Living In My Dormitory Room In New York City 

[Lower Manhattan, as viewed from the Staten Island Ferry]

I was born in the New York City borough of Queens, so that makes me a native New Yorker. But we only lived in Queens until I was two years old, then we moved across the Hudson River to Cresskill, New Jersey. Because I was so young, I don't remember any of the time we lived in Queens.

In the early 1970's, I went to college in New York City, at New York University. This time, I remember it much better! The first year of college, I lived at my parent's house in Cresskill and commuted by bus to the college campus in the Bronx. Commuting turned out to be a major hassle, so for the remaining three years, I lived on campus. The first two years, I lived in Silver Hall, on the University Heights campus in the Bronx. (For a map of the area, click here.) Unfortunately, NYU was having financial troubles at the time, and wound up selling the Bronx campus to the city for use as Bronx Community College. I spent my final year at NYU living in Weinstein Hall, on the Washington Square campus in Manhattan. (For a map of the area, click here.) As an added bonus, I took some courses in Brooklyn, so I got to see quite a bit of the city.

Things I Remember About Living In New York

I remember being fascinated by the subway system, especially how far you could go for one measly token. Just for fun, I used to plan extensive routes covering varied and interesting territory, then spend a Saturday riding around on one token. Some of the more interesting areas were the long open stretches above ground in Brooklyn, the old elevated lines through parts of Queens, and the route that crossed over the East River on a bridge high above the water. I remember the sights and sounds of the subway—standing in the train, looking lengthwise through a series of subway cars, and watching the lights flick off and on sequentially, from car to car, as the train passed over an electrically isolated section of track. When the main fluorescent lights went off, the dim emergency lights came on, just for a moment, until the regular lights came back on. I remember the dim incandescent bulbs in the stations, flickering slightly on their 25-cycle alternating current. It's a little-known fact that the subway light bulbs were reverse-threaded, so you couldn't use them in your house. I remember the very old subway cars—the ancient riveted hulks with their quaint ceiling fans and wicker seats. The old cars made an odd whirring noise as the electric motor powered the car. I also remember the putt-putt-putt sound made by the car's air compressor for the air brakes. The very old subway cars were being phased out while I attended NYU, and from my dorm room at the Heights campus, I could look across the Harlem River at a railroad salvage yard. The subway cars were stripped of all their valuable metals, then the empty hulks were set on fire to burn away any combustible materials. When the fire was pretty much done, a big crane would pick up the smoldering hulk and dunk it in the Harlem River to put out the fire.

Of my four years at NYU, the first three years were at the University Heights campus in the Bronx. The campus was quite old, and had a number of grand old buildings from around the turn of the century. The Gould Memorial Library was one such building, and I remember it well. It was designed by the famous (and notorious) architect Stanford White, and was erected in 1899. The library was a majestic edifice modeled after the Pantheon, and had a columned exterior with a green dome. Inside, the main reading room occupied the rotunda, which was a large circular room three stories high. The ceiling of the rotunda was capped by an ornate dome held up by beautiful dark-green marble columns. It was a stunningly beautiful building, and was a notable structure even back when it was built. As an aside, Stanford White also designed the large arch in Washington Square Park, at the Manhattan campus of NYU. Another item of trivia: the interior of the library was used in two motion pictures. The first one, "Goodbye Columbus" (starring Richard Benjamin and Ali MacGraw) was filmed in 1969, just before I entered college. One day the film was shown at the college theater, and I remember how majestic the rotunda looked with the green marble columns. The other film was the more recent "A Beautiful Mind". There's yet another item of trivia about the library. Around the exterior of the rear of the library, there is a long elegant colonnade with bronze busts of dozens of famous Americans. This is called "The Hall of Fame for Great Americans", and it is the original hall of fame in America. All the other halls of fame that you hear about came later, some of them inspired by the Hall of Fame at NYU.

