Thursday, September 17, 2009


Abandoned almost four decades ago this rectangular structure sat locked in the waters off 26th street, a stark reminder of a time when commerce dominated the Hudson River waterfront. Complete with train tracks and supported on both sides by ten-foot high X- beams this 50 foot long anomaly, with thick decaying weather-beaten wooden piles and rusted steal sidings, pops up out of the water angled towards the esplanade like a sea-monster ready to snatch unsuspecting joggers and walkers.

But for advocates of the new Hudson River Park, the 26th Street railroad transfer bridge had a significant role in the port's commercial history, one important enough to preserve and incorporate into the plans for the park.

In stepped Noreen Doyle and Mike Bradley of the Hudson River Park Conservancy, the predecessor of the Hudson River park Trust, and Ed Kirkland, longtime Chelsea resident, preservationist and member of Community Board 4 who recognized the bridge’s historical importance and took action. About ten years ago they spearheaded a move to refurbish the bridge and secured a $650,000 federal grant. In December 2001 the bridge returned to the waters off 26th street a beneficiary of three quarter of million dollars worth of repairs at a Staten Island shipyard.

"When I first moved to New York I remember how fascinated I was watching train cars pulled off the barge and into the Starrett-Lehigh Building where the Lehigh Valley Railroad used the ground floor as a huge enclosed freight yard," Kirkland said.

The 26th transfer bridge and car float, once owned by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad
served as a terminus for barges carrying freight cars across the Hudson until 1973. Barges departed from B & O's mainland terminal in Jersey City and also from St. George, Staten Island to 26th Street.

In 1890 B & O purchased a small portion of land on 24th to 26th streets, across Twelfth Avenue from the river and built a small freight yard, now partly occupied by a U.S Postal Maintenance Facility and NYC Sanitation Garage. It also gave the railroad a presence in New York City.

Barges carrying rail cars moved across the river assisted by tugboats. The tugs helped line the barges up with the transfer bridge. This required pinpoint accuracy. The tugs often needed several attempts to connect the barge with the bridge. Tide levels and strong currents often hampered this coupling since the transfer bridge sat on a pontoon, a flotation-type structure similar to a large flat-bottomed boat or barge. Workers then had the dangerous job of manually fastening the two structures together by hammering pins into connecting holes.

Railroad tracks ran across Twelfth Avenue extending from the transfer bridge to the B & O freight yard. A diesel engine usually pulled an empty freight car and greeted the barge at the bridge. Then the diesel engine backed the empty freight car down the ramp that was attached to the bridge. Workers then hooked the empty car with the lead car on the barge. The diesel engine pulled the freight cars off the barge and across the street to the freight yard.

Up until the 1950 barges ferried over 100,000 rail cars across New York harbor. New York Central had probably the largest operation on the west side. They had transfer stations and yards at 30th, 60th and 130th Streets. The railroad even had 13 miles of track in Manhattan. This included the elevated rail line High Line (now the upscale High Line Park) that ran parallel to Tenth Avenue in Chelsea. The car float link, also known as the New York Cross Harbor Railroad provided Manhattan with a vital link with the rest of North America. It eliminated the need for trains to travel hours north of the city to reach a train bridge and cross the Hudson.

Today only one rail-freight float remains in the city. It transports almost several thousand rail cars between Jersey City and Sunset Park Brooklyn. Hauling freight by rail declined with the push toward automobiles and tractor-trailer. Interest in shuttling freight by train has increased as a way of easing vehicular traffic and reducing air pollution.

Renovations to the rail bridge, at pier 66A, included pedestrian walkways. The bridge connects to a former car float barge, built in 1946 for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad. The barge used to carry rail cars across the Hudson and is now home the historic lightship Frying Pan and the John J. Harvey fireboat. Built in 1931 the Harvey is considered one of the most powerful fireboats in the history of the NY Fire Department and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Maritime Bar & Grill and an old Erie Lackawanna caboose are also on the barge.

The transfer bridge is adjacent to Pier 66 and boathouse home to NY River Sports which sponsors Hudson River Community Sailing; New York Kayak Polo; Manhattan Kayak and New York Outrigger

About the bridge Kirkland said "Granted it looks strange but it is an impressive structure that allows us to understand how the waterfront worked and offers us a wonderful insight in its history in connection with the river."

