Category Archives: Current Events

Open House New York: From Teddy’s home to a secret cottage Ten FREE historical spaces to visit in all five boroughs

An old postcard of Cass Gilbert’s U.S. Custom House, one of the highlights of this year’s Open House New York.

You have no excuse now.  This weekend is the 12th Annual Open House New York, the city’s annual celebration of history, architecture and design.  Hundreds of places throughout the five boroughs will throw open their doors to visitors. So that weird old church you’ve always wanted to visit? It’s probably open.  Ever wanted to explore a neighborhood you’ve never been to but needed a reason to go?  This is your reason.

Some places featured this weekend did require reservations, most of which have been taken.  (But not all. check the Open House website to be sure.)  But a large number of locations have free admissions — museums, historical houses, unusual residences and so many more.

Here are a few recommendations of places to visit this weekend that are completely free to visit.  You can find the full list here.  I’ll be around running around to several Open House sites for most of the weekend so follow along with me on Twitter (@boweryboys) or on Instagram (boweryboysnyc).

In additional, I’m also providing a little ‘suggested listening’, prior Bowery Boys podcasts which relate directly or indirectly to the Open House New York sites in question.  You can download them via iTunes or at the links provided below.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace

28 E. 20th Street, Manhattan
Muster up some of that enthusiasm that welled within you during the Ken Burns’ documentary The Roosevelts a few weeks ago and head over to the Flatiron District to visit the beautiful home that gave us Teddy himself.  There are park rangers and docents scattered throughout the house to spill the home’s fascinating history. Spend the afternoon imagining this sickly kid pictured at right running through these halls. (Meanwhile, if you got reserved tickets to tour the other Roosevelt house, congratulations!)
WHEN: Saturday, October 11: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
IN THE AREA: Head on over to the Grand Lodge of Masons afterwards on 23rd Street for a truly memorable tour of the ornate ritual rooms.
SUGGESTED LISTENING: Theodore’s home is located right off of  the Gilded Age shopping district Ladies Mile. Wander around and listen to the history of this area.  If you do go to the Grand Lodge, please check out our podcast on Cleopatra’s Needle which reveals one particular secret of this unusual building.

Central Synagogue
652 Lexington Avenue at 55th Street, Manhattan
Most people think St. Patrick’s Cathedral when they think midtown and religion, but Central Synagogue is actually older, opening in 1872.  What’s especially unusual about this building is its Moorish Spanish design which reverberates brightly throughout the buildings (newly renovated in 2001).
WHEN: Sunday, October 12: 11:00 am – 1:00 pm
IN THE AREA:  If you’re one of those holding tickets to the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church clock tower, then these two sites perfect complement each other.  If not, head on down to 44th Street and stroll around the opulent Beaux-Arts General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen.
SUGGESTED LISTENING: Our latest podcast on Gramercy Park also gives the origin story of the street that the synagogue sits on — Lexington Avenue. [Download here]

An image of the Arsenal from 1862. “Troops Leaving For the War” (NYPL)

The Central Park Arsenal 
830 Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Manhattan
This former armory building — once a prototype natural history museum — predates the park itself and currently houses the New York Parks Department.  There’s roof access too so you can impress your friends with unique pictures of the park around you.
WHEN: Sunday, October 12: 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
IN THE AREA:  You’re just a block away from Temple Emanu-El which is providing tours all day.  Among the more recent reasons to soak in this Jazz Age-era beauty: the memorial service for Joan Rivers was held here last month.
SUGGESTED LISTENING: Our two part series on the history of Central Park.  {You can find special illustrated’ versions of episodes #54 and #55 at iTunes or at these links.)

Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House
1 Bowling Green, Manhattan (pictured at top)
This former custom house, named for my favorite person ever, is always a delight to visit as it houses the National Museum of the American Indian. Tours throughout the day will give you some insight into the extraordinary — and sometimes wacky— touches conceived by architect Cass Gilbert.
WHEN: Saturday, October 11 — 10am – 4pm; Sunday, October 12 — 1pm – 5pm
IN THE AREA:  You can spend your entire day in downtown Manhattan!  Follow up with a visit to important places to American history — Federal Hall National Memorial and the African Burial Ground National Monument (open Saturday only).
SUGGESTED LISTENING:  Why not try our history of Gilbert’s more famous structure — the Woolworth Building? [Download here]

Fort Tryon Cottage & Heather Garden
Fort Tryon Park, Manhattan
You’ve probably been to the Cloisters Museum but walked by this odd little house without ever knowing its secrets.  This fairy-tale cottage from 1905 predates both the park and the museum, and all-day tours will provide you with more interesting details of the grounds’ peculiar history.
WHEN: Saturday, October 11 — 11am – 4pm; Sunday, October 12 — 11am – 4pm
IN THE AREA:  I highly recommend you follow up the cottage with a sally around the Morris-Jumel Mansion, followed up with a visit to Highbridge Park and Recreation Center.
SUGGESTED LISTENING: A history of the Cloisters Museum and Fort Tryon Park. [Download here]

A photo of Poe’s cottage, from between 1910-1915 (LOC)

Edgar Allan Poe House and Poe Park Visitors Center
2640 Grand Concourse, The Bronx
Is there anything more perfectly October to do than taking a free tour of Edgar Allan Poe’s former home near Fordham University? Just put on a nice sweater, get a big ole pumpkin spice coffee and head over to hear the curious story of this house.  And stop by the fairly new visitor’s center for further information about the writer.
WHEN: Saturday, October 11 — 10am – 5pm; Sunday, October 12 — 10am – 5pm
IN THE AREA:  You’re just a short subway right north to a perfect companion tour — the Museum of Bronx History at the Valentine-Varian House, a rustic stone mansion that’s dates from before the Revolutionary War.
SUGGESTED LISTENING: Poe, as sleuth-journalist, makes an appearance in the spooky mystery show Who Killed Mary Rogers? [Download here]

The Great Hall of the New York Hall of Science
Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens
You many not be as familiar with this particular relic of the World’s Fair of 1964 as you are with those of the New York State Pavilion, but this curious building —  “with no corners or straight segments” — was designed by Wallace Harrison, the favorite architect of the Rockefellers.  Grab a sneak peak of the new renovations before it officially opens later this month.
WHEN: Saturday, October 11 — 10 am-2pm; Sunday, October 12 — 10am-2pm
IN THE AREA: A short subway right east will get you to a couple interesting places, open both days, including the Kingsland Homestead (built in the late 18th century) and Voelker Orth Museum, Bird Sanctuary and Victorian Garden, perhaps the quaintest place along the entire Eastern seaboard.
SUGGESTED LISTENING: A history of the World’s Fair 1964-65. [Download here]

Sailors Snug Harbor in a photomechanical post card. (NYPL)

Sailors Snug Harbor
1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island
Here’s the thing — there are many of you reading this who have never been to Sailors Snug Harbor.  So rearrange your plans this weekend and make this the weekend you visit one of New York City’s truly spectacular places.  This 1830s collection of Federalist architecture and surrounding campus will allow you to feel like a time traveler.  [Read more about it here.]
WHEN: Saturday, Oct 11 — 10am-5pm; Oct. 12 — 10 am-5pm
IN THE AREA: A short bus ride or bike ride will get you to two of my favorite places in the borough — The Alice Austen House and Fort Wadsworth / Battery Weed (open Saturday only).
SUGGESTED LISTENING: A brief history of Staten Island. [Download here]

St. Ann and Holy Trinity Church
157 Montague Street, Brooklyn Heights
This austere structure is one of the most impressive churches in a neighborhood filled with 19th century churches, with breathtaking stained-glass windows and shadowy nooks and crannies. During the 1980s and 90s, the church hosted music and theatrical performance; St. Ann’s Warehouse spun off from its corridors.  If you’re a music fan, this is a must stop — Jeff Buckley made his unofficial music debut here during a tribute concert to his father Tim Buckley.
WHEN: Saturday, October 11 — Noon-4pm; Sunday, October 12 — 1pm-5pm
IN THE AREA:  On Saturday head over to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for a free tour (10am-1pm). then over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center to wander through their great new museum space (open both days).
SUGGESTED LISTENING: A Brooklyn Heights show will be coming soon, but until then, why not get into the spirit of the season and listen to last year’s ghost stories podcast — Ghost Stories of Old New York — featuring a frightful tale of ghosts in nearby Cobble Hill. [Download here]

The buildings of Weeksville, 19th century.

