Volume 18 • Issue 23 | October 21 - 27, 2005

Downtown Notebook

Saying goodbye to funkiness on Tribeca’s piers

By Kate Walter

I’m savoring the last days of Pier 25 which will close next month for a three-year renovation.  I loved this funky wharf in Tribeca — a rest stop on my daily bike rides through Hudson River Park. I’d visit the Sweet Love Snack Shack for a lemonade or veggie burger grilled on an old-fashioned barbeque pit.

The guys who worked at the counter always had the right album playing at the right time, whether it was reggae or rock.  For months after its release, we heard Springsteen’s opus, “The Rising.” Last week, it was the Beatles. Two sanitation men, waiting for burgers, sang along,  “Come together, right now, over me.”  

I started hanging here five years ago when I bought a new bike and spun  down from the West Village. I fell in love with Pier 25’s funky charm during the  summer of 2001. An urban oasis, it reminded me of my youthful summers at the Jersey Shore — the boardwalk at Seaside Heights; Belmar and beer parties. Whenever I visited this place, I felt like a kid on vacation, not a middle-aged woman in the middle of Manhattan. 

Workers lunched at the picnic tables while jocks played volleyball in the sand courts. Day camps brought kids for fishing or miniature golf. I caught a breeze and watched the sailboats while sitting in an Adirondack chair at the end of the pier. The rough hewn sculpture garden, made with drift wood from the river, fit right in. So did the Yankee, the old wooden ferry boat docked there.

After the terrorist attack, Pier 25 was transformed into the massive barge port where trucks dumped the World Trade Center debris onto boats. It added to my shock to see my favorite haven used this way. As each truck arrived, I watched the dust fly from across the highway to the community college where I teach.

Everyone has their own touchstones for when Downtown returned to normal after  9/11. For me it was the reopening of Pier 25 in the spring of  2002.  I was so elated to return that June and have my first lemonade of the season. My New York was back, even if those towers were painfully missing from the skyline.

Now I’m losing the pier again — this time to gentrification, as part of  the $70 million redesign of this section of Hudson River Park. I hear what the experts say about the worms that have devoured the pilings, but I’m sure what will emerge in 2008 will be sanitized and lack community character.

The change is already happening. The other day one of the dudes from the Snack Shack warned me to dismount my bike, that the park police were now giving tickets for riding there.  

“Your tax dollars at work,” he snapped. 

“But we could always ride here,” I said.

“Not any more.” 

I tip my bike helmet to the folks at Manhattan Youth who operated Pier 25 for the past 12 years (under a permit from the Hudson River Park Trust). I regret never having the nerve to try a free kayak, available at nearby Pier 26, which is also closing for refurbishing. I bid farewell to the River Project, a public aquarium and science field station that studied the Hudson’s marine life. I rested outside its space, watching the river flow, smelling the briny water.

What made this area appealing was its homegrown funkiness. It was a spit of land that felt organic, as if each element, each event grew from community needs. 

One summer ping pong tables appeared. Last month, there was a music benefit for the hurricane victims. The Pier of Fear, the popular Halloween party for local kids,  originated here. Right now, they are giving away the trees and shrubbery. Perhaps my building can replant some of those wharf-side good vibes in our courtyard.     

I can’t imagine what next spring and summer will be like without Piers 25 and 26. While I can visit the chi-chi piers on Christopher or Charles Sts., it definitely won’t be the same. Spontaneous stuff does not happen on these sleek designer Village venues, where even the chairs are locked into place. I suspect that the replacement in Tribeca will be similar, just another pretty place on the water.

I’m not one of those rich Downtown residents living in a fancy waterfront condo facing the glitzy park. Pier 25 fit my bohemian lifestyle. Its demise is symbolic of how the Village and Tribeca have changed. As the days are getting shorter, so is my time on Pier 25. Until it closes, I’ll be eating my veggie burger at an old wooden picnic table, cherishing this special spot that will become another part of lost New York.


Kate Walter is a writer who lives Downtown.


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