Kirshner is director of Operations and Planning for the Battery Conservancy
Pat Kirshner is one of the lucky few whose job is to beautify one of New York’s most historic, green, and versatile destinations: the historic Battery. Known by many simply as Battery Park, Kirshner will quickly remind you of its proper moniker -- “the Battery,” earned for serving as an artillery battery in New York Harbor three centuries ago. She also will tell you that this landmark area should not be confused for Battery Park City, the largely residential neighborhood flanking downtown’s west side.
Kirshner is director of Operations and Planning for the Battery Conservancy, the non-profit, private entity responsible for the Battery’s upkeep, in coordination with the city Department of Parks and Recreation, its owner. Under the leadership of President Warrie Price since its inception in 1994, the Conservancy has made some smart, bold changes that continue to improve the landscape of the Battery and help it better suit the local community.
One of those changes was construction of the Battery Bosque, which converted the area at the southern, central tip into a scenic arbor with its own benches and tables, food kiosks, and a children’s-play fountain. Another is the Urban Farm, an “outdoor classroom” that has local students and workers growing their own vegetables from seed.
Latest on the agenda is the $12 million installation of the one-of-a-kind, aquatic-themed Seaglass Carousel on the Battery’s southern end. It will mark the end of years of planning -- including a delay for the construction of the new MTA South Ferry Subway terminal -- and be complemented by the much-anticipated new perimeter bikeway, which will tie together the west-side bikeway and renovated East River Waterfront by 2013.
LowerManhattan.info recently took a walk around the historic Battery with Kirshner to hear about its recent past, its role in serving today’s Lower Manhattan, and the changes ahead.
How did the Battery Conservancy arrive at the idea of designing and building the Seaglass Carousel here?
Ms. Kirshner: Claire Weisz and her partner Mark Yoes of WXY Architecture and Urban Design, along with Linnaea Tillet of Tillet Lighting, were behind the concept, which came about when we were designing the Bosque and wanted to animate a dark area in the park. We decided that combining light and movement would make the park feel more attractive at night. That turned into the idea of a merry-go-round with lights, and then Claire said it really should be a fish carousel in honor the New York Aquarium, which had originally been at the Battery in Castle Clinton (1896-1941). We started on the Carousel in 2003; we’ve been working on it since then.
We then asked George Tyspin Opera Factory to design the fish, 30 of them. George is a set designer; he created the sets for Spiderman and The Little Mermaid. [In the carousel] there will be two chariots -- “sedans” we call them -- and those are the ones we’ve worked wheelchair seating into; those will be able to accommodate two people. It’s a wheelchair-accessible, ADA-compliant carousel.
|The carousel is scheduled to be complete in 2012
The pavilion structure is going to be open-air with a nautilus shell roof. We call it the “jewel in the park.” Phase one will create a complete underwater environment, with the main turntable going round and round for the opening next summer. We’re designing a very sophisticated projection system, lighting system and sound system, with music that goes with the visuals. It’s going to feel like you’re a part of a film. You’ll be in your fish, and the movement and the light and the sound will give you the experience of being underwater.
In phase two, the fish will go up and down and swivel, with smaller turntables that oscillate. The idea is of fish swimming and swishing. The classic horse carousel mechanism is up, across and down, and it really feels like you’re galloping. [Here] the multidirectional movement will convey the experience of a swimming fish.
It’s going to be this beautiful thing, and we expect it to become a real destination.
How is going to fit into the whole grand scheme of the Battery’s look?
It’s definitely going to change it, because this is part of the perimeter project, which includes the perimeter bikeway, the restoration of the carousel’s surrounding lawn, and the “Battery Green,” which will be where the Eisenhower Mall is. Similar to how the Bosque encompasses the monuments, the carousel is going to be integrated into the landscape, set in the Tiffany Gardens. The Tiffany Gardens is a gift to the city from Tiffany & Company Foundation, designed by Landscape Designer Piet Oudolf.
There will be a path to the carousel coming in from the south side, and around it there will be garden beds with trees. And then there will be a transition to the lawn, a “passive recreation” kind of lawn. We’ll be doing a landscaping treatment with varying height grasses -- sort of a meadow-influenced garden. Then there will be gardens planted with woodies as part of the perimeter project, the bikeway.
What’s the carousel’s current state of construction?
The foundation is finally going in. Since the carousel is a moving thing, there’s a lot of mechanics going on in there. We are right at the waterfront and just above the water table, so we wanted to make sure the waterproofing is done correctly. We had weather concerns and had to do a lot of water pumping, but we managed to get the waterproofing membrane in on two recent dry days. And now the rebar’s going in, and some electrical piping infrastructure, then we’ll get the first concrete pour done. So this is on its way.
When is the completion?