Weeksville Heritage Center
158 Buffalo Avenue, Brooklyn
The well-preserved Weeksville residences, home to a significant 19th century African-American population, are supported by a brand new visitors center, outlining the surprising history of this often forgotten black settlement.  There’s even traces of an old Indian road!
WHEN: Saturday, October 11 — Noon-6pm; Sunday, October 12 — 11am-6pm
IN THE AREA:  Both the old Stuyvesant Mansion in Bed-Stuy and P.S. 83 just blocks away from Weeksville. Both feature art installations in the Creative Time series “Funk, God, Jazz and Medicine: Black Radical Brooklyn.”
SUGGESTED LISTENING: In 1863, Weeksville provided refuge for many families fleeing the Civil War Draft Riots.  Listen to our harrowing show on this subject for a little backdrop. [Download here]

Jane’s Walk 2014: Free New York walking tours this weekend

Above: look west on Wall Street 1883 (Courtesy Cornell)

No need to walk around New York City this weekend completely devoid of purpose and context!  The Municipal Art Society will be providing dozens of dozens of free walking tours this weekend as part of their annual Jane’s Walk NYC.

It’s going to be sunny and in the 60s this weekend.  And any day we get to celebrate Jane Jacobs in this city is a good day!  Here’s the full list of free walks.  Just show up at the meeting place indicated on the list.  There are currently over 130 walks available.

I have no particular insight on any particular planned event, but these eight certainly look the most intriguing to me:

1) The Secrets of Death Avenue (Manhattan)
Before there was an elevated freight line dominating the Meat Packing District, there was a street-level railroad causing all sorts of mayhem on Manhattan’s West Side.  As a bonus, enjoy the High Line afterwards! (Extra bonus: Listen to the Bowery Boys High Line walking tour.)
Saturday 12pm; Sunday 5pm

2) Discovering the Future of Freshkills Park (Staten Island)
Freshkills Park is one of the most ambitious ongoing projects in the New York City area, the transformation of an infamous landfill into a city park.  Any peek behind the scenes of this unusual project is worth the trek.
Saturday at 10am and 1pm

3) NoHo: New York’s Architectural History 1800 through 2014, In One Small Neighborhood (Manhattan)
Our new podcast will be up and ready this Friday, and it all takes place right here in this neighborhood.  We didn’t even plan this!  Take advantage of both our show and this free tour and never, ever look at Astor Place and Lafayette Street the same way again.
Saturday 12pm, Sunday 12pm

4) Gowanus Mural Tour (Brooklyn)
Sure, you could do the galleries today, but why not enjoy the strange and ravishing art that’s already installed all over the Gowanus area of Brooklyn?
Saturday 12pm

5) A People’s History of Wall Street (Manhattan)
This one sounds provocative indeed, a history of capitalism “from the mouths of Occupy Wall Street activists, workers and scholars of finance” via the New York street most associated with money.  Leave your Thomas Piketty at home!
Saturday 2pm, Sunday, 2pm

6) Hunter and Twin Islands: Pelham Bay Park (Bronx)
I know Jane’s all about urban environments, but if you’re craving something a little more wild, this fits the bill — a stroll around two former isolated islands in Pelham Bay, infilled (so no boats!) and teeming with nature.
Saturday 10am, Sunday 10am

7) Jackson Heights Tour (aka Explore America’s First Planned Garden & Cooperative Apartment Community) (Queens)
The Queens garden apartment complex is a unique product of the borough’s sudden population influx in the 1910s, with urban planners experimenting with styles of community living.  This tour is also a good excuse to enjoy the great architectural surprises of Jackson Heights.
Saturday 12pm, Sunday 12pm

