near landmarks in the worlds of baseball, football and road running.

The bridge itself spans the Harlem River between 155th St. in Manhattan and the southern end of Jerome Ave, near 161st St. in the Bronx. It was constructed from 1892-1895, is a swing bridge with a main span of 412 feet, and an overall length of 2,140 feet. Its approaches include a viaduct in Manhattan that stretches all the way on 155th St. to Edgecomb Ave./St. Nicholas Place, although there is pedestrian and vehicular access at Macomb's Place/7th Ave. On the Bronx side, there is pedestrian access immediately over the second truss at the Major Deegan onramp that leads to a grassy area (and eventually a pedestrian overpass at 161st St.), and then a sidewalk along a ramp to Ogden Ave./Jerome Ave. 161st St., stairway access to 161st St. and finally to Jerome Ave. proper. The bridge carries two lanes of traffic in each direction and has sidewalks on both sides. It carried an IRT trolley from 1907 until 1918, when a separate bridge, the Sedgwick Ave. Bridge, was built parallel to the Macombs Dam Bridge that carried an extension of the 9th Ave. elevated to connect to the Jerome Ave. el. This bridge was torn down in the early 1960's. When open, the bridge allows two navigable channels of 150 feet each. When closed, there is 25 feet of clearance over the Harlem River.

The bridge is named after Alexander Macomb, who bought a large tract of land on the Bronx shore, then part of Westchester County, in 1800. He built a grist mill on the Manhattan side of the river, and in 1814 built a dam/bridge at 155th St. to connect to his land and to power the mill. Growing public dissatisfaction with the obstacle to navigation and with the tolls collected on the dam led Lewis Morris of Westchester County to use his ship to ram a hole in the dam. Legal action eventually led to destruction of the dam and construction of a wood and iron turntable drawbridge (named the Central Bridge) in 1861, free from tolls. This bridge quickly fell into disrepair and despite reconstruction in the 1870's was replaced with the current iron bridge, which opened on May 1, 1895, and given the historic name Macombs Dam Bridge.

Very near the bridge on the Bronx side is a significant landmark in the history of running in New York City. Macombs Dam Park, between 161st St and 164th St, and River Ave. and Jerome Ave., was the home of the New York Pioneer Club, founded in 1936 by Joe Yancey and Ed Levy. The track there came to be named after Joe Yancey. Years before the integration of professional baseball, football or basketball, the Pioneer Club accepted all runners, and won many AAU national championships. On the same spot in 1958, the New York Road Runners Club was founded, and Ted Corbitt, a Pioneer Club member and Helsinki 1952 Olympic marathon runner, was named the first president. Many road races were held there, as a start/finish point, including the Cherry Tree Marathon from 1959 to 1970. This race was the precursor to the New York Marathon, which had its first running in Central Park in 1970. In 2008 Macombs Dam Park was razed to make way for the new Yankee Stadium, and it was a terrible shame to see it go. Supposedly there will be a park built on the site of the old Yankee Stadium across the street once it's completely demolished (not quite there yet a year and a half after the last game played there). Currently there is a new track and football/soccer field, named Joseph Yancey Track and Field, sitting atop a parking garage adjacent to the old stadium. Having been there, I must admit it's a pretty decent facility, with some bleachers and even some grass and trees planted, but still a patio is no substitute for a park.

The first sports facility in the area, though, would be the Polo Grounds, built on the Manhattan side at 155th St. and 8th Ave. in 1889. It was the location for a number of sports, oddly enough none of them being polo. It replaced the original polo grounds at 110th St. and Lenox Ave., just north of Central Park, (built in 1876) which was used originally for polo, and also New York's first professional baseball teams, the Metropolitans (1880-1885) and the Giants (starting in 1883 and originally called the Gothams), among other sporting activities. When the field was destroyed to complete the street grid, it was relocated at 155th St., in Coogan's Hollow, with Coogan's Bluff standing over. In 1890 a new ballpark was built just north of this field for a New York Giants baseball team of a separate league, the Brotherhood of Professional Base-Ball Players, the field named Brotherhood Park. This league lasted only one year, and in 1891 the original Giants moved into the new park, taking with them the name of the Polo Grounds, and the first field remained for other sports, and was named Manhattan Field. A fire at the stadium in 1911 required reconstruction, and temporary relocation of the Giants to Hilltop Park to the northwest in Washington Heights, home of the New York Yankees (then most often called the Highlanders). It was one of the first concrete and steel stadiums and named Brush Stadium after Giants owner John T. Brush, but the name didn't stick and by 1919 came to be called Polo Grounds again. In 1913 the Yankees moved to the Polo Grounds, sharing with the Giants until they built their own stadium across the river in 1923. In 1925 the New York Football Giants were founded and played at the Polo Grounds through 1955, after which time they moved across the river to Yankee Stadium, where they played until 1973 before moving to Yale University and Shea Stadium before settling for, I mean IN, New Jersey in 1976. After winning five world series titles at the Polo Grounds, the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957. The Polo Grounds lay basically empty for a few years until the founding of the football team New York Titans in 1960 (renamed the Jets in 1963) and the New York Mets in 1962. This was only intended as an interim home for the two teams while Shea Stadium was being built in Queens. After the 1963 seasons both teams moved to Shea and the Polo Grounds was demolished in 1964. Housing projects currently sit on the site.
Back on the Bronx side, Yankee Stadium was built in 1923 for the New York Yankees baseball team between 157th St. and 161st St., west of River Ave. Because of its age and because it doesn't have enough luxury boxes, Yankee Stadium was torn down (or is being torn down) and replaced with the new Yankee stadium which opened in 2009 on the site of Macombs Dam Park, as mentioned above, for approximately the same cost as the Burj Dubai (not that mob contracts have anything to do with that). For over 30 years the Yankees and the Giants had a healthy cross-river rivalry. Both the Polo Grounds and Yankee Stadium were also used for many other sporting and entertainment events, including boxing, college baseball and college football, soccer, Gaelic football, rock concerts and Papal Masses. There are plans to bring college football into the new Yankee Stadium, and perhaps even place a bowl game there.

