The New York Post has run an article today that had a headline that's, I don't know, somehow familiar to me. It's just reminds me of something—can't say what. Anyway, it's written by Nick Carr, who runs a lovely site called Scouting New York. It's worth a read:
Hidden Gems of a Lost City
For four years, NICK CARR has been a film location scout in New York City, finding the perfect dark alleys, rooftop getaways and neighborhood bars for Hollywood. Carr, who chronicles his job at ScoutingNY.com, says, "What never ceases to amaze me about New York is how much there is to see if you take the time to look. Every street has a hidden gem or two: remnants of a bygone era, beautiful architectural flourishes, an interesting oddity or quirk. And yet, I find that most of it goes unnoticed by the hundreds, if not thousands, of daily passersby in too much of a hurry to pay attention." Here, Carr shares his 10 favorite finds, "the places that remind you that the city has a lot to offer those who take the time to slow down and appreciate it."
1.) The East Village Beach House
1st Avenue at 1st Street, Manhattan
It's as if a tornado blew in from Cape Cod and deposited a beach house onto the East Village. Perched on the roof of a four-story brick apartment building is a shingled cottage, complete with bay windows and a weathervane-topped cupola. The owner calls it "Up-Upon-It" (a joking reference to friends with cottages in Sagaponack), and rumors abound that it is surrounded with sand and lawn chairs.
2.) The River Below Manhattan
Visible at 2 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Hundreds of years ago, dozens of rivers, brooks and streams dissected the island of Manhattan. All were eventually filled in or diverted underground via manmade canals, the only remnants of their existence left in the names of streets traversing their former locations (Water Street, Spring Street and Canal Street, among others). Incredibly, at least one such stream, the Minetta Brook, continues to flow to this day. Once cutting a path from 21st Street and Sixth Avenue through the West Village into the Hudson River, the brook was driven underground by developers in the early 1800s (the odd angle in Minetta Street allegedly follows its original footprint). A glass fountain in the lobby of 2 Fifth Avenue with pipes reaching down to the Minetta offers a rare glimpse to its continued existence. Check it out after a heavy rainfall to see water barreling up as the brook rages deep below the streets of Manhattan.
3.) The Skinniest Building In Midtown
19 W. 46th Street, Manhattan
Measuring in at an astonishing 12-feet-wide, this four-story Midtown oddity can only be described as a brownstone that has been sliced in half. Towering office buildings on either side seem to be squeezing it out, as if desperate for breathing room. With only enough space for a single row of windows running up to the slated mansard roof, the interior is further reduced by a stairwell on one side of the building. As a fellow location scout once mused, "Perhaps this building came first, and everything else was built around it?"
4.) The Wizard of Park Avenue
470 Park Ave. South, Manhattan
With such landmarks as Grand Central Terminal and the MetLife building to steal your gaze, one could be forgiven for not noticing the ornately-decorated bronze clock overhead. Designed by artist William Zorach and inspired by the building's history in the silk trade, the clock is beautifully decorated in crawling silkworms and lush mulberry leaves (a silkworm's favorite food). However, the marvel here is a bearded wizard perched atop the clock. At the start of every hour, the wizard waves his wand, causing the man kneeling before him to swing a hammer against an anvil, tolling the hour. This awakens the "Queen of Silk," who rises up from a cocoon and remains aloft until the hour has finished striking. Incredibly, the clock is still fully powered by wooden pendulums (though due to the expansion and contraction of the wood, you probably shouldn't set your watch by it).
5.) 23rd Street and Fourth Avenue
Southeast corner, Park Avenue at 23rd Street
I love finding remnants of a New York that no longer exists. Fading brick-wall advertisements, train tracks to nowhere and stone-carved logos for defunct businesses serve as a reminder of just how hard it is to fully erase the past. One such telling artifact can be found at Park Avenue and 23rd Street. Here, bronze lettering on the southeast corner building identify the adjacent streets, but the Park Avenue side is strangely marked "Fourth Avenue" -- even though Fourth Avenue terminates downtown at 14th Street! In fact, Park Avenue was once entirely known as Fourth Avenue. In the early 1800s, a steam-engine trainline ran the length of it, bringing a sizable amount of filth and pollution to the avenue. The underground tunnel at 38th Street (now a car underpass) was once an old train tunnel, on top of which was planted a landscaped garden. This section became known as Park Avenue, a name that eventually spread in a bid to draw interest back to the heavily polluted area.
