New York City has secrets at every turn. (Credit: edenpictures via Flickr (CC BY-SA))
Credit: Emilio Guerra
Audubon Terrace: Hidden gem at Broadway and 155th Street
Broadway, as it makes its way north through the Heights, leaving behind the grand commercial towers and cultural splendors of downtown, becomes grittier and more run-down. Something of a shock to stumble across is Audubon Terrace, a street of magnificent, classical beaux-arts palaces that face each other across a tiled plaza abounding with terraces and statues worthy of Rome or Venice. It was begun by railroad heir Arthur Huntington in 1906 and built up over the next few years as a cultural center in what was then an exclusive neighborhood, but it proved too far north for the quality. Today only two of the original five resident institutions, the Hispanic Society of America and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, remain. To wander off bruising, bustling Broadway into the unexpected calm and serenity of Audubon Terrace is quite a surreal experience.
Bloody Angle: Doyers Street
Named after 18th-century Dutch immigrant Hendrik Doyer, who owned a distillery and tavern on the site, Doyers Street links Pell Street and the Bowery in Chinatown. Unusual in Manhattan, it has a 90-degree curve on it, which proved to be the perfect place for an ambush during the "Tong Wars" of the early 20th century, fought between Chinatown's notorious Tong Gangs. More murders were committed on Doyers Street at that time than anywhere else in America, and the corner became known as "Bloody Angle." There are tunnels running beneath the Angle through which Tong members were able to move around in secret, or escape the scene of a crime.
Credit: Emilio Guerra
World's first elevator shaft: Cooper Union Foundation Building
If you look up from Cooper Square to the roof of the Cooper Union Foundation Building, you can see a round, funnel-like structure that is, in fact, the top of the world's first elevator shaft. It was put there during the construction of the building in the 1850s on the orders of Peter Cooper, who decided that his new building-- at that time one of the tallest buildings in New York-- should have an elevator, even though the elevator had yet to be invented. Cooper was confident that a practical elevator would soon be perfected and in the meantime used the shaft to move goods between floors using a pulley system. Not long afterwards Elisha Otis did indeed unveil the first elevator ... but to Cooper's consternation it was square, not round!
Credit: Getty Images
Whispering Gallery: Grand Central Terminal
Just outside the entrance to the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Terminal there is a small vaulted area, partially covered with Guastavino tiles, that acts as a perfect whispering gallery. If you stand in one corner you can hear the softest whisper of someone standing in the opposite corner, no matter how loud the chatter of the bustling crowds around you. Not the place for a secret assignation...
Credit: Ryan Healy via Flickr (CC BY-SA)
NY's walk of fame: Sidewalk in front of Theater 80, St. Mark's Place, East Village
Theater 80 was opened in 1971 by former actor Howard Otway as a movie house showing films from the 1930s-1950s, Hollywood's Golden Era. To celebrate the theater's opening, Otway invited a clutch of movie stars to a glamorous party and asked them to leave their hand prints and signatures in the cement of the sidewalk outside, just as they do on Hollywood Boulevard's Walk of Fame. Amongst the legendary names who have left their imprint on this East Village sidewalk are Dom DeLuise, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy and Gloria Swanson. Others, such as Joan Rivers, have been added over time. Apart from the weather, you could almost be in LA. Should you wish to be, of course.
Pictured: Myrna Loy's signature outside of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood, California.
Credit: Getty Images
Trinity Churchyard's weirdest gravestone: Broadway, Lower Manhattan
Completed in 1846 with a spire 280 feet high, Trinity church was the tallest building in New York until 1890, when it was overtaken by the New York World Building. The churchyard contains the oldest carved gravestone in New York, that of five-year-old Richard Churcher, who died in 1681, and the weirdest gravestone in New York, that of James Leeson, an innkeeper and mason who died in 1794 and whose stone is carved along the top with mysterious symbols. For years these markings had onlookers flummoxed until eventually it was realized that the inscription was written in a masonic 'pigpen' cipher, and translates simply as "REMEMBER DEATH."
Credit: Emilio Guerra
American International Building: 70 Pine St.
Completed in 1932 and standing at 952 feet tall, the American International Building, now 70 Pine Street, was the tallest building in lower Manhattan until it was overtaken by the World Trade Center's Twin Towers in 1972. Until 2007, it was the tallest building in New York not to have also been the tallest building in the world, until that accolade was taken by the New York Times Building in Midtown. Above the entrance on Pine Street is a scale model of the building, carved in stone, complete with its own scale model of the scale model.
The real Winnie-the-Pooh: New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue
You almost cannot move in New York without tripping over rock stars and movie stars and famous people from every walk of life. But the biggest star I encountered was a tatty, dog-eared old teddy bear who lives in the Children's Center of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue. I grew up with that bear and I loved him nearly all my life, as do countless other children and adults across the world. He is the real Winnie the Pooh. Bought from Harrods in London in 1921 for A. A. Milne's son Christopher, Winnie-the-Pooh was presented to the library in 1987 by Milne's American publisher E. P. Dutton, along with friends Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga and Tigger. And they have lived there ever since. Magical.
Credit: Linda Rosier
23 skidoo!: Flatiron Building
One of New York's most distinctive and beautiful buildings, the Flatiron has never blown over, as many people thought it would when it was completed in 1902. It has experienced some unique wind-related issues, however. The Flatiron's unusual shape originally created eddies of wind that whipped up the skirts of ladies walking below on 23rd Street, attracting crowds of young men eager to view the spectacle. NYPD officers would shout at them to skedaddle, giving rise to the phrase '23 skidoo!', meaning scram or beat it.