While visiting the major, most popular attractions of New York City can be fun, it can also be stressful, overwhelming and full of selfie-taking tourists. However, the great thing about the Big Apple is that plenty of other attractions exist that are far less known or even hidden in plain sight. To go beyond the tourist-filled sites and tour the city like you’re seeing it for the very first time, check out 6sqft’s list ahead of the 20 best underground, secret spots in New York City.
West Side Cowboy on Death Avenue, via Kalmbach Publishing Co.
The now-defunct elevated train lines of Manhattan are well known today thanks to their reincarnation as the High Line. But before this raised structure was put in place, the west side was home to a deadly train system appropriately referred to by locals as “The Butcher.” The full-size railway line ran from 1846 to 1941 between 10th and 11th Avenues without barriers, fences or platforms, earning the route the nickname “Death Avenue” before it was taken out of operation for causing more than 430 fatalities–deaths that not even true western cowboys could stop.
1968 was a turbulent year marked by riots, massive protests, and assassinations of notable political figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy.
But 50 years ago on June 3, 1968, an attempted assassination in New York City shook the downtown art world more deeply and personally than any of these other headline-grabbing events. Perhaps that was because it involved two quintessentially downtown figures — one a world-famous artist; the other, a struggling, mentally unbalanced aspiring writer/performer/self-proclaimed social propagandist, whose greatest claim to fame ended up being her attempt to kill the former, her one-time employer.
Vault lights in Soho, via WooJin Chung for 6sqft
“Viva Vault Lights!” wrote the Historic Districts Council in response to the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s decision to backpedal on its rules amendments, which called for “more oversight by LPC staff but less time for public review” in proposals for alterations to historic buildings. HDC’s celebratory sentiment is in response to one of the now-moot stipulations that Soho and Tribeca’s vault lights–historic, industrial-era sidewalks made from small circular glass bulbs–could be removed by building owners and replaced with modern sidewalks.
This Saturday, 6sqft is excited to sponsor “The Hunt: NYC LGBT Sites.” Put on by our friends at Urban Archive and the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, the three-hour historic scavenger hunt will mark Pride Week by focusing on the history of the LGBT community in NYC. To give 6sqft readers an idea of what to expect, the Historic Sites Project has put together eight things you probably don’t know about LGBT history in New York, from the four remaining lesbian bars in the city to the first LGBT activist organization.
Drawing by a staff artist at Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
On May 24, 1883, the Brooklyn Bridge officially opened, with roughly 1,800 vehicles and over 150,000 people crossing what was then the only passageway between Brooklyn and Manhattan. Less than a week later, 12 people were killed and over 35 others injured in a violent stampede.
On that fateful day, the bridge was brimming with people celebrating the Memorial Day holiday and checking out the new overpass, which was considered the longest bridge in the world at the time. A woman had tripped and fallen down the wooden stairs headed toward Manhattan, which caused another woman to scream. In a grand misinterpretation, a rumor was started that the bridge was about to collapse, sending the crowd into complete hysteria. Pedestrians ran to get off the bridge, stampeding their way to the entrance and pushing others to the ground.
Photo via LPC
The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) on Tuesday designated three blocks in Central Harlem as a historic district in recognition of the significant role African Americans played in social change in New York City and beyond during the 20th century. The Central Harlem District measures West 130-132nd Streets, the mid-blocks between Lenox and Seventh Avenues.
LPC notes how Harlem residents used residential buildings to accommodate cultural, religious and political activities, starting with the Harlem Renaissance through the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “This collection of buildings is exactly why we designate historic districts: it’s an architecturally distinctive and historically significant set of structures that together tell an essential piece of Central Harlem’s story,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said. The commission also launched an interactive story map as a way to illustrate the unique influence of this district through photos, maps and video.
135 years ago today, throngs of New Yorkers came to the Manhattan and Brooklyn waterfronts to celebrate the opening of what was then known as the New York and Brooklyn Bridge. 1,800 vehicles and 150,300 people total crossed what was then the only land passage between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The bridge–later dubbed the Brooklyn Bridge, a name that stuck–went on to become one of the most iconic landmarks in New York. But there’s been plenty of history, and secrets, along the way. Lesser known facts about the bridge include everything from hidden wine cellars to a parade of 21 elephants crossing in 1884. So for the Brooklyn Bridge’s 135th anniversary, 6sqft rounded up its top 10 most intriguing secrets.
Photographer Berenice Abbott has long captured the imagination of New Yorkers. Her storied career began after fleeing Ohio for Greenwich Village in 1918 and included a stint in Paris taking portraits of 1920s heavyweights. But she is best known for her searing images of New York buildings and street life–her photograph “Nightview, New York,” taken from an upper-floor window of the Empire State Building in 1932, remains one of the most recognized images of the city. Well known is her exchange with a male supervisor, who informed Abbott that “nice girls” don’t go to the Bowery. Her reply: “Buddy, I’m not a nice girl. I’m a photographer… I go anywhere.”
Despite Abbott’s prolific career and fascinating life, there’s never been a biography to capture it all. Until now, with Julia Van Haaften’s work, “Berenice Abbott: A Life in Photography.” Van Haaften is the founding curator of the New York Public Library’s photography collection. She also befriended Abbott, as the photographer approached 90, while curating a retrospective exhibition of her work in the late 1980s. (Abbott passed away in 1991 at the age of 93.)
With 6sqft, Van Haaften shares what it was like translating Abbott’s wide-ranging work and life into a biography, and the help she received from Abbott herself. From her favorite stories to her favorite photographs, Van Haaften shows why Abbott’s work has remained such a powerful lens capturing New York City to this day.
Photo via Jeffrey Zeldman/Flickr
The New York Public Library first roared into existence on May 23, 1895, educating and inspiring countless millions, free of charge. The Library’s 92 locations include four research divisions and hold over 51 million items. Out of all these tomes, the greatest tale might be Library’s own history: Founded by immigrants and industrialists, it was equally admired by William Howard Taft and Vladimir Lenin; open to all, it has counted among its staff American Olympians and Soviet spies; dedicated to intellectual exploration and civic responsibility, it has made its map collection available to buried treasure hunters and Allied Commanders; evolving with the city itself, it has made branch locations out of a prison, a movie theater, and most recently, a chocolate factory. The history of the New York Public Library is as vital and various New York itself, so get ready to read between the lions.