6.) The Little Building Under the Bridge
Vernon Blvd. at Queens Blvd., Queens
Once the headquarters for the renowned New York Architectural Terra-Cotta Works (suppliers of terra-cotta for Carnegie Hall, among countless others), the building became vacant after the company went out of business in the 1920s. It acquired landmark status in 1982, after which Citibank -- owners of the property since 1970 -- sealed it up and left it to rot. Recently, Silver Cup Studios announced plans to build a new studio on the lot behind the building, with promises to restore it. However, the plan seems to have stalled, and the little building under the bridge continues to decay. That it still stands despite decades of neglect is a testament to the quality of its construction.
7.) The Studebaker Showroom of Bedford Avenue
Bedford Avenue at Sterling Place, Crown Heights, Brooklyn
Studebaker, one of the first automobile manufacturers in the US, once had a sizable presence in New York, including this former car showroom. Made of white concrete and white terra-cotta, the building is in pristine condition. A recent renovation sadly removed the two-story wrap-around showroom windows on the ground level, but Studebaker emblems, logos and imaginative Gothic flourishes thankfully still adorn the exterior. The building dates back to a time when this area was known as Automobile Row. You'll find remnants from the era around the neighborhood.
8.) The Secret Owl at Columbia University
Columbia University Campus, 116th Street at Broadway, Manhattan
One of the most beautiful and pleasant places in New York City is the Morningside Heights campus of Columbia University. Built on the site of the former Bloomingdale Insane Asylum (only a single red-brick building, which once housed wealthy men with mental illnesses, remains from this era), the campus covers an astonishing six city blocks without a single active cross street bisecting it. Located in the center of campus is the statue of Alma Mater, sculpted by Daniel Chester French and a symbol for the university. Inspired by Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, Alma Mater's arms are raised invitingly toward the campus as if welcoming in the knowledge around her. But Alma Mater harbors a secret: an owl, hidden in the folds of her robe and completely invisible at a distance. There are a number of legends about the rewards that will come to a student that finds the owl: marry a Barnard girl within the year, become class valedictorian, general good luck, etc. As I would hate to deprive you of any of these potential riches, I will leave you to find Alma Mater's secret owl on your own!
9.) The American Merchant Mariners' Memorial
Battery Park, northwest corner, Manhattan
One of the most moving public art pieces in New York City is a haunting tribute to commercial sailors who lost their lives at sea. The memorial, designed by artist Marisol, was inspired by a true event during World War II, in which a Nazi U-boat attacked an American merchant marine vessel. While the marines desperately clung to their sinking ship, the Nazis photographed the victims, then left them to the open seas. The memorial is directly based on one of those photographs. In the sculpture, two men are desperately crying for help atop a sinking boat while a third tries to pull a victim from the water. There is an unbelievable sense of desperation and frustration in the piece, as the drowning man struggles, veins bursting from his arm, to grab hold of the seaman above and salvation as the waters of the Hudson mercilessly lap at his head, often completely submerging him. The piece is rendered all the more chilling when one reads the final line of the historical marker: "Left to the perils of the sea, the survivors later perished."
10.) The Immortals of Times Square
TGIF Restaurant, 46th Street
at Seventh Avenue, Manhattan
Long before it was a TGI Friday's, the building was a showroom for Israel Miller, a famed shoemaker for Broadway shows. A motto from the period still lines the top of the building: "The Show Folks Shoe Shop Dedicated To Beauty In Footwear." But the real highlight here, my favorite hidden gem of Times Square, is the row of four statues positioned high up on the West 46th Street wall, each depicting a famed Broadway actor of the 1920s in costume as their most notable role. A public contest was held to choose the top actors of the day in the categories of drama, comedy, film and opera, resulting in such picks as Ethel Barrymore (Drew's great aunt) for her work as Ophelia. Despite being covered in dirt and grime and completely ignored by millions of tourists, these statues continue to stand proud in front of gold-leafed backgrounds, having attained the rarest of rare: a permanent place in Times Square.