Late spring or summer 2012 opening. Our construction contractor is Pavarini McGovern and their subcontractor for the mechanism is Show Canada. They build high-end entertainment machinery that’s been used at the Olympics, in Las Vegas and abroad. Now the foundation is going in, and we finally finished our coordination drawings for what infrastructure goes into the slab. It’s moving along.
How do you think the Battery will change when the carousel opens?
It’s going to be a magnet. Already we get four or five million people a year anyway, many coming through on their way to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. We have the newly rebuilt Peter Minuit Plaza and Governors Island…We’re on the map for gardens too, so visitors come to see our perennial gardens, and we have the Battery Labyrinth.
But I think some people will come just for this. Just like when the Bosque opened in 2005, this will become its own destination.
What’s the story behind the Battery Labyrinth?
We built it in 2002 as a community project. It’s not a maze, you don’t get lost; it’s just a contemplative walk that began as a 9/11 memorial. It was intended to be temporary, but we decided to leave it and have incorporated it into the perimeter plan. It’s surrounded by gardens, which are our true native plant gardens. It’s got wild milkweed that the Monarch butterflies love.
We’ve tried different ways of landscaping around it. We originally had it all mowed, and then we had little gardens around it, but you couldn’t see it. Now we have it more tightly manicured and the contrast with the surrounding wild looking native plant garden is striking.
Around it is the Jerusalem Grove. These are Atlas Cedar trees that were a gift from the city of Jerusalem, given some time ago. Not long after I began here the tree tops were dying, so we trimmed them back and now they’re these beautiful healthy “giant Bonsai trees.”
What will the Battery Green, which will replace the Battery’s central mall, be like?
We’re rebuilding this whole area…the whole look is going to change. The old cherry trees, which are towards the end of their natural life, will be removed, along with the benches and paths. All this will become a big green oval that’s going to have a gorgeous granite curb, and will be the public assembly space. It will fit eight to 10 thousand people. All staging will be on the hard surface in front of Castle Clinton; no equipment will be on the grass anymore, because events on the lawn have been really tough on those big, old trees. It will probably be open end of 2013 or beginning of 2014 depending on how the lawn of the Green is planted.
With the Koenig Sphere destined to be moved back to the World Trade Center site, how will the Battery memorialize September 11th?
We have our Gardens of Remembrance along the waterfront promenade that serves as our 9/11 memorial. The Battery was a major escape route for people who left Lower Manhattan by boat. The Fire Island ferry boats and Coast Guard boats took people off our waterfront to New Jersey and Staten Island. By the labyrinth, Community Board 1 just planted our own “survivor’s tree” on September 12th. I think we’re definitely a part of the pilgrimage that people make to the Statue of Liberty, and now the World Trade Center memorial -- its part of what people do when they come to New York.
We have 28 memorials here. There’s the Korean War Memorial, the Merchant Marines, World War II, the Walloons monument, the Salvation Army, and many others. We did have to move some very big ones into storage, like Giovanni Verrazzano and the Coast Guard memorial, so that work can take place on the perimeter project. When that’s complete in 2013, we’ll bring many of them to the outer edge and build a monument walk.
What’s going on with Urban Farm?
The Urban Farm began in spring of 2011 as a way of activating the space on the Battery’s east side while we’re waiting for bikeway perimeter construction. It was a confluence of ideas that began with some kids at Millennium High School’s ecology club who wanted to do a project. It fit with us wanting to do something on the lawn that would activate the space and get the community involved in the park a little more.
We brought in some clean fresh soil, and about 600 kids from eight different schools, helped. The schools each had their own rows to plant, and it was really cute. We have local community -- residential and business -- people who participate. We have a farm manager, and volunteers from neighboring offices who come after work or whenever they can, and get assigned a job like thinning the carrots or something. Then we have a bunch of intern-type farmhands. We have a little farm stand on Mondays and Thursdays where we give away the food we’ve grown for suggested donations.
The Urban Farm has been a tremendous success, but it is temporary here, so it will be relocated. We’re going to continue the idea of growing food though, so people understand where food comes from. We will be incorporating some vegetable garden beds into other places around in the park.
Why is the fence around the farm so eye-catching?
The fence is decorative but functional -- not an artwork, but it does kind of look like it is. It was built by Scott Dugan and Shane Neufeld, who volunteered their services and repurposed the bamboo from Big Bamboo -- [an installation] by the Starn Twins, the site-specific work that was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- to construct the fence. From above, it’s in the shape of a big turkey, in honor of Zelda, our resident wild turkey. The pumpkin patch is the tail.
Does Zelda enjoy the farm?
Yes, but she hangs out more over by the labyrinth these days. She really likes the native gardens the best. She arrived here in May 2003.
Do you know where she came from?
No, she didn’t say.
What’s important for people to know about the Battery?
That it’s a park for New Yorkers. There are things here for everyone -- all this history, the beautiful gardens. It’s not just a tourist pass-through to the Statue of Liberty.