Tonight we didn't feel like going too far, so we took the L train two stops to First Avenue and walked up the dozen blocks to East 26th Street and halfway up the block to Bellevue South Park to see the animated film, How to Train Your Dragon, which some of the animation majors we teach writing and literature at the fabulous School of Visual Arts recommended we watch. They were right.
We got to the little park, stretching mid-block between 26th and 28th, just after 8 p.m. They had chairs set up, and we found seats in the second row just as they were putting up the screen. Soon after things were set up, Lisa, the park groundskeeper and greeter, introduced what was the last Friday night movie of the summer.
There were kids and adults, probably mostly from the neighborhood. We enjoyed the film a great deal. It's got a plot we've seen in different forms in countless films, and in some ways it's pretty ordinary, but it's also sweet and simple and excels in its exhilarating airborne sequences and its use of silence between the protagonist and the dragon he forms a bond with.
Writing in the New York Times, A.O. Scott called the film "a shrewd blend of conventional pop-culture pandering and exalted cinematic artistry. . .
The way the dragons look, the way they move, the way they catch the light, dissolve in the mist, somersault through the air and dive toward the ground — all of this is likely to make you forget the uninspired plot and the shopworn lessons, even as you are reminded of some of the basic, ecstatic reasons you go to the movies in the first place."
Bellevue South Park was a nice setting with a real small-town feel in the middle of Manhattan, just west (not south) of Bellevue Hospital Center.
As the Parks Department website explains:
The misleading name stems from the fact that the original Bellevue Urban Renewal Area was located at Kips Bay Plaza on East 30th Street, and this park lies just to the south of that site. The Bellevue South Urban Renewal Project, which began in 1959, dramatically changed the face of a 17-block area on Manhattan’s East Side, running from 23rd to 30th Streets between First and Second Avenues. This project was a source of much controversy among area residents, some of whom desired rehabilitation of older structures, rather than complete razing and rebuilding. Ultimately, tenements and old factory buildings gave way to a new, vibrant community centered on a complex of eight mixed-income apartment buildings known as Phipps Plaza.
Bellevue South Park was mapped in 1966, a welcomed green space for the increasingly residential neighborhood. The park fell victim to New York City’s severe fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s and was left undeveloped for some time. In the late 1970s, the city agreed to pay for the construction of the park after Community Board Six and residents of the neighborhood promised to cover all of the expenses needed for its maintenance. The park opened in November 1979, and the Better Bellevue Association saw to its maintenance for the next seven years. . .
The city took control of the park after the worst of the fiscal crisis had passed, and Parks assumed jurisdiction over Bellevue South Park in 1986. A $2 million renovation sponsored by Councilman Antonio Pagan was completed in 1997, transforming the park into its current shape.
It's a really nice little oasis. For the past few years, we've been working just five blocks south on Second Avenue and before tonight, we never knew this park existed. We're grateful we finally got to enjoy it and How to Train Your Dragon.