8) Domino Sugar Factory In Transition (Brooklyn)
Find out just what the heck is going on at one of Williamsburg’s most beloved landmarks. I’m not sure you’ll be going inside — it’s an active construction site these days — but you’ll marvel at the abundance of street art that has sprouted up around it.
Saturday 10am

And of course, celebrate Jane’s birthday this Sunday at the Hester Street Fair:

MetroCard adventure: The 10 best free Open House NY events that don’t need a reservation

The Edgar Allen Poe Cottage — with horse and buggy! — photographed between 1910-1915. You can visit it as part of Open House New York and even go visit their new visitors center. (Courtesy LOC)

Open House New York is the absolute best time of the year to wander the city and visit dozens of New York City’s greatest historical landmarks and architectural wonders.  Unfortunately, reservations for many of those places pretty much filled up within ten minutes.

Never fear, for a great many of the most interesting ones don’t take reservations and are wander-in-as-you-please type venues. Go to their website or pick up a copy of the Open House schedule and stitch together some great weekend plans.  
Trust me, I never, ever remember to make reservations (although, for the first time ever, I actually did get in a couple this year) so I always rely on the free sites.  And there are plenty to choose from.

You can even make a theme day out of OHNY free sites. For instance, do this free tour of Bronx historic homes:  the Van Cortlandt House, the Valentine-Varian House, the Bartow-Pell Mansion and the Edgar Allen Poe Cottage, all open this weekend.  NOTE: Be aware that the government shutdown has shuttered some of these locations for the weekend.  So no Hamilton Grange, no African Burial Ground and no Grant’s Tomb!

Below are some my personal recommendations, ten must-see stops for your weekend.  I’ll be spending my weekend hitting several Open House sites, including some of those listed below.  You can follow along with my trek through the city on Twitter (@boweryboys).   I’ve also made some podcast listening suggestions below; you can download them from the links, pick them up on iTunes, or stream them on Stitcher and other services.

All the times below are from the Open House New York website. Please check their site before you go for any changes!

Above: One of the first playgrounds in the city, located in the Settlement yard. You’ll see this on your tour. (Pic courtesy Facts on File)

Manhattan, Lower East Side, 265 Henry Street
Open: Saturday only, with free open tours at 10am, 10:45am, 11:30am, 1:30pm, 2:15pm, 3:00pm, 3:45pm
If you are anywhere near the Lower East Side this weekend, you owe it to yourself to take a look inside here.  The Henry Street Settlement is a landmark medical and social-outreach facility, founded 120 years ago by Lillian Wald to serve the over-crowded immigrant community.  You have to see how they’ve stitched together this series of classic old row houses from the inside.  Wait until you see Lillian’s sleeping porch!
Before you go: Read this profile on the settlement that I wrote last year for the Partners In Preservation program.

Manhattan, East Village, 41 1/2 Second Avenue and 52-74 2nd Street
Open: Sat and Sun, 10am-5pm
Manhattan’s two oldest cemeteries are quiet oases from the street, spacious greens interspersed with the grave and vault markers of New York’s oldest families.  Worth a short visit, even if you’ve been before. Do you remember a couple years ago when they found some C-4 explosives in the 2nd Street site?

Manhattan, Chelsea, 71 West 23rd Street
Open: Sat and Sun: 11-2pm
I think I recommend this every year. Because it’s totally bonkers! These elaborate ceremony rooms dripping in gilded finery will set you imagination ablaze. You’ll need three hands to count the number of pipe organs. Paranoid people or those allergic to decorative pomp should probably avoid.

