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A View from the Bridge

 

The Brooklyn Bridge. A readily-recognizable symbol for Brooklyn, for New York, for engineering, for jokes about "selling a bridge" and more. And for me and many New Yorkers, a great place to take a walk and look around.

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And there's a lot to see from and around the bridge, which links New York's two oldest and most populous boroughs. I walked the bridge again recently, focusing on the view from the bridge, which changes constantly as new buildings go up near both ends.

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While the Manhattan end is anchored to major buildings including City Hall, Brooklyn's end is in a park that provides a setting for some historically important and beautiful buildings, including Borough Hall, below, which was Brooklyn's City Hall until the 1898 merger of the first- and third-largest cities in the U.S.

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P1010083Nearby is one of my favorites, the old General Post Office, in Romanesque style; it still has a small postal station, but now houses the federal Bankruptcy Court.

Close by the Post Office and several court buildings is a monument to one of Brooklyn's biggest names of the 19th century, the anti-slavery crusader Henry Ward Beecher. The Plymouth Baptist Church, where he preached, is still in business a few blocks away.

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But getting on to the bridge. There's no ceremonial approach; in fact the main way on from Brooklyn is past a welcome sign and up a narrow stairway, and on to the bridge. But once up, the views begin. Note the bike and pedestrian symbols on the walkway—don't be fooled by how clear it is here; it's definitely contested territory when crowded!

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From the Brooklyn end, one of the first standout views is this relatively new office and apartment building between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. It uses non-linear decor elements and color to give the building an appearance of water and waves. Built in 2015, it also has a green roof with a garden. Up close, some detail not anticipated by the architects.

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The building is in an area is called Dumbo, not because of any elephants or insults, but because it's the District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  It's home to a number of interesting buildings, some quite old, including warehouses and factories converted to offices and housing. If you look closely, you can see the Manhattan Bridge peeking out from behind. Long views being what they are, the really tall building is on the other side of the river.

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Because the walkway is above the roadway, and two or three lanes in from the edge, some of the best views come only with lots of girders and cables in them, including more of Brooklyn, and especially the new Brooklyn Bridge Park, which stretches for nearly a mile along the waterfront from north of the bridge to the south.

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Not all the views from the bridge are tall buildings, of course. There's this tall lady, who's a lot further from the bridge than this foreshortened view, with a Staten Island ferry, looks. And, of course, this is not the only distorted view; here are a couple more that compress space to show more buildings in close proximity.

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Since the point of a bridge is to cross the water, there's obviously a lot of opportunity for views of activity and buildings on the East River, and a number of them feature the bridge's upstream neighbor, the Manhattan Bridge, as well as some of the city's new fleet of smaller blue-and-white ferries. Two of them share the waters at the tip of Manhattan with an orange Staten Island ferry.

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Not Brooklyn, not Manhattan, not a modernistic art gallery nor any of the other buildings it might resemble: This carefully-crafted building is actually not a building in any usual sense: it's actually a ventilation shaft for the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, and sits on Governor's Island, a former military base in the harbor.

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The classic New York office building used to feature ornamental facades and setbacks as the building rose. Most recent ones are relatively unadorned and have straight-up flat facades. But some try to break the mold with unusual shapes and facings. In the second picture, notice the setbacks on the older building at right, and the imitation of setbacks on the newer building at left. In the third, an even more unusual facade treatment off to the right.

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But few can claim more unusual shapes and facades than 8 Pine Street, whose twisted towers are the work of Frank Gehry. Sadly, it sits on a lower two floors that are straight-to-the-lot-line flat stone, leaving a visually-appealing building repellent to the ground-floor eye.

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Two other notable shapes: the easily-recognizable new World Trade Center tower with its antenna and angled corners, and the Woolworth Building on Broadway, designed by Cass Gilbert in 1913, and the world's tallest building until 1930. The newer building behind it echoes its shape, but not its details.

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Not far away, as we leave the bridge, another building of the same period as the Woolworth, and designed by the firm of McKim, Mead & White. It also shows loving details in its decoration—some might say too much! I'm not one of them.

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Before we get too far inland...here's the current state of the South Street Seaport, which started out as a maritime museum on the city's historic waterfront with retail areas to generate funds for the museum and has ended up with a shopping mall and event space that happen to be near the ship exhibits. Not visible behind the pier is a 19th-century sailing cargo ship.

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Looking north to the Manhattan Bridge and a building at left that was the headquarters of New York daily newspapers (remember them?) for many years and is now a self-storage warehouse.

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At the Manhattan end, the crowds were thick, heading to Brooklyn, but there was still some space for a number of food carts and vendors selling images and souvenirs of the bridge.

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And finally, New York's tiny-for-such-a-big-city City Hall, which houses primarily ceremonial offices and the City Council's meeting hall; the Municipal Building and a dozen or so others nearby hold the rest. Looking up over City Hall, another view of the Woolworth Building.

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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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