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  • Category Archives Secret NYC
  • No False Promise

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I am frustrated reading about fascinating places in New York City that are off-limits to the general public and seeing superb photo galleries from the brave and lucky souls who have visited. Places such as the abandoned City Hall subway station, inside the Domino Sugar Factory, North Brother Island, U Thant Island, and the top chamber in Washington Square Arch.

    There are numerous guidebooks to NYC that purport to be not for tourists, offering an insider’s view or secrets of the city. But the aforementioned places are the REAL secrets of the city – places that are inaccessible, on private property that will require trespassing, or just very remote and little known, like Dead Horse Bay, The Hole, or Willets Point. Urban explorers daring and brazen enough to risk arrest or mishaps have visited all these spots, and their travails are documented on the handful of websites inclined to cover such as undercity.org, gothamist.com, and forgotten-ny.com.

    One of the most intriguing to me is the ship graveyard in the Rossville section of Staten Island. The area is largely abandoned and sits quietly, secretly, and out of plain view behind a long strip of corrugated metal fence on Arthur Kill Road. From the New York Times in 1990:

    As with the fabled elephants’ graveyard, ships go to die at Rossville on Staten Island.
    For decades the Witte Marine Equipment Company, the lone remaining commercial marine-salvage yard in the city, has given mothballed, scuttled, abandoned and wrecked ships of all sizes a final port. Through the years it has become, an “accidental marine museum,” as a nautical magazine described it, with one of the world’s largest collections of historic ships.

    After hearing about this place for the first time, I viewed numerous photo galleries online of those who had visited and documented the adventure. The images of decaying ships with weathering wood and rusting metal were beautifully striking and haunting. I immediately made a trip to the area. However, an impenetrable fence, a barking dog, stories of a mean man, and no obvious coastal access kept me from exploring.

    On a recent visit to this area of Staten Island, I noted a patch of yard where some ships were visible – a teaser to the real shipyard. I respected the no trespassing sign and took a handful of photos from the roadside. My good behavior was rewarded – the owner of the property introduced himself as Tony and welcomed me to access his private property if I wanted to take photos of the famed tugboat/ship graveyard. He said many photographers had come before me, even that very day, and he was always happy to accommodate those who respected his property in advance. I was elated at the opportunity and told him that I would return soon when I had more time to make a full excursion. He pointed out his home nearby and told me to just knock. I have done my research as to where and how and examined maps and aerial views. Soon, courtesy of Tony, I will go back to explore for the first time and bring you those images here. And that’s No False Promise :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • North Brother Island

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I had made a rare surprise visit to my parents’ home in CT. However, the surprise was on me when I arrived to find that they were not home. I waited foolishly in their driveway wondering what I might do until they returned. It occurred to me that my surprise visit would be even more surprising if they found me in their home, which they believed to be locked and secured. It would also be the perfect opportunity to test and demonstrate the knowledge I had acquired from Lockpicking Made Easy by Eddie the Wire. I, like many curious boys, had been fascinated by locks and lock picking since childhood, but only as an adult was I able to really study them.

    I recalled that my father never locked his garage and there, I was able to find a few materials and tools and fabricate a crude lock pick. My first efforts at lock picking were a success, and soon, voila – I was inside my home. My family arrived soon after and applauded my cleverness.
    The book on lock picking was published by Loompanics Press, who specialized in “unusual and controversial” books. The subjects ranged from the underground economy, self-defense, revenge, guns, weapons, guerrilla warfare, terrorism, tax avoidance, privacy, fake ID, murder, death, torture, anarchism, survival, how to make drugs, counterfeiting money, and more.
    The Loompanics catalog ran hundreds of pages with hundreds of books. I once showed it to a friend who was an attorney. A quick perusal and he was aghast. He turned to me and said, are these books even legal?
    Good question, I replied, you’re the attorney. Many titles certainly skirted the law, claiming to be for information only with caveats galore that they be not used for breaking the law. Yeah, right.
    There were also more benign titles, such as How to Start Your Own Country and one of my favorites, Uninhabited Ocean Islands, with an exhaustive list of small uninhabited islands around the world, ripe for the taking. My dream was to have my own private tropical island and set up my own paradise. My near obsession with islands knew no bounds. I subscribed to Islands magazine. I cataloged the islands of the South Pacific. I read Fatu Hiva. I traveled the West Indies. Ironically, I settled on one of the most inhabited and least remote islands in the world – Manhattan. Nonetheless, it is an island and does feel like a world unto itself.

    But my fascination with islands remains, and recently, I purchased The Other Islands of New York City to see what secrets I might find. I have already featured the small outcropping in the East River, U Thant Island, here on September 15, 2010. But my investigation has led me to the discovery of much bigger and more mysterious islands in the waters of New York City. North Brother Island was now in my crosshairs, and on September 22, 2012, I studied maps for the best vantage points, climbed into my car with cameras in tow, and went on an excursion hoping to see and learn more about North Brother Island.
    The best spot was Barretto Point Park in the Bronx. It was here that I spotted the Floating Pool Lady. There it lay, in the East River near Riker’s Island and Hell Gate, wild