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NYC landmarks: 9 unique and unexpected pieces of history

Blink and you may miss some New York City history. It's all around us, sometimes overshadowed by looming skyscrapers and tacky chain stores -- but not forgotten. You just have to know where to look.

From a tree in Brooklyn to a fence in Staten Island, here are nine of the city's unique and unexpected historical landmarks.

A TREE IN BROOKLYN

The Magnolia Grandiflora on Lafayette Avenue in Bed-Stuy
Photo Credit: Wiki Commons

The Magnolia Grandiflora on Lafayette Avenue in Bed-Stuy started as a seedling, brought here from North Carolina by William Lemken more than 120 years ago and planted in his front yard.

It's unusual for a tree of this type to survive -- and survive so long -- in our area. The Landmarks Preservation Commission in 1970 wrote that the tree became a "neighborhood symbol and a focus of community pride." Neighborhood activist Hattie Carthan fought for recognition and preservation of the tree.

Another tree -- The Weeping Beech in Flushing -- was landmarked, but died in 1998. Before its death, the 60-foot tree touched the ground and re-rooted, leaving its "ancestors" to live on in Queens. And legend has it that Weeping Beeches all over America descend from the Flushing giant.

AN AIRPORT TERMINAL

The TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport was
Photo Credit: Emilio Guerra

The TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport was designed by Eero Saarinen and opened in 1962. It was declared a city landmark in 1994.

The Landmarks Preservation Committee wrote that the terminal is "a distinctive and highly-acclaimed work of expressionistic architecture." It was a major and grand addition to Idlewild Aiport (as JFK was known at the time), which was then "envisioned as the largest and most efficient airport in the world."

The terminal closed in 2001 when TWA declared bankruptcy and sold its assets to American Airlines.

Recently, the Port Authority issued a request for proposals to redevelop the old terminal into a hotel.

THE MONKEY HOUSE

The neo classical-style Primates' House (more commonly known
Photo Credit: Emilio Guerra

The neo classical-style Primates' House (more commonly known as the Monkey House) is part of a portion of the Bronx Zoo -- Astor Court -- that received landmark status in 2000.

The Monkey House was completed in 1901. It was infamously used in 1906 to house a Congolese pygmy, who was caged with an orangutan. After a few days, outrage flared and the "exhibit" was closed.

Monkeys were on display in the Monkey House until 2012, when the building closed for good. "Zoo exhibitry has evolved," the director of the zoo told the New York Times.

Primates are now found in various habitats around the zoo.

A RETRACTABLE BRIDGE

The retractable Carroll Street Bridge opened to traffic
Photo Credit: Emilio Guerra

The retractable Carroll Street Bridge opened to traffic over the Gowanus Canal in 1889. It's the oldest of four known retractable bridges still in existence in the United States. (Another, the Borden Avenue Bridge, can be found in Long Island City.) It rolls back horizontally on wheels, clearing the waterway below. The unusual bridge was designated as a city landmark in 1987.

TWO FENCES

Like much of Sailors' Snug Harbor in Staten
Photo Credit: Emilio Guerra

Like much of Sailors' Snug Harbor in Staten Island, the property's iron fence (left) is landmarked. Snug Harbor, comprised of unique Greek Revival structures, opened in the 1830s as a home for retired sailors. In addition to the site's cultural significance, the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote that the iron fence "represents a rare surviving example of monumental ironwork by early New York craftsmen."

The Bowling Green fence (right) is a piece of Revolutionary War history. It was originally constructed in 1771 to protect a statue of George III, which was pulled down and destroyed in July 1776. Parts of the fence were also damaged but later repaired. In 1914 the fence was removed to make room for subway construction and lay forgotten in Central Park for several years before it was rediscovered and returned to Bowling Green. The Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote "this simply designed fence is a unique survivor of the period immediately preceeding the American Revolution" and holds an important spot in the history of the city.

A DRY DOCK

Construction of Dry Dock No. 1 in the
Photo Credit: Emilio Guerra

Construction of Dry Dock No. 1 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard "was one of the great feats of American engineering in the first half of the 19th century," according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It took 11 years (1840-1851) and $2 million to finish the dry dock, which allowed for easy repair and construction of ships.

"The workings of the dock are ingenious and interesting," according to the Commission, and brought New York's shipyards up to par.

A CEMETERY WITHOUT ANY GRAVESTONES

At first glance, you may not know Brinckerhoff
Photo Credit: Emilio Guerra

At first glance, you may not know Brinckerhoff Cemetery is, in fact, a cemetery. Today there are no visible above-ground gravestones, but a survey in 1919 identified 77 markers dated 1730-1872.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote in 2012 that "Brinckerhoff Cemetery survives as a rare, and one of the oldest, colonial-era burial grounds in the Borough of Queens, as well as one of the few tangible links to the early-18th century, and rural, history of the borough."

Despite years of neglect and vandalism, the cemetery is a remnant and reminder of Queens' time as a countryside farmland.

A FERRIS WHEEL

Coney Island's 150-foot-tall Wonder Wheel (originally called the
Photo Credit: Emilio Guerra

Coney Island's 150-foot-tall Wonder Wheel (originally called the Dip-the-Dip) took its first spin in 1920.

Its small motor room and mechanisms are largely unchanged since the ride was constructed on site with Bethlehem Steel.

The Wheel has a great safety record -- it only stopped mid-ride during the Blackout of 1977, when operators hand-cranked the ride to get passengers safely back to the ground.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote that it's "a unique and imposing feature of the landscape" and "a cherished symbol of [the Coney Island] community."

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