Manhattan, Midtown East, 7 West 55th Street
Open Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 12:30pm-5pm
Reservations to the Trinity Church bell tower downtown filled up pretty quickly.  But if really, really want to tour a Gothic tower, look no further than this beautiful church’s clock tower, which will be open to those in comfortable shoes.  Afterwards, just a few minutes east, go take a look at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden in one of Manhattan’s oldest buildings. (Open Sun 11am-4pm)

Manhattan, Upper East Side, 10 East 71st Street
Open: Sat-Sun Noon-3pm, tours on the hour
There are a lot of great sites open on Fifth Avenue along Central Park. Start with the Central Park Arsenal and later on, proceed up to the Ukrainian Institute of America, the National Academy Museum and the New York Academy of Medicine, all free.  But don’t leave out this new addition to the OHNY calendar, the Frick Art Reference Library, built in 1935 and designed by John Russell Pope (better known for the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC). If you spend your afternoon touring all these buildings along Central Park’s east side, you’ll feel instantly smarter.

Brooklyn, Sunset Park, 140 58th Street
Open: Saturday 11am-5pm
Believe it or not, this was designed by Cass Gilbert, the same person who gave us the Woolworth Building.  Completed in 1919, this was the largest military supply base in the United States through World War II, an awe-inspiring space that today is leased to private tenants.. If industrial architecture fascinates you and you haven’t yet seen this building up close, make this your first stop of the day. (Picture courtesy On The Real NY)
Before you go: If you’d like a primer on Gilbert’s early New York work, here’s my article on Gilbert’s three other buildings constructed prior to the Woolworth.

Brooklyn, Park Slope, 336 3rd Street
Open: Sat 9-5pm, Sun 10-5pm
This reconstructed Revolutionary War site is already a favorite for many in the neighborhood. But there’s one particularly fascinating reason to visit this weekend — on Saturday, reinactors in period uniforms will play baseball based upon 1864 rules.  The Kings County Fiber Festival will also be taking place. You can never have enough fiber in your diet! (Of the crochet variety, that is.)
Before you go: Hear about the history of the Old Stone House in our podcast on New York and the British Invasion 1776. [website] [podcast]

Staten Island, St. George, 35 Hyatt Street
Open: Sunday only, 10 am-2pm, with a free guided tour at noon
A few minutes walk from the ferry terminal, this fabulous old theater was built in 1928 and a few years later purchased by William Fox, the powerful movie executive whose name is attached to 20th Century Fox and the Fox Television Network. The stage is frequently used on television and movies. Were you a fan of NBC’s ‘Smash‘? The faux Marilyn Monroe musical was mounted here.
Before you go: Listen to the Bowery Boys podcast on the Staten Island Ferry to learn the origins of the name St. George. [download here] [webpage]

The Trans-World Airlines Flight Center, open this weekend for your intercontinental enjoyment. Pic courtesy Life Magazine.

Queens, JFK Airport
Open: 11am-4pm
Yes, this means you’ll have to go to the airport without the benefit of having a vacation attached to it.  But if you haven’t see this Eero Saarinen masterpiece up close yet, it’s worth the voyage.  One of the most flamboyant examples of modernist architecture still standing, Saarinen’s groovy, bird-like structure  embodies a way of thinking about flight and broke the mold for fashionable public spaces.  I dare you to come out here dressed as a vintage flight attendant.
Before you go: Listen to the Bowery Boys podcast on Idlewild/JFK Airport to discover the secrets to JFK’s ‘charm bracelet’ design. [download here] [webpage]

Queens, Flushing, 45-57 Bowne Street
Open: Sat-Sun 8am-9pm, free tours at 12, 1:30, 2:30 4pm  
One of the most fascinating religious structures in New York, the Ganesh Temple was built in 1970 with granite shrines and imported stone from India.  Wandering through with your shoes off is both marvelously peaceful and slightly disorienting.  A beautiful, otherworldly gem in the midst of Flushing.  And there’s a delicious canteen in the basement.

Jane’s Walk this weekend! Better than a Moses Walk

If you see large clusters of people walking around historic neighborhoods this weekend, drop what you’re doing and join them.  The Municipal Art Society celebrates the May 4th birthday of urban planner Jane Jacobs with dozens of free walking tours this weekend, led by volunteers through a great many corners of New York City.  