Photo by Rudi Papiri

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


He is baseball’s forgotten home run champion. Regarded as one of the great sluggers of the 19th century Roger Connor’s major league career home run record stood for 24 years until Babe Ruth passed him in 1921. When Ruth hit his 139th homer, Conner’s name was never mentioned. Baseball finally recognized Connor’s record two years after Henry Aaron passed Ruth in 1974.

Who was Roger Connor? Born of Irish immigrant parents in Waterbury, Connecticut Connor had the rock hard body of a Connecticut farm boy. At 6’3” and 220 lbs, Connor was a powerful left-handed hitting first baseman.

Connor played eighteen years in the majors and began his career with Troy in upstate New York in 1880 at the age of 22. He arrived in New York three years later and teamed with future Hall of Fame players Buck Ewing and John Montgomery Ward. In 1885 the team was so good manager Jim Mutrie bragged about “my giants!”

Connor led the league in home runs only once when he banged a career high 17 in 1887. He hit 14 the next year, his second highest total. Overall he hit 138 homers during his career. His numbers pale in comparison to Bonds, Ruth and Aaron but Connor’s strength was legendary. He hit the first grand slam in major league history. He was the first and only player ever to hit an over-the-wall home run in the Polo Grounds, the original one, at 110th Street and Fifth Avenue. His monstrous blast sailed over the right-field fence, over rows of spectators and a two-story-high billboard and landed on 112th Street.

According to an account in The Sporting News “members of the New York Stock Exchange, occupying box seats, were so smitten by the Herculean clout that they took a collection for the slugger. When the contributions were totaled, the fans were able to present a $500 gold watch to their hero.”

Connor was not the typical lumbering first baseman. A gifted all-round five-tool player, long before another Giant made the label famous, Connor had great speed and good hands and was very adept at digging balls out of the dirt.

A lifetime .317 hitter, Connor led the league with a .371 average in 1885. His 233 triples placed him fifth on the all-time list. He led the league twice and had a high of 25 in 1894. He had 15 or more triples in a season nine times. Connor hit 441 doubles and stole 244 stolen bases including 43 in 1887. Known as a clutch hitter, Connor knocked in 1322 runs in his career. He topped the 100 mark four times.

Connor retired in 1897 at the age of 39. He played ten years with the Giants/Gothams (the franchise was known as the Gothams before changing its name to Giants). As a member of the newly formed players union Connor jumped to the Players league for one year.

He retired to Waterbury and managed several minor league teams. He died in 1931. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Imagine going to the roof of your apartment or office building to pick out fresh vegetables instead of trekking to Whole Foods, Fairway or the nearest farmers market. If this idea sounds far-fetched then you must visit the Science Barge docked at the newly built Pier 84 in Hudson River Park and see urban sustainable farming first-hand.

In a 1300 square foot greenhouse built on the barge Ted Caplow and his small, dedicated staff of environmental professionals grow enough cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, herbs, swish chard and lettuce to feed 25 people. They use no pesticides or fertilizers to pollute the environment. Rainwater and Hudson river water is purified and re-circulated. In fact the Barge emits no carbon dioxide emissions while growing more food on less space, using much less water and no soil. A mix of coconut husks and rice hulls are used instead of soil.

Caplow, who has a PH.D in environmental engineering founded New York Sun Works in 2004, a nonprofit organization whose mission is promoting sustainability through hydroponics agriculture, water recycling and renewable energy.

The Science Barge arrived in May 2007 and held its opening ceremony on Pier 84, at 44th Street and 12th Avenue. Caplow said the food we buy travels a long way to reach us. It takes a lot of energy and fuel to grow and transport food to urban markets where almost 80 percent of people live worldwide.

"We buy vegetables from California and Mexico, fruit from Florida, beef from Colorado or Argentina. Even bottled water comes from Fujii," Caplow said. "Food has a large environmental impact. Agriculture consumes the majority of the world's fresh water. Crop fertilizers, pesticides and other wastes pollute our streams. These pollutants eventually wind up in the sea. This has created dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay and in the Long Island Sound."
According to Caplow in twenty-five years the city's population will expand by one million. Today in order to feed metro New York's 20 million people we need an area the size of Wyoming.