So you can see that there is a very rich sports history in the areas surrounding Macombs Dam Bridge.

*Pics: 1. Macombs Dam Bridge main span; 2. Sidewalk on Macombs Dam Bridge; 3. Joseph Yancey track and Field; 4. Demolition of Yankee Stadium, 4-22-10; 5. Nearly abandoned stairway leading to old Polo Grounds from Edgecomb Ave: "The John T. Brush Stairway Presented by the New York Giants"

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bridge of the Week #11: Metropolitan Ave. Bridge, Grand St. Bridge

This week I'm putting two bridges together, since neither is very interesting and they're so close together - the Metropolitan Ave. Bridge and Grand St. Bridge. Both are located in east Williamsburg, Brooklyn, near or on the Queens border.

The Metropolitan Ave. Bridge is a double leaf drawbridge over English Kills, an offshoot of Newtown Creek which divides Queens and Brooklyn in the area of the East River. It's 33.8 meters long, and carries two lanes of traffic and has sidewalks on both sides. It is located at the meeting of Metropolitan Ave. and Grand St. in Brooklyn, and carries both streets across the water.

Continue east on Grand St. and the Grand St. Bridge will carry you across Newtown Creek into Queens. It is a swing bridge that opened in 1903. It is 69.2 meters long and carried two lanes of traffic and sidewalks on both sides. It affords stunning park views (industrial parks) and up-close interaction with exotic wildlife (junkyard dogs).
OK, not much going on here. But next week will be a special one for #12. Hint: it's probably the most significant bridge in New York for sports fans.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bridge of the Week #10: Williamsburg Bridge

For week #10, I thought a big bridge would be in order, so here's the Williamsburg Bridge. It connects Manhattan's lower east side at Delancey St. with the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, stretching across the East River. It was built from 1896-1903, and at its completion was the largest suspension bridge in the world, surpassing the Brooklyn Bridge (by four and a half feet), which was completed in 1883. Its main span is 1,600 feet and the total length is 7,308 feet, and it has 135 feet of clearance above the water.

It was the second bridge built over the East River after the Brooklyn Bridge - the Manhattan Bridge would come later. The towers are 310 feet tall, and were the first all-steel towers built for a suspension bridge. Reportedly, it was partially inspired by the designs of Gustav Eiffel. Unusual in a suspension bridge, the side spans are not suspended from cables but supported by steel arches underneath.

The Williamsburg Bridge originally carried six tracks of private railway trains and trolleys down the middle, two lanes of carriage traffic on either side, and pedestrian walkways above the tracks. The Long Island Railroad even used the tracks for a time, on a line that split from the Atlantic Avenue line at Broadway Junction, went along Broadway, across the bridge and down to Chambers Street. Today, much of this line, elevated in Brooklyn, underground in Manhattan, is the line for the J, M and Z subway trains, the only trains still using the bridge on its center tracks. The other four tracks were replaced by traffic lanes. There is supposedly still an abandoned underground terminal on the Manhattan side adjacent to the Essex St./Delancey St. subway station for some of those old streetcar lines.

Pedestrian access to the bridge in Manhattan is in the median on Delancey Street at Clinton St. (or a block west at Suffolk St.). Along the walkway's entire length the rosy red of the railings is a nice contrast to the steel gray of the bridge. The western (Manhattan) section of the walkway is wide and spacious. Before the first anchorage it splits in two sections, and stays in two parts all the way into Brooklyn. The north entrance in Brooklyn is at S. 5th St. and S. 5th Place at Washington Plaza. The south entrance is on Bedford Ave. just off S. 6th St. Every large bridge walkway has rules for pedestrians and bikes, and here the bikes are to keep on the right-hand side in each direction and pedestrians on the left-hand side, facing bicycle traffic. I don't run it enough to know if people follow that or not, but work has just started on cleaning and repainting the surface of the walkway and removing graffiti, and a new foot/bike traffic pattern may be a result. Scheduled partial closing of the walkway is expected to continue through June.