From the Municipal Art Society website:

“On Saturday, May 4 and Sunday, May 5, thousands of New Yorkers will come together for Jane’s Walk NYC – an annual series of 100+ FREE guided walks (and bike rides!) throughout New York’s five boroughs. Registration is NOT required. Whether you choose to stroll through neighborhoods you love or discover new neigborhoods you’ve never visited, you’ll enjoy this international program created to commemorate the life and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs.”

Visit the Municipal Art Society’s website for a complete listing of tours.

The five tours that personally looks the most intreguing to me:

— Manhattan: The Lake That Shaped Manhattan: Collect Pond and the Five Points (May 4 at 3pm)
— Manhattan: 1000 Steps: Walk Broadway from the Battery to the Bronx (May 4 at 10am and May 5 at noon)
— Brooklyn: Red Hook: Past and Post Sandy (May 4 and May 5, starting at 9am)
— Roosevelt Island: FDR Four Freedoms Park (May 4, starting at noon)
— Staten Island: A Ramble from Bentley Street to Billopp Manor in Staten Island (May 5, starting at noon)

However, if you’re a contrarian and would prefer staking out on your very own Robert Moses walk, here’s a map of the Cross Bronx Expressway. Watch out for traffic!

A short history of Trump: the roots of Donald’s wealth, from quiet Queens beginnings to glitzy Midtown excess


Ice ice baby: Donald Trump at Wollman Rink, which he renovated in a moment of non-profit public altruism during the 1980s.

PODCAST Sick of Donald Trump yet? (Probably.) Figured him out yet? Is he a financial wizard, reality sideshow, or political distraction? Or all of the above? The solution may be contained in the roots of his fortune — a saga that stretches back to the 1880s and begins with a 16-year-old boy named Drumpf who made his living in a barber shop. The story unfolds during the early days of Queens, a borough once sparsely populated but by the 1920s, a land ripe for growth.

By the 1960s, Donald’s father Fred had built thousands of middle-class homes throughout Queens and Brooklyn and embroiled himself in some controversy regarding the remains of two Coney Island theme parks. The Donald built upon his father’s reputation to become a successful Manhattan developer and a flamboyant celebrity with seemingly bottomless levels of lucre. But of course everyone has their limit.

FEATURING: Trump Tower marbles, a miracle on 34th Street, and the magic that would have been Television City.

You can tune into it below, download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, or get it straight from our satellite site.

Or listen to it here:
The Bowery Boys: TRUMP

A home building frenzy in Woodhaven, Queens, at the corner of 64th Road and Woodhaven Boulevard. A massive population influx into the borough induced home development at a rapid pace. Fred Trump’s first constructed homes were in the neighborhood in the 1920s.


Donald and his father Fred Trump, two of the most powerful developers in the city by the 1970s and 80s. Of course, the elder Trump constructed mostly dwellings for the middle class, while Donald focused on the wealthiest New Yorkers.


Trump Village, Fred Trump’s largest apartment co-op when it opened in 1964. (Courtesy flickr/TheFadedPast)


The Hotel Commodore under construction in 1918. Sixty years later, young Donald Trump would redevelop the property to become the Grand Hyatt, encasing the stripped-down hotel in a sleek glass tower that literally reflects Grand Central on one side, and the Chrysler Building on the other (below). (1918 pic courtesy NYPL; modern pic courtesy flickr/kw-ny)



Trump rode a wave of personal connections, business drive and opportunity to become New York’s hottest developer by the 1980s, fueled by media attention and spectacle to become one of New York’s most ubiquitous celebrities.


Does anything typify New York in the 1980s more than Trump Tower, that fortress of wealth gleaming with imported marbles, finished in 1983 and offering the most expensive apartments in the city?

Bonwit Teller, the luxury department store that had the misfortune of having an address that Trump wanted for his Trump Tower.

Behold — Television City, the Trump plan for the west side involving a 152-story skyscraper and a studio for NBC, originally at a total of 16 million square feet of space.

Trump the Game! From 1988. “It’s not whether you win or lose. It’s whether you win!”

Photos at Wollman Rink and of Donald/Fred courtesy Google Life images