Nassau Avenue & North Henry Street

1 Jun

I may need to clear up a misunderstanding from a few posts ago, when I wrote briefly about classifying trees. Or rather, about not classifying trees, as if I were suggesting that type of thing wasn’t a worthwhile activity. But it is! I’m totally about it. I like classifying trees….I just think it’s really hard is all. I mean, I’ve never actually done it, cause every time I try, I’m unable to come to any conclusion. What the hell? I’m no tree scholar but there must be literally tens if not dozens of different types of trees in the world.  Ah well.  I’m not specialized in any type of knowledge, really. I guess you could call me a pseudo-scholar, which E.M. Forster defines as, “on its good side, the homage paid by ignorance to learning.” Hmmm, I like the way that sounds, though I’m not sure I can quite get my head around its meaning. Maybe it means having interest just for interest’s sake. Or not keeping any kind of catalog — just what happens to find its way into your pocket, cluttering your dresser drawers.

Or maybe it’s that feeling when you’re done working for the day, and you realize, “shit, I’m done working for the day.” What comes next? Pseudo-scholarship? Taking a walk around McGolrick Park, in Greenpoint, staring at all the trees and benches? I’m almost positive these trees are an identifiable type of tree, tall and thick with wildly peeling bark. They’re planted with uniform consistency around the park, and even recognizing that can feel like some type of accomplishment. The paved paths of McGolrick are laid out symmetrically, with patches of grass between them that few people really sit on. This place is all about the trees and benches. It’s great; that’s what you do here: you sit; you walk. Being in McGolrick, I feel like I’m communing with every decade between now and when this park was opened. If you were in the park alone how could you tell the difference? The trees shield everything. How could you know what year it was? Hey, there’s my mother pushing me around as a baby. Hi ma, nice to see ya! Or is that my grandma pushing around my mother? Oh, well it’s nice to see you too Grams.

McGolrick Park was originally called Winthrop Park when it opened in 1891. It took its name from Assemblyman, and life-long Greenpointer, Winthrop Jones, who was responsible for getting the funds to purchase the park land for the city of Brooklyn. It was one of the first parks in the nation to have sand boxes for the kids, a novel innovation at the time. The shelter pavilion in the middle of McGolrick was built in 1910, modeled after 17th & 18th century French garden structures of the kind seen at Versailles. The park didn’t change its name until 1941, three years after the death of the beloved Monsignor Edward J. McGolrick, pastor of Saint Cecilia’s Church down the street on North Henry & Herbert Street. By then Winthrop Jones had passed away; he didn’t leave any family behind him to protest the name change.

Although since the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway went up in 1950, Saint Cecilia’s has felt like it’s in a different neighborhood entirely. The BQE always fascinates me in that way — how it inherently has to serve as some kind of demarcation line. Even though it technically runs above the street plan, it’s impossible for me to picture the area without it, to erase it from the map I keep inside my mind. Just by existing it changes the perception of the space around it. Saint Cecilia’s still seems to consider itself as part of Greenpoint though. It’s been here since 1871. Its most famous pastor has a lovely park named after him, just two blocks up the road. But what a difference those two blocks make. Call it a difference of decades. I don’t see my grandma walking by the BQE.

(Originally posted Aug. 7th, 2009 on


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