The NYU campus at University Heights was its own little world, isolated from the rest of the Bronx. The campus actually had a fence around it, with a guardhouse at the main entrance. Inside, the campus was spacious and green, as it had been since the Heights campus was founded in the late 1800's. Back then, the area had been a bucolic retreat, but since then, the city has grown up around the campus and filled every available niche with hustle and bustle. Washington Square, on the other hand, was always fully integrated into the city. There was no actual campus, just ordinary buildings fronting on the city streets, amid the hustle and bustle. Another piece of trivia: Main Building at Washington Square was the old Triangle Shirtwaist building, where a notorious fire claimed numerous lives many years ago.

I remember Washington Square Park as being a lovely and vigorous area. The highlight of the park was its majestic arch, but there were many other focal points within the park. People would gather to listen to impromptu performances by street musicians, or to listen to rabble-rousers orate. The park also had several cast stone tables with embedded chessboards, for those desiring intellectual stimulation. Or you could just sit on a park bench and watch the squirrels and pigeons. The park gave the area a lot of "breathing room", with its open spaces and numerous mature trees. I remember the miraculous natural transformation that happened in springtime. After a cold and gray winter with snow and frigid winds, springtime brought beauty and rebirth, as the trees burst forth with tiny pale green new leaves.

[Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge in winter]  
Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the great walking experiences in New York City.  

While I was at Washington Square, I took a few courses at Brooklyn Poly, which, naturally enough, was in Brooklyn. Sometimes I took the subway, but several times, I walked. To get there, I had to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which is one of the great walking experiences in New York City. The bridge is a masterpiece of design, very graceful and elegant, yet still fully functional after more than one hundred years. It's amazing to think that the Brooklyn Bridge was designed for horses and buggies—the automobile hadn't been invented yet! Now it carries, without complaint, a constant stream of heavy motor vehicles—that's good engineering! Modern bridges give short shrift to pedestrians in deference to the automobile, but back when the Brooklyn Bridge was built, pedestrians ruled the day. The bridge has a wide pedestrian promenade running down the center of the bridge. The promenade is well above the roadway deck, so from your pedestrian perspective, you can hardly see the cars. You have an almost unobstructed view to both sides of the bridge, so you can look up and down the East River and marvel at the Manhattan skyline. Another big difference from modern bridges is that the graceful gothic towers are built of masonry, block by block. Although steel bridges give the image of sinewy strength, the masonry towers of the Brooklyn Bridge are clearly designed with eternity in mind—they will be there as long as the tough, timeless granite of New York City itself.

Speaking of steel bridges, I also have walked across the George Washington Bridge, which is another great walking experience. Unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, the pedestrian is clearly second-rate on the George Washington Bridge. There are two small sidewalks on the bridge, and the pedestrian is pretty much overwhelmed by numerous lanes of traffic zooming by close at hand. But the overall bridge design is still stunning. Somehow, the bridge manages to be massively strong, while at the same time appearing to be light and airy. The towers have horizontal and vertical steel beams with criss-crossed braces, which seem to represent the bold, proud, industrial age at the time the bridge was designed. Steel was really coming into its element as the material of choice for large structures. However, we almost didn't get to see the steelwork of the bridge towers. It's a little-know fact that the original design called for masonry cladding that would have obscured the structure. Thankfully, the masonry was omitted.

Last New Year's Eve, did you watch the ball drop in Times Square on television? One year during college, I was in the crowd that the camera always pans across. In all honesty, it wasn't such great fun—it was very crowded and there was nothing to do. Most of the time, everybody was just milling around in the cold, wishing for the ball to drop so we could go on to other, warmer, activities. But it was all part of the New York City experience, and it is one of the things I remember.

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I have a few pictures from my time at NYU, but unfortunately I didn't have a working camera the first three years. I finally got a camera just a few months before I graduated and moved back to Cresskill. Here are some pictures I took while I still lived in New York City.

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