Over the past week, I’ve been taking I-87 North to scout in Rockland County…
…which means I’ve spent about an hour each day stuck in this:
As anyone who travels it regularly knows, I-87 can be a hellhole of traffic due to the unholy convergence of multiple interstates and local bridges in the most inopportune way imaginable. That said, I have noticed a few interesting things as I’ve inched along at a snail’s pace. Hopefully, this guide will make your commute slightly more bearable.
Let’s start at the very beginning. Before you merge onto 87 via the Triboro, be sure to glance to your left to note the iconic “Welcome to the Bronx” billboard.
I love the typeface, and it kills me that no one has bothered to properly wire the neon back into operation. How amazing would be if you saw this sign glowing as you entered The Bronx at night? Then again, I can’t even remember the last time this billboard had an ad, so I doubt it’s happening anytime soon.
As you merge onto 87 (and promptly come to a complete standstill), look to your left to take in some of the gorgeous factory buildings of the South Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood:
In fact, if traffic is ever particularly bad, you might want to take a quick detour through to see them up close. The crown jewel is the Clocktower building…
…which, for my money, is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.
Built in 1885-6, it was originally home to Estey Pianos, at a time when piano factories were a common sight throughout the South Bronx.
It was converted into a residential building several years ago, and as the neighborhood has gentrified, rents have nearly doubled. You can still make out the Estey name in a fading ghost sign at one end of the building:
Also visible from the highway, love this restored Department of Sanitation building at the east end of Bruckner…
Continuing on 87, you’d never know it while driving, but at Alexander Ave, you pass over a very nice ivy-covered bridge.
Absolutely no clue why this little bit bothered to be different from the rest of the highway overpasses, which pretty much all look like this…
…but man does it look pretty in the summer:
Continuing north at 3 miles an hour, look to your left to see the impressive Park Avenue Railroad Bridge. Built in 1956, this is the third bridge at the site (the first was built in 1841) and raises to a height of 135 feet. Don’t expect to see it in use though – the lift is no longer operational.
This next one is kinda weird, and you have to look quickly. As you approach the building under construction, glance to your right…
…and you’ll see an enormous horse laying on its side with no explanation whatsoever:
I had to check this one out in person. As it turns out, the building it’s resting on is a company that deals in outdoor advertising. The horse is a remnant from an ad in Times Square…
…and if you’re really quick, you’ll also see this enormous guy lying next to it:
At first, I thought he was a jockey, but then someone pointed out he looks more like a rock climber. A close-up:
Just ahead, you’ll pass the Bronx Terminal Market on your right:
Known as the Prow Building, this is one of the only remaining structures from the Bronx Terminal Market complex, built in 1935 to house the city’s pushcart vendors. The Prow building once housed a bank, as well as a hotel for farmers on the second floor:
Love the classic typeface:
As you wonder whether it’s possible for your car to move any slower than its idle speed, you might wonder what the hell all those castle-like turrets are poking up on left side of the highway:
This is the Power House, also a part of the Bronx Terminal Market. It was built in the mid-1920s to allow for temperature-controlled food storage for perishable goods.
It was renovated in 2010 by the Parks Department as part of its Mill Pond Park project.
Off to the right, you’ll see the latest Yankee Stadium, opened in 2009 to serve as conclusive proof why Fenway Park should never, ever be torn down. Pretty much all the apartment buildings beyond have an unconfirmable story about a Yankee legend having lived there.
As you see an opening and attempt to merge lanes for a miraculous 5-foot leap in travel distance, look left and you’ll spot the Macombs Dam Bridge, the third oldest in the city after the Brooklyn Bridge and Washington Bridge. Dating to 1890, it was named for a dam built on the site to power a gristmill in 1814. Love the little operator towers:
Coming up on the right is the first sign that you’re almost – almost! – past the utter horror that is 95 on-ramp congestion: the rooftop lighthouse!
Quite possibly the most famous sight along 87, this 30-foot tall iron lighthouse sits atop the former headquarters of the H. W. Wilson Company, a book printing company dealing in reference periodicals (the lighthouse is their logo). Why the garish orange? The building was purchased by Tuck-It-Away storage in 2012, who changed it to match their color scheme (ugh).
As you’re finally squeezing past the lanes of traffic merging onto 95, glance left…
…and you’ll see the gorgeous High Bridge Water Tower, built in 1866-72 to increase the city’s water supply:
Up ahead, you’ll see High Bridge itself, completed in 1848 as part of the Croton Aqueduct to channel water 10 miles south to New York. In 1928, the five masonry arches spanning the Harlem River were replaced by the current steel arch.
Closed for decades, the bridge has recently been converted into a pedestrian walkway and will supposedly re-open soon:
Just before you travel under the bridge, I’ve always wondered about the building on the right, which features a baseball and says STADIUM, even though it’s clearly not. Despite the sports theme, it’s actually a homeless shelter.
Next to it is a pretty classic NYC precinct house (44th) sitting all by its lonesome:
Driving on now at a brisker pace, marvel at the tangles of bridges and overpasses that somehow manage to get everyone where they need to go (very slowly).
Just beyond, you’ll come to the northernmost point in Manhattan, where Spuyten Duyvil Creek becomes the Harlem River. Spuyten Duyvil’s wonderful monicker stems from the Dutch for “spouting/spewing devil,” a reference to its unpredictable currents.
As you proceed north up the final stretch of 87 through New York City, be sure to note the point at which the city abruptly disappears…
…and becomes the woodland of Van Cortlandt Park. The sudden shift in landscape is jarring…and yet serenely peaceful.
Don’t worry if you miss anything on the drive out – you’ll have plenty of time to see it again while stuck in traffic on the trip home.
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