This has been a rough winter, and we have not escaped it, despite our island status. The neighborhood is quiet during the winter, one of the charms of living here. But it can also become claustrophobic. The wind howls across the water, making it difficult to venture outside. Boats are brought up into dry-dock and block our views to the open water. Gates to the street beaches are locked; even if you could walk through them the beach is covered with washed-up icebergs this year. No quiet reflection at water’s edge for now. Walking the sidewalks can be treacherous with months of hardened ice and heaved-up concrete from the bitter cold and snow.
City Islanders celebrate the holidays with whimsy and good cheer. The Christmas decorations were a bright spot in this dreary winter, and brought smiles to my face as I tromped around in the sub-freezing weather looking for signs of life. Today is the first day of spring; it’s snowing mightily.
Frederick Johnson had a good deal to do with the development of this neighborhood in the late nineteenth century. Before it’s transition to a suburban development Dyker Heights was designated as farm land; crops included grains, fruits and vegetables. What began as a largely Anglican enclave evolved into an Italian neighborhood as those immigrants began pouring in during the first half of the twentieth century. Many of the homes were converted to Mediterranean style with notable statuary and topiary adorning their well-manicured yards. Sometime in the 1980’s the residents began outdoing each other with fabulous displays of light and color during the Christmas season. Now Dyker Heights is known as the number one destination for fans of Christmas light displays. I visited at dusk and was enthralled by the transformation as the sun set and the lights clicked on.
I’m looking forward to revisiting the area in the spring. The architecture is intriguing and the location of the neighborhood in the shadow of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge pulls at my curiosity to see what drives this neighborhood during the off-season
First, I was surprised to discover that this park is in Queens, not Brooklyn. Standing on the beach at Dead Horse Bay, you can look past the span of the Marine Parkway – Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge toward the Rockaways. On the other side of the buildings of the north shore of that spit of land lies the beach, its art deco bath house and numerous other buildings and landmarks – remnants of another Robert Moses project. This beach development was meant to attract lower income families early in the twentieth century. Moses chose this site because it was accessible by bus. Today, the beach looks deserted. Yes, it’s winter. But there’s a general atmosphere of disrepair along the boardwalk. There are no orange fences holding back the encroaching sand, which buries the steps from the beach to the boardwalk. Small buildings are in ruin; handball courts overgrown with weeds and beach grass. Still, there’s something alluring about this place. The buildings were designed to mean something. Attractions – tennis and basketball courts, mini golf – span the roadway running parallel to the boardwalk. It’s a good destination and I look forward to traveling there in season.
Fort Tilden lies just beyond Jacob Riis Park. It was an artillery base spanning the years between the start of our involvement in the first world war and the late 1970’s. At one time it was home to a nike missile base. At present time, the fort consists of a number of buildings that are in use by artist groups. There is a theater, an art gallery, a children’s art space and a community garden. Kind of nice to see this peaceful overhaul of a remnant of the cold war.
Close to the beach lie a number of abandoned buildings covered in graffiti. As a lover of street art, I see this as an extension of the more formal endeavors at the main site of the fort. I was able to photograph the interiors of most of the buildings before a park ranger shooed me away. Apparently the public is welcome to roam the area as long as we don’t enter the buildings – but this isn’t specified on any signage.