Volume 18 • Issue 10 | July 29 - August 4, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Robert Stolarik

Zachery, 5, pumped some water for Libby and Mia.

Cool at heart, Downtown looks to cool the skin too

By Ronda Kaysen

Downtown might feel like a toaster oven with temperatures soaring into dizzying digits, but there are sanctuaries from the swelter that make the latest heat wave actually – gasp! – fun.

On Wednesday, the mercury hovered at 96 degrees Fahrenheit at 4:15 p.m. – with a heat index that made it feel like a mind bending 104 degrees. Con Edison broke its own energy usage record from Tuesday by 2 p.m. on Wednesday, making this summer responsible for four of the 10 highest energy usage days ever. Emergency cooling centers opened across the city and the Parks Dept. extended the hours of operation on outdoor Olympic-sized and intermediate pools until 8 p.m. By noon, the state had issued an air quality health advisory warning about ozone and fine particulate matter. And Senator Hillary Clinton called on President Bush to help low-income New Yorkers foot their energy bill. What can we say? It’s hot.

But New Yorkers are a hardy bunch and rather than wilt from the heat, many have discovered many an oasis Downtown.

“People come into the beautiful Winter Garden and have an ice cream and sit under a beautiful palm tree and pretend it’s not 100 degrees outside,” said Debra Simon, executive director of World Financial Center Arts and Events, which operates the Hudson River Festival. The Winter Garden in the W.F.C., with its vaulted ceilings and marble steps, is home to Custard Beach, an ice cream parlor, and numerous other shops and eateries.

Diana Dos Santos, over at the River Project at Pier 26, doesn’t mind the withering weather much at all. “We have a swim off the dive dock and collect samples from the river,” she gushed. The River Project is a marine science field station intended to protect and restore the Hudson River ecosystem. “We collect a whole lot of samples when it’s really hot.” Dos Santos is most excited about a little blowfish captured recently and the sea horses the project is attempting to breed. “We’ve got lots of sea horses.”

Downtown Express photo by Milo Hess

Water was hard to come by on Harrison St. in Tribeca.

Can the rest of us partake in the sampling? Occasionally the River Project takes a volunteer or two along for a dive, but sampling is mostly for the experts. For those more interested in sampling the delicacies of the water rather than the river itself, the project is throwing a Crab Crunch next Saturday, Aug. 6 at the pier with free blue crab and free beer. “Maybe we’ll jump in the river and get specimens!” Dos Santos cheers. We can only hope the specimen gathering will precede the beer consumption.

Water babies have other watery options, too. The Hudson is a balmy 74 to 78 degrees these days and swimmers can hop in this Sunday, July 31 for the seventh annual Park to Park One Mile Swim. Starting at South Cove in Battery Park City at 3:45 p.m., the contestants will paddle over to the Downtown Boat House at Pier 26.

The heat might be oppressive, but it hasn’t stopped New Yorkers from turning out for the city’s myriad festivals. The River to River events at Pier 17 near the South Street Seaport have the added bonus of the indoor Seaport mall.

Chris Smither with Thea Gilmore will be performing next Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Pier 17.

“Right as the show starts, this amazing breeze comes in off of the river,” said Suzy Changar, a spokesperson for River to River Festival. “The breeze comes, the sun sets, the show starts and you’re like, ‘Yeah!’” And if you’re still not feeling the breeze, there’s always Haagen-Dazs.

The Battery Gardens at Battery Park are also a cool sanctuary from the heat. “The gardens are really extraordinary. You feel cool just looking at these beautiful colorful plants,” said Warrie Price, founder and president of the Battery Conservancy. The Castle Festival this Sunday, July 31 will “distract you from the heat” with stilt walkers and salsa dancing. If you’re still not feeling distracted, the conservancy turns on the new Bosque Fountain at 11 a.m. on Monday, August 1. Kids and grownups alike can flitter about the fountain till their hearts delight.

There are 600 fountains in New York, according to the Parks Dept. And the summer camps have been making good use of them. “You go under the sprinkler at Pier 25, it was packed this morning,” suggested Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, an activities program for children. The sprinklers and pool at the pier had done little to cool Townley off, though. “I’m sweating like a pig,” he said.

Thea Goodman, associate executive director of the Hamilton Madison House, which runs programs for children and the elderly in the Two Bridges - Chinatown area, arms her summer camp kids with water balloons and sends them marching to the sprinklers at the public parks. “The teachers are a little tempted to get wet,” she confessed. “I got wet this morning.” Some of the older kids at Hamilton Madison have gone on Circle Line field trips, riding the ferry to catch a cool breeze. The Staten Island ferry is a free alternative, although without the narration.

Some folks in need of a serious summer respite are holed up at the Sky Rinks over at Chelsea Piers. The two indoor ice skating rinks are open year round. With the thermometers hovering at a nippy 50 degrees inside, icecapaders can relive winter with hats and gloves, although some skaters are known to frolic about the ice in nothing but shorts and a tee shirt. “When it’s really hot out it’s definitely a great place to cool off,” said Joanna Shapiro, a spokesperson for Chelsea Piers. “It’s very chilly and reminiscent of not 106 degrees out.”

Both rinks are open to the public Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 12:30 p.m. to 2:20 p.m. and on weekends from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. On Sundays, the rinks are free, but the rest of the time admission is $10 for adults and $7.50 for kids.

One longtime Soho resident has embraced the heat entirely. Robert Grossman, an illustrator for the New York Times, the New Yorker and the New York Observer, has no air conditioning in his fifth floor loft apartment. His thermometer registered at 96 degrees on Wednesday morning (it was 94 outside). To stay cool, he uses “lots of fans, lots of nudity, as much nudity as you can get away with. And keep all the windows open, that’s a must, any window you can open, you open it,” he said. One year, he painted the rooftop silver hoping it might reflect the heat back into the atmosphere. It didn’t work. Now he blows fans over bowls of ice, instead. But when it’s really hot, he caves. “In this weather I go to [my girlfriend] Elaine’s house where it’s blissfully air-conditioned.”



Downtown Express is published by
Community Media LLC.
Downtown Express | 487 Greenwich St., Suite 6A | New York, NY 10013

Phone: 212.242.6162 | Fax: 212.229.2970
Email: news@downtownexpress.com

Written permission of the publisher
must be obtainedbefore any of the contents
of this newspaper, in whole or in part,
can be reproduced or redistributed.