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When talking about big cities, we may think that few effort would be needed to introduce them, since their main spots and attractions are well known to almost everyone.
Nevertheless, all of them house a great number of inconspicuous places, unknown to the majority of visitors.
(I assume you just Google-searched for “inconspicuous”… Don’t worry, I did the same earlier)
This time we will fetch some of the many s you can find in NYC.
Most of them can only be discovered on foot, so you’ll have to be ready to shake laziness.
Yes, I’m talking to you …
Our journey will start at the south end of the island of Manhattan :
1- Irish Hunger Memorial
Located at the end of Vesey Street in Battery Park City, this is an unusual place that reminds the An Gorta Mor (“The Great Hunger”) in Ireland, that killed over 1 million people between 1845 and 1852, leading almost another million to emigrate.
The memorial was built with stones carried from each of the Irish counties, replicating an abandoned stone cottage within a rural Irish landscape.
2- City Hall Station
Originally the south terminus of the first “Manhattan Main Line” subway, it preserved until today some unique characteristics like its vaulted tile archs, elegant chandeliers, leaded skylights, and the graceful curves of the station.
The need to expand the original line with new –longer- cars led to its closure at the end of 1945, due to the impossibility to adapt it to the new formations’ dimensions.
While it is not currently open to the public, there are still two ways to see it: you may be able to take one of the guided tours periodically available, or just stay on the 6 train beyond Brooklyn Bridge stop –the end of the line-, so to be able to get a glympse of the station when the train loops to make its turnaround.
3- New York’s narrowest house
Built around 1850 in a former passage for horse-drawn carriages at 75 1/2 Bedford St. in West Village, for a while now this house had became quite famous.
To get an idea of its size, the narrowest room -the main bedroom- measures just 7 feet 4 inches and, in all, the house spans 990 square feet.
It is known as the Millay House, named after one of its famous tenants, the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay who lived there in the 1920s.
The narrow bulding also has a shared “secret garden” with a side entrance –used by its occupants to avoid the numerous tourists usually gathered on the sidewalk-.
4- Washington Mews
While there are about ten streets with the word “mews” in their names arround NYC, this is definitely my favourite one.
That word indicates that many of the street’s buildings were originally developed as small stables for nearby townhouses.
These stables date to the era when horses played a priority role in movement around the city, from passenger carriages to delivery trucks and trolleys.
Located on a side of 5th Avenue almost half a block north of Washington Square Park, it’s a private and once fully cobblestoned street -today, only the half of the street closest to University Place is paved with these stones while the side close to 5th Avenue is now finished in cement-.
This quiet street is directly related to the row of “Greek Revival” -a style that dominated American architecture during the first half of the 19th century- houses on Washington Square North, dating back to the 1830’s.
Being one of the earliest developed neighborhoods in Manhattan, Greenwich Village houses a number of these old stables converted into residences.
5- Subway’s “Life Underground” exhibit
The 14th Street and 8th Avenue subway station hosts more than 100 small sculptures of cast-bronze depicting life in New York.
Back in 2002, artist Tom Otterness started the installation of the popular -and yet not that well known for visitors- “Life Underground” exhibit; it took 10 years to be completed, while Mr. Otterness ended up making four times the amount of work he was originally commissioned to create.
The statues represent various stereotypical characters of the city, including even a sewer alligator wearing a shirt and tie.
You can find the complete list and individual photos here.
6- A section of the Berlin Wall
The dismantling of the infamous wall that divided the city of Berlin for more than 25 years was completed in 1991, with almost 45,000 wall sections being recycled.
However, even before the complete dismantling a few hundred of those sections were preserved. Some of them were later sold, auctioned off or given away.
In 1990, Mr. Jerry Speyer –a real estate developer- purchased 5 of those concrete slabs from the East German government.
The slabs were installed next to the popular Paley Park, a courtyard on 53rd Street near Madison Avenue, in Midtown East -and usually mistaken for just another street mural-.
Today, those original pieces of the Berlin Wall were moved to the lobby of 520 Madison Ave., to preserve them from further damage and deterioration.
Do not worry, you can still go to see them for free, since the lobby is open to the public everyday.
7- REACH, a Musical Installation in the Subway
Along the subway platform of the busy 34th Street Herald Square NR station you will find a green stretch of square vent/piping, with clear stripes on top of a number of plastic holes.
Swipe your hand in front of one of those holes and you’ll find why I included this station in my list…
Created by Christopher Janney in 1996, this interactive exhibit called “Reach New York: An Urban Musical Instrument” features various speakers equipped with motion sensors, so as you move your hand in front of each hole a different sound is turned on, including rain and other sounds of the rainforest.
The clear strips are supposed to light up as well, but only a few still work.
8- Waterfalls in Midtown
There are a lot of little plazas and courtyards to discover in NYC if you walk with your eyes wide open, some of them even hiding waterfalls in the middle of the city.
In 6 1/2 Avenue, from 51st to 57th street, is located Paley Park, a hidden, peaceful and quiet pedestrianized shortcut homing a 20 feet waterfall.
But the real jewel in Midtown is Greenacre Park.
You will be surprised that this urban, green refuge manages to maintain such a quiet and calming atmosphere, given its central location on East 51st between 2nd and 3rd Avenue, tucked between two looming buildings.
Its centerpiece is the 25 feet cascade, which also works as a sound barrier, while a canopy of locust trees contributes to the ambiance and helps to control heat in summer as well as keeping the surrounding buildings out from view.
A custodian monitors that visitors follow the rules including no feet on seats -and no photos, though this is more difficult to achieve, as you can see-.
9- Brooklyn’s “secret” Subway Vent
Your stay in NYC surely includes a visit to Brooklyn.
If so, we’ll add a walk to 58 Joralemon Street, to find what looks like a regular, anonymous brick building.
But, after a second look, we should start noticing a few particularities, mainly the massive steel lock keeping the door shut, the windows with sleek, opaque tinted glasses, unlike those of the neighboring houses.
But there’s no misterious explanation here : this building is no home to permanent inhabitants, it is just a ventilation spot and emergency exit for the Brooklyn subway lines running beneath.
(I know it’s not the most amazing place, but come on : do you actually know someone else who knows about this place?)
A bonus for you : similar fake houses can be found in Paris (145, rue la Fayette) and London (23/24 Leinster Terrace), but in both cases they are only facades respectively disguising a chimney and a huge hole in the ground.
10- The Roosevelt Island Aerial Tramway
Now, this is something different…
Usually ignored by most visitors to NYC, the tiny and residential Roosevelt Island to the east of Manhattan has some interesting things to see -once you reach there you should just take a Red Bus, which will give you a ride around the island for just a few cents-.
But this time I’m going to talk to you about the tram that spans the East River and connects Roosevelt Island to the Upper East Side.
While not operated by the MTA, it still uses the MetroCard System with the same fares than the city subway.
Yes, for a single swipe of your MetroCard you’ll get some beautiful views of Manhattan and the East River together with the novelty of a cable car ride.
The station on the Manhattan side is on 2nd Ave., between 59th and 60th Streets. Check running times at this site.
11- “Green” rooftops