Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hawthorne, NY Gets a Clock or What do the Tin Man and Hawthorne, NY Have in Common?

The Clock
Question: What do the Tin Man from "The Wizard of Oz" and Hawthorne, NY have in common?

Answer: Neither have a heart and both have timepieces. 

The Wizard of Oz gave the Tin Man  a pocket watch to wear inside his chest and Hawthorne now has a four sided clock to remind anyone who cares that Hawthorne is a place name without being much of a place. With the aid of a $10000.00 grant and considerable fund raising, the scraggly strip of grass between the Hawthorne MetroNorth station, a place so lacking in beauty as to offer a unique aesthetic to the world, and Elwood Ave now has a green and white monstrosity. For all of its retro-appeal, the effort to get it reminded me of the Simpson's episode in which the town of Springfield railroads itself into getting a monorail. In the end, the clock will be just as useful.

 I won’t complain about the effort to beautify Hawthorne or the station. I commute in and out of there more than 200 times every year, and have been doing so for more than a decade. I think about how ugly it is from time to time, and how the combination of zoning and inattention has allowed the area to exemplify suburban blight. There are mornings when I think to myself as I walk on the path along the east side of the tracks, past dumpsters reeking of rotten garbage, seemingly abandoned trucks under the RT. 141 overpass, the line of vans loaded with ladders that almost reach the path, the cherry pickers, the rutted mud, how it’s an eyesore – and the nose isn’t happy either – ugly enough to exemplify an aesthetic of unpleasantness.

The platform and the station's structure are perfectly utilitarian, brutally so. The concrete stairs encased in aluminum and Plexiglas, leading to the bridge over the track, cold in winter, hot in summer, and often stinking of urine, might seem beautiful to a person with defective vision or a perverse sense of beauty. When it stinks of urine, as it sometimes does, I say to myself that the person who left that scent wasn’t doing out of necessity but out of protest.

Looking around the surroundings, one is confronted by the need to put these businesses somewhere, so put them next to the tracks. On the west side of the station is rear of several light-industrial sites. One of them, a National Environmental Specialists, 
replaced a dilapidated storage barn with a large cinder block building which conveniently blocks much of the more pleasant view of the steeple and churchyard on the far side of Broadway and the woods and hills beyond with a grey, windowless wall and white, gable-ended roof - now decorated with a sign for the Smith's Dance School, "where the fun never sets." The yard where trucks pull in and out all morning has a series of bins backed up to the fence along the tracks, filled with gravel, mulch, sand and soil. It is a pleasant view indeed, and many mornings the little boy in me takes pleasure in watching trucks get filled with their loads.

To the south of this delightful garden spot is a fuel depot. In the evening this spot is filled with Boar's Head Provisions trucks all in a row, their red, black and gold exteriors all shiny and clean, just like the shiny, clean exterior of the brand new, green clock.

Yes, the west side of the station is immune to any sort of visual clean-up so let's see what can be done to the east.

There was a definite improvement during the weeks following the displacement of the New Town Taxi company. The people who ran the business were friendly enough, but they were incredibly dirty. They smoked, and except when it had an A.C. in it, they dumped their cigarettes out the window of their office onto the path between the station building and the tracks. The had a remarkable mix of broken down and worn out furniture in their waiting room, and during the hot months, they'd move some of it out onto the walkway in front of their entrance.

Their cars were interesting, to say the least, and so were their drivers. They made the motley crew that Danny Devito ruled in the old TV show seem humdrum. The cars were beaten up and run down. They leaked a variety of fluids in their parking spaces, and the owner of the company didn't mind changing tires, oil, or other parts right there, and leaving the old parts lying around for a while.

They are gone now, and left behind is the empty hull of a building that wasn't much to look at before it was made into something to avoid looking at. There's some talk about restoring it, and putting a business in there. In my opinion, we'd be better served by having it torn down and replaced with a weather resistant waiting area.

The parking lot is a crescent of asphalt and cars. It is impossible to improve, and impossible to make much worse. If you want to improve the station, close those spots and make the whole thing a little plaza. It ain't going to happen.

Elwood Avenue by the train station is ugly. That's all that can be said for it.  An empty restaurant, low buildings with nothing visually pleasing about  them, parking lots, retaining walls, cyclone fencing - once more, it's suburban blight at its best. The best things around the station, Gordo's bar/restaurant, a pleasant little liquor store, the deli, are mostly visually unappealing.

So sure, let's beautify the station with a band-aid of a clock and a few black-eyed-susans. Let's make sure there are some mostly inaccessible benches for residents to relax on during a warm summer afternoon, watching the cars and trucks going by on Elwood Avenue, the line of SUVs in the parking lot every half hour or so, waiting to pick up arriving commuters. 
The truth is, I don't know what can be done to make the Hawthorne, NY MetroNorth train station and its surroundings more beautiful. I don't know if anything can be done. It's a clumsy and confused spot, confined between a steep hill and the Saw Mill River Parkway, with the streets that border the station a complete mess. But putting up that clock is a perfect example of wasting money on a fruitless and not particularly attractive gesture.

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