On a recent visit to New York, I was interested in documenting certain places from childhood, especially food-related. At 242nd Street, Van Cortland Park in the Bronx is the uptown starting point of the Number 1 subway line, which snakes its way into Manhattan, down through the urban intensity of Midtown, and finally to the watery destination of South Ferry. My school in Riverdale was nearby in a suburban, quiet neighborhood with Tudor-style homes, an uphill walk a few blocks away.
The 242nd street station always seemed vaguely exotic to me--today I can see why, with its freewheeling Art Deco borrowings from Eastern sources:
A view across to Van Cortland Park, situated on land sold by the Weckquaesgeek Indians to the Dutch West India Company in 1639:
Amazing that these primary-color murals from the seventies are still in place--I remember passing these images many times as a child and seeing them here still opens a door to early memories and impressions. The sporty figures express a certain urban self-sufficiency--along with a bright and hopeful bicentennial spirit of feminine aspiration:
It was good to revisit and find that this street still feels charged and mythical, a connector of dimensions and realms under the noisy shadow of its elevated tracks. The station's strange Peking grandeur seems even more beautiful as layers of paint peel away to reveal another color, another time:
The taxi station that once stood at the corner ready to accommodate weary subway riders is gone now. The station's collection of pinball machines were so intriguing with their brooding, early heavy metal imagery: around 1976 or so I recall being fascinated with one decorated with languid Led Zeppelin sylphs in bell-bottom jeans with mysterious eyes and ocean hair.
I'd stare down at them through the scratched pinball plastic--with that much beauty, it seemed that they had something crucial and secret to tell. But always, they were silent and unreadable, staring off into some unknowable realm...
Snapping me back from my pinball reverie would be the delicious scent of an active fryer vat: the whole block was suffused with a sharp and enticing aroma of deep-fried chicken wings from the Chinese takeout place, where I'd lobby mom for some wings after one of our Manhattan sojourns. I recall happily clutching the hot, stapled wax paper bag of crispy chicken on the ride home, and the jagged, golden crunch of the wings!
Closer to home was another Broadway-residential divide. In our leafy neighborhood, dreamed up as a green commuter suburb in the late nineteenth century are spacious Victorians, elegant Federal style homes, and more modern homes from the 20th century mixed in for good measure. "Down the hill" meant a walk to South Broadway, where some of the coffee shops and pizzerias from childhood remain today.