The Williamsburg area was originally a part of the town of Bushwick, and called Bushwick Shore. In the early 1800's a portion of it was surveyed by Colonel Jonathan Williams and named Williamsburgh in his honor (the H was later dropped). Williamsburgh expanded and seceded from teh Town of Bushwick in 1840. However, both Williamsburgh and Bushwick were annexed by the City of Brooklyn in 1852.

Points of interest near the bridge in Williamsburg are Peter Luger's world famous steak house at Broadway and Driggs, the old Williamsburgh Savings Bank building across the street (currently an HSBC Bank), and visible from the bridge on the shore are the recently-closed Domino Sugar factory on the north and the Brooklyn Navy Yards to the south.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 3, 2010 - Scotland Run 10K

Today was a beautiful sunny day for a 10K in Central Park - the 7th annual Scotland Run. This is the culmination of Scotland Week in New York, although I don't know what else goes on to celebrate Scotland. But certain dignitaries from Scottish government were on hand, as well as the Scottish band Whiskey Kiss, who played before and after the race.

At the beginning of any race, there's always a little bit of dread, knowing the pain you're going to have to put yourself through, and a 10K is no exception, since the pace will be so much faster than an ultra. And this race, coming just a week after the Queens 50K, I was worried about starting off fast and crashing after a few miles. But my race went well, and despite the heavy breathing I managed to keep under 6:00 per mile pace, and finished in 36:40, just 4 seconds off a PR! That may be a bit misleading, however, since that was three years ago, and I believe it was gun time, whereas now the NYRR records net time as the official time. But still much better than I had expected, and a time I'm very happy with, and squeaks me into the top 100 at 97th place overall. And it gives me hope that I still might have a sub-marathon PR in me yet at my advanced age!

I was also very proud of my West Side Runners teammates. We took seven of the top nine spots including winner Ketema Nigusse in 29:35!!! In fact, the top four finishers, three of whom were West Side Runners, all broke the previous course record! Congrats!

I had a good vantage point to watch the women's top finishers. Periodically I would hear bystanders shout to the women near me that they were the first women. I was running alongside one woman late in the race who I picked to be my favorite, for no real reason, and told her "You can catch her" referring to the woman about 20 yards ahead. Sure enough, she caught her, then the woman in front of that, and those were the top three women, so I'd like to think that I might have given some help to winner Stephanie Lenihan, who finished about 20 seconds ahead of me.

Interesting side note, nearby the lead women was a woman on bike whose job it was to clear the roadway for the lead women. Coming down Cat Hill at about 4 1/2 miles, I hear a thump and a big groan from the crowd nearby. I looked over to see her bike struggling as the remains of the squirrel clinged to her front tire as it went round. Not a pretty sight.

After the race, there was good music by Whiskey Kiss, some break dancers from Brooklyn (I don't understand the connection with Scotland, but who am I to argue), and raffle prizes. The prizes were cashmere gloves, other cashmere clothing items, and three trips to Scotland, none of which I won!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Bridge of the Week #9: Aqueduct Bridge

OK, this week I'm being lazy and writing about a bridge that you can't run over, but also the oldest bridge I'll be covering - the Aqueduct Bridge, more commonly known as the High Bridge. It crosses the Harlem River between roughly 173rd St. and Amsterdam in Manhattan (in High Bridge Park) and 170th St. and University Ave. in the Bronx.

The High Bridge was built from 1837 to 1848 to carry water into Manhattan along the Croton Aqueduct, originating at a reservoir built on the Croton River in Westchester County all the way to the old reservoirs in Central Park and at 42nd St. between 5th and 6th Avenues, current location of the main branch of the New York Public Library and Bryant Park. The entire bridge is 1,450 feet long and 114 feet clearance above the Harlem River. It was built with 15 stone arches, eight of 80 feet length and seven of 50 feet length. It has had a walkway that was opened in the 1860's, but the walkway was closed in 1960 due partly to disrepair and partly to people throwing rocks off it onto Circle Line boats passing underneath. Brilliant. There are plans to renovate the walkway and reopen it to pedestrians, tentatively in 2011. On the Manhattan side is a water tower built in 1872 to equalize the pressure on the aqueduct. The tower is open to visitors, I believe on weekends in July and August. The walkway and the surrounding area was apparently quite the place to be seen back in the day.

The Old Croton Aqueduct carried water over land in masonry structures by means of gravity, with a drop in elevation of 13 inches every mile. With the construction of the New Croton Aqueduct, and due to security concerns during World War I, the Old Croton Aqueduct ceased operations in 1917. At that time, the Army Corps of Engineers wanted to demolish the bridge to clear the river of its stone pillars for navigation, but preservationists succeeded in keeping the bridge, although the stone arches over the river were replaced in the 1920's by a single steel arch. The stone arches remain over land in the Bronx. Much of the old aqueduct pathway is still a footpath, particularly northward from Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.