Speaking before a crowd of a few hundred people which included State Assemblyman Tom Duane, economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and Connie Fishman, President of the Hudson River Park Trust all of whom spoke at the ceremony, Caplow said "We place increasingly huge demands on the countryside for food, water and power. If we do nothing the landscape will struggle to keep up with these demands. We risk blackouts, water and even food shortages."

Since land in the city is scarce and costly Caplow envisions urban farming moving up above the urban landscape. The barge is a start. Sustainable farming is necessary if we are to meet the challenges of feeding a growing population without further destroying the environment.

"There is enough existing rooftop space in New York City to grow enough fresh vegetables for the entire population," Caplow said.

The greenhouse is on a refurbished 60 year-old barge. There is also an outdoor growing area and classroom space. The program also demonstrates three renewable energy technologies. Solar panels, installed on a passive tracker follow the sun across the sky and catches energy from the sun’s rays which generates electricity. Five-wind turbines also generate power. Biofuels and waste vegetable oil runs the generator.

For the past three years thousands of school children, tourists and those interested in sustainable farming have toured The Science Barge at Pier 84, Riverside Park at West 72nd Street, Stuyvesant Cove Park at East 23rd Street and other locations.

The Science Barge is now in Yonkers, New York. Groundwork Hudson Valley (GHV) runs and organizes programming. For information about tours visit the Groundwork Hudson Valley website.

Photo by Rudi Papiri


Broadway's longest running show does not have elaborate costumes or a dazzling multi-million dollar set. Its marquee is not adorned with bright lights and large photographs promoting its star performers. Limousines and taxis do not jostle for position curbside.

Except for a small banner decorated with shades of yellow, purple, blue and a small
red heart held by two hands, it is easy to walk past Encore.
If you do you are missing the theater district's most important act.

Located in the lower level of St. Malachy's Church, formerly the Actor's Chapel, Encore bills itself as "Broadway's longest running act of loving car." It serves low-income elderly living in Clinton and Times Square. Founded in 1977 by the late Reverend George Moore, pastor of St. Malachy's, and Sisters Elizabeth Hasselt, the center's executive director, and Lillian McNamara, head of senior services, this nondenominational center began modestly serving twenty-five meals a day. Today Encore's breakfast and lunch program feeds more than 430 people daily, delivers another weekends.

Sister Lillian remembers the early days. "We used to get food from Horn & Hardart on 57th Street and carry it back," she said.

Conceived as a place for seniors to escape the squalid apartments in run-down tenements and dingy crime-ridden single room occupancies, Encore is clean, safe and friendly. When asked why St. Malachy's geared their ministry to helping the elderly Sister Lillian said, "Father Moore pounded the pavement. He met with block associations, community groups, churches and discovered many elderly lived in substandard conditions."

Encore is more than a place to chat and eat. It is filled with friends, neighbors and caring professionals. Social workers, a part-time nurse and scores of volunteers treat seniors with respect and dignity.

Sidney Friedman, a retired postal clerk and a nine- year resident of Encore 49, a residence run by the center, stayed at the Bellevue Men's Shelter shortly before moving here. "I like this place very much. It is safe, very comfy, very proper," he said. Mr. Friedman a trained concert pianist who studied at Juilliard added "And I can practice my music. We have a piano here and at the center. I play Broadway show tunes and popular hits at our parties."

Encore provides support services for homebound seniors, which enables them to live independently. Forced to remain at home due to fragile health, often impoverished, without family or friends, these forgotten seniors cannot shop, cook, clean or tend to their medical needs alone.

Encore programs are geared for these seniors. The Friendly Visiting Program matches volunteers, often-younger professionals with seniors. They are asked to visit their new friends weekly - talk, go for walks or read to those with failing eyesight. Tied in with this are Meals-on-Wheels, the Shop and Escort and Telephone Assurance Programs, whereby callers check in twice a week.

