I was thinking of a beautiful place to take pictures with my sister who was coming in town for a short bit. For some reason I was drawn to the parks in upper Manhattan. That happens sometimes with these spaces – I picture them in my mind, get an idea that I must go there, and then eventually satisfy that. Until I visit they sort of haunt me.
I had known about Fort Tryon Park for a while, and had even been to the Cloisters. But what drew me to this park (and the surrounding Inwood Hill Park and the Hudson River Greenway) was seeing features of them driving on the Henry Hudson Parkway. As the structures whizzed past in the car I was drawn to know more about them.
So I went exploring and location scouting with my good friend and photographer in the evening.
One of my mysterious structures turns out to be actually part of the Greenway instead, and not easy to get to, as it’s sandwiched between the northbound and southbound lanes of the Henry Hudson. Though we didn’t manage to get there that night I will make a point to return and find my way there. Its name is the Grecian Temple, and I can’t find much information about it. It’s just two rows of columns on a sort of platform, open on top, designed as a scenic outlook pull-off from the Greenway bike path. It seems to just float there on a high part of road, free but trapped between speeding cars. Architecturally it is harmonious with the Cloisters and other structures in Fort Tryon Park, that sort of generically ancient look.
The other enchanted place viewed from the roadway turns out to be called Billings Terrace. Friend and I set out hunting for it. We climbed a steep, winding path up one of Manhattan’s last remaining hills into the north end of Fort Tryon Park. At the top, through gaps in shrubbery, you can start to see out to the Hudson River and New Jersey’s Palisades. Occasionally you can see down to the Henry Hudson Parkway below. As we followed the wide, paved path vaguely south towards and past the Cloisters, I kept looking over the side of the stone retaining wall, expecting us to suddenly be in top of this terrace I saw from the highway.
At one point we took the low fork, came across some hipsters and a fat groundhog, and stumbled right into the terrace. It’s this amazing structure – made of huge chunks of stone and fifty feet high with arched windows right out to the highway, which is pretty close at that point. Climbing up into one of the sort of “windowsills”, I looked out at the cars rushing by and the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson. It was as if I could see the whole world. I closed my eyes, content.
After walking through the terrace, which is down a slight, brick-paved incline, you get to a sort of driveway flanked by columns. The remains of the driveway would have led right out onto the parkway, and you can actually get right up to the parkway’s concrete barrier there, even stand under a curve warning sign. On later research, it turns out that this was indeed an entrance to the Billings estate right from the parkway.
Once again I satisfied my need to visit a place only formerly viewed from driving by it. This process always seems to simultaneously both reveal the mystery of the space and make me even more enchanted by and in love with it. I would certainly return to Billings Terrace again.