It all started with a lamp post.
Five-year-old Kevin Walsh took notice when the ornate cast iron streetlights were replaced with modern-looking ones in his Bay Ridge neighborhood. It started a lifelong fascination with infrastructure and urban exploring that he turned into a popular blog, website and book, all titled “Forgotten NY.”
The Forgotten NY blog launched 20 years ago and was one of the first to chronicle quickly vanishing parts of old New York — street signs, historic buildings, store marquees and, yes, lamp posts. He also gives walking tours that highlight neighborhoods and some of their quirky, hidden gems. Upcoming tours include Steinway Village on October 19, a Halloween Cemetery Tour on October 27 and walking High Bridge on November 10th.
Walsh, 62, spoke with amNewYork on the 20th anniversary of Forgotten NY and why it’s important to honor and preserve the city’s unique character, while we still can.
Your interest in infrastructure started as a child growing up in Brooklyn. What are some of those memories?
Between 1959 and 1964, everything across the street from me was torn down so they could build the trench for the Gowanus Expressway, which led to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. My father was an avid photographer, as I am now, and he was able to take a lot of pictures of the bridge construction. We were in the first bus that went over the bridge in November of 1964. We would take the ferry to Staten Island and take bus rides all over. So we were exploring New York City a long time before it got really fashionable.
I was always fascinated with mailboxes or lights or light lampposts, old ads and things like that. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the internet got popular and I was able to really indulge this enthusiasm of mine.
What was the blog like when you started it in 1999? How did it become a book?
This was back in the days when people actually would take a half-hour and read something. So this was the Wild West era of blogging and the internet … back then there was like sort of a publisher’s gold rush and they were signing bloggers left and one of them was me.
Did you know you had tapped into something that resonated with so many people?
I got very good response early on because it was one of the only websites that did this sort of thing. I was inspired by three other websites: NYCRoads.com by Steve Anderson, Jeff’s Streetlight Site by Jeff Saltzman and Frank Jump’s Fading Ads.
How did you come up with ideas to highlight on the website?
Since I began and looking and noticing things in the street in 1962 when I was five years old, I had years of stuff stored away in my head … I took a long bike ride when I was a kid to Coney Island and saw a street called Triton Avenue and I found, for me, what was the mother lode of Forgotten NY type of stuff. They were demolishing all the homes along that street and I saw an old cast iron lamp post with the street signs on it. It was sort of a touchstone for me in the early days of exploration. I was back there on a tour decades later and found an old porcelain or enamel Triton Avenue sign on Shell Road.
New York City has changed dramatically since you started the blog. Are you surprised by all the new buildings and how much was torn down?
I work in the Columbus Circle area and I was amazed at how many of these humongous towers are going up … When I first started going to Williamsburg at the dawn of Forgotten NY it was like a ghost town. Now it’s like Coney Island, it’s so busy.
What have you found are the most popular tours or your favorites?
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park during the 50th Anniversary in 2014 highlighting the World’s Fair relics was probably the most popular. But you never know. We had a tour in Inwood that attracted 35 people and Gravesend that attracted 40 people. The one I thought surely would do well in Gowanus around the Gowanus Canal got like 14 people.
What are your future plans?
I’d love to do another book and an app that would combine all the tours but those things are expensive to do … I’m going to continue taking the camera out and doing what I do. I’m 62 right now. I’m going to keep doing it until I can’t.