Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Randall's Island and the former Downing Stadium

My connection to the island goes back to all my endeavors in extra curricular sports during my public school education. Back in the 6th grade me and some other friends strayed from the group and toured the dark corridors of Downing Stadium, sneaking through rusted walls and long forgotten concession stands.

downing stadium

I came back to the stadium several times more with a track team that I joined separately from high school. It was the only place where I'd ever done so well as to have gained 2nd place. That alone was an experience like no other, one member of my team was up in the stands shouting his lungs out the whole time, as if he knew before I did, that when I came around the short side of the turn on the 200 meters, I was going to have a chance to win a heat. The grass in the middle of the track was a mix of green and brown, lumpy but soft, and all the markings on the tracks were faded like a pair of coveted blue jeans. When the short number of seconds was finished, I felt as though I was on some other level of time. My small chest was pounding like a humming-bird's, the two sticks I called legs trembled. The only place for my arms was to stabilize them on my waste, otherwise my entire equilibrium would have disappeared.

downing 7

I then came back to the stadium a few times more after I graduated high school, only this time it was for photography, and for the dedicated attempt to document it before it was torn down. See the stadium no longer exists now, replaced now by Icahn Stadium. This stadium's cost was in the millions, 5 million I think. Downing Stadium had a crowd capacity quadrupling that of the new Icahn, and faux Roman style which gave it a soul. The new Icahn, while meeting modern standards in track and field quality, clearly was aiming a lot lower than the former stadium when it came to size, and style. But alas, this is how the world has always operated, rather than renovating the old stadium, just build a new one, smaller, and less classy. Downing Stadium had a few moments in history. Duke Ellington played there, so did Jimi Hendrix, and when the stadium was used for time trials for the 1936 Olympics, Jesse Owens ran there in front of a crowd of 45,000 people, in anticipation of his athletic statement against the Nazis. 

Jesse Owens starting his 200 in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. -Wikipedia

Me and a friend re-explored the old stadium and I upon shooting, came back and shot some more, and some more again. I was a little lost at the time, and I feel that if I hadn't gone there to shoot pictures, I wouldn't have gained such a sense of myself. Being alone, just two people in the vastness of the horse-shoed concrete mass, I felt as though I actually found a purpose. Without such an experience, I wouldn't have made the decision to attend college to major in photography.

Color Photography- 2001
downing 2

downing 3

downing 4

East Tower

West Tower

Announcer booth

Behind the announcer booth

The south Island - Ward's Island-
The winds would whip so fiercely on the Island, which splits the East river into two quadrants. As the river heads up and goes through the narrower Harlem River where it finds the Hudson, or to the right where it comes back to the Atlantic via the Long Island Sound. The south point of Randall's or Ward's Island is thus called Hell's Gate. But despite it's bad reputation with the sea farers or the thinly clad island visitors, the views were fantastic. In the 11th grade I played soccer at the most southeastern field. To the north adjacent to the field stood, and stands, the Hell's Gate Bridge, one of the most beautiful Bridges in the City, and to the east and the south, was the rippling river, and the skyline of Queens. But now that part of the island is being reconstructed.

The whole Southwest portion is completely redone. And all the maintenance and renovation has been funded by the most affluent private schools of New York, in exchange for their exclusive use during prime hours in which the public schools used to use the island.