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Over the Bounding Pond - New York Times

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Over the Bounding Pond

By MICHAEL POLLAK Published: August 28, 2005

Q. Recently I passed the Central Park boat pond and noticed that all the model sailboats were guided by control boxes operated by youngsters on shore. In the distance I noticed a vendor with a cart full of the same model boats, which he was apparently renting to would-be skippers. Does that mean that children can no longer sail their own craft?

A. "Your writer can rest assured: Stuart Little and other model boat enthusiasts can indeed sail their own model boats on the Conservatory Water," said Dana Rubinstein, a Parks Department spokeswoman, using the proper name for the pond. "However, we would prefer that model boaters refrain from floating vessels that create large wakes and disrupt other boats."

There is a licensed parks concessionaire who rents mini-sailboats at $10 an hour. But mini-yachtsmen with their own boats are welcome; in fact, the boathouse at the pond offers lockers for private models at $20 a season (they are all taken now). Sailboats more than 72 inches long are not permitted.

Unlikely Brooklynites?

Q. I was pleased to learn that Michael Jordan was born in Brooklyn, as was Winston Churchill's mother, Jennie Jerome. Each year I invite my expatriate relatives home for a Brooklyn Family Day, and if you can tell me where the birthplaces of Michael Jordan and Jennie Jerome are located, we could visit them.

A. Michael Jeffrey Jordan was born on Feb. 17, 1963, at Cumberland Hospital, a city-run hospital at 39 Auburn Place in Fort Greene. He was the fourth of five children. Later in the year, after his father, James, completed his vocational training in auto mechanics, the family relocated to North Carolina. Cumberland Hospital closed in 1983.

Jennie Jerome, the second daughter of Leonard and Clara Jerome, was born on Jan. 9, 1854, and it was once thought that her birthplace was at 426 Henry Street in Cobble Hill. A plaque to that effect was put there in 1952, and an unknowing Winston Churchill even visited the house in 1953. But later research put the actual birthplace six blocks away at 8 Amity Street. The street was renumbered about a century ago and the current address is 197 Amity Street.

An Early Skyscraper

Q. I've seen an old print of something called the Latting Observatory near the current site of the New York Public Library. Can you tell me about it?

A. The observatory, an octagonal tower finished in 1853 as part of New York's Crystal Palace exhibition, was possibly New York's first skyscraper. Its height, listed in contemporary accounts as 300 or 315 feet, exceeded the previous tallest structure, the 290-foot spire of Trinity Church. The building was conceived by Waring Latting and designed by the architect William Naugle. In a print at the New-York Historical Society, the structure looks like an immense oil derrick.

Located next to the Crystal Palace exhibition hall itself, the observatory faced 42nd Street on or next to what is now Bryant Park. Built of timber braced with iron, It had three landings; from the topmost, visitors could admire the view all the way to Queens, Staten Island and New Jersey, perhaps the first skyscraper tourist activity in the city.

The tower was short-lived; it remained open as a tourist attraction after the fair closed in 1854, but it burned in 1856.

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