There were 2 reasons to head downtown today and they, by either design or happenstance, were in the same building, the recently renovated (well the outside was painted really nicely) Battery Maritime Building. And, to make up for the fact that no subways are running downtown on weekends, making it hellish to get there, all entries were free.
First, David Byrne's "Play the Building" installation was so much more interesting than I expected. When something has this much hype around it I am usually wary and we had no intention of going. But, when paired with the opening of Governor's Island and the free ferry leaving from the same building, it seemed like a good reason to head downtown in 250 degree heat. And, in good old New York fashion, there were no downtown subways (and according to the MTA weekend subways downtown for the next 3 years will be spotty while they are under construction ), the buses that head downtown were apparently on half time and we waited half an hour in the heat for the 2nd Avenue bus which, on weekdays, comes every 5 seconds.
The website for Governors Island is fairly pathetic. They give the ferry schedule for the weekend, and then the weekday subway schedule with no real explanation. There are, however, very good driving directions for all those people who think driving to the Wall Street area is a good idea. I would gladly provide the link for all of this, but, naturally, the website is down. Surprise!
I digress (and will keep digressing because the public transportation system today was a total failure). The Play the Building installation was really beautiful. The room it's in is gigantic like the Grand Canyon. It's in major disrepair and there are dozens of mysterious padlocked doors, old glass windows way up high. We didn't wait in line to actually play the organ, but watched as others tried it out. It is mesmerizing to stroll around this huge room listening to a chorus of clanking amidst ghostly and slightly musical breezes that swept through our ears.
Then, on to the free (did I mention it was free?) ferry to Governor's Island. Either due to the lack of subways to the area, or because there isn't really much to do once you get to the island, it wasn't crowded and there weren't long lines. Very refreshing. A day of boating. One could stay on the ferry all day with a pitcher of margaritas and have a fine old time.
Governor's Island has 3 forts on it and served as a military base in some form since the Civil War, and finally decommissioned in 1996. Bloomberg has invested millions in renovations. Some of the buildings are original but a lot are more modern. They will tear down the Motel 8 and the newer buildings that have no history. There are dozens and dozens of barracks, and nobody seemed to know what the plan is for their use. In fact, on entry, everyone is handed a map with blanks on it asking for input on what we would like to see built on the island! That they haven't immediately sold them off as condos is encouraging, but I am sure that one day the time will come.
San Francisco has a similar concept in the Presidio. There, they have renovated and rented out the barracks as high end apartments and installed office buildings and restaurants in some other buildings. All with gorgeous views of the harbor. I imagine Bloomberg is looking to do the same thing on this island.
When we arrived we headed straight for the only open building which fortunately had air conditioning and an exhibit by CUNY's Institute for Sustainable Cities- a room of very lame art and poster boards (one student needed to check the pdf prior to sending it to the printer as the type was all out of the borders) of their research about the environment in Brooklyn. There were charts and graphs showing asthma rates, tree plantings, ethnicities and requests made to the city for bicycle parking.
Then we came upon an electric car and hopped on for a 10 minute tour of the island by a friendly driver who had a lot of knowledge of the history of the island.
We exited our tour onto the big lawn where a swing band was playing, people were dressed up straight out of the flapper era, and very old cars lined the way. The truck-based food was greasy but reasonably priced. Bottles of water for $1! Shishkabob for $3. Sandwiches for $5. All in all a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.