Encore has expanded substantially since it first opened twenty-five years ago. It administers an array of programs, social events and services to over 14,000 seniors annually. Encore offers weekly classes in painting and crafts. Seniors take Yoga, Shiatsu, Tai Chi and aerobics. There are dances, birthday and holiday celebrations, movies and concerts. The Schubert Organization and the theater community assist Encore. Seniors receive free tickets to Broadway and off-Broadway shows.

Encores full-time on-site certified social workers provide one-on-one benefits and entitlement counseling. They help with Medicare, Medicaid, housing, financial and legal matters such as living wills. There are crisis intervention and mental health services. The Bridge Project provides bereavement and grief support.

Long an advocate for decent and affordable housing Encore opened a SRO style residence in 1989 in the Markwell Hotel on West 49th Street. Home to 89 formerly homeless seniors, this safe, well-maintained facility provides an array of support services that helped residents move from life on the streets and shelters. The newly built Encore West Residence, Tenth Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets provides housing for 84 low-income seniors.

"There is a desperate need for decent and affordable housing for senior and low-income families in our area," Sister Lillian said. "Seniors live on fixed incomes. They cannot afford exorbitant rents. Often they cannot even afford to buy food.
"Encore is a model of how it can and should be done," Sister Lillian said. "We treat the senior as a complete human being. A person needs food but also decent housing and services. And that's our mission."

For information contact Encore Senior Center, at Saint Malachy’s Church, 239 West 49th Street, NYC; 212-581-2910

Photo: By Rudi Papiri


Is the NYPD really like the Mayberry PD? You may think I am joking or inhaling some really good stuff.

Remember Mayberry, the fictional North Carolina town from the 1960’s Andy Griffith show. Mayberry, a friendly and sleepy place had a two person police department starring Andy Griffith, as Sheriff Taylor, and his incompetent comic sidekick Don Knotts, as Barney Fife.

Mayberry was more about Otis Campbell, the town drunk checking himself in-and-out of jail to sleep off the effects of his binges before heading home. It was more about Barney handcuffing himself to the sheriff’s desk, or the naïve hayseed Gomer Pyle, the local gas station attendant, played by Jim Nabors serving as an interim deputy while Andy is away. Now wait! I am serious!

Forget about the TV cop shows - Kojak, NYPD Blue, CSI NY and others
They showed the tough, snide, no nonsense side of the NYPD. There is no comparison between the two. Or is there?

Flip the calendar back to late July. It is a million dollar day in NYC - sunny, brilliant blue skies and hundreds of people hanging out on Pier 84 (44th & 12th Ave.), the newly built pier part of Hudson River Park where I took my mother there to sunbathe and enjoy the generous river breezes. I never lie down on the grass but that day I did. We stayed until 5:30.

Later that night I reached for my phone, which I keep in a hip holster with a Velcro flap, to make a call. No phone! I knew I left it on the pier and promptly marched there. I sifted through trash bins, under trees, shrubs and benches. I asked the Park Rangers, the maintenance crew and the bartender at P.D. O’Hurley’s, the Irish café on the pier if it was turned in. Nothing!

Several times throughout the night I called my cell. It kept ringing. Every time it rang I saw my little three year-old LG, which fits nicely into the palm of my hand, floating inside a half empty 20 ounce cup of coke at the bottom of a garbage can covered with greasy French fries and mustard or ketchup from the burger/hotdog joint next to the pier.

At the insistence of Suzanne Barlow who challenged me to start this blog, I held off from calling Verizon to deactivate it. Every time I called my cell it always rang through to voice mail.
That did not stop me looking for a new phone online.

Monday 9:45 am I received a phone call Officer Diego Feliciano of the 10th Precinct in Chelsea. While on duty at 25th/7th Ave. a woman gave Officer Feliciano my phone. Instead of tossing it on the dashboard or in the glove compartment of his van he thumbed through my cell contact list. He tried six people before getting my home number.

When I answered he said “This is NYPD…” and before he finished I said, “You have my phone. Where are you? I’ll be right there.” He replied, “Don’t bother.” Instead Officer Feliciano drove his van to my front door and delivered it to me personally.

My lucky day in small town NYC.

Photo: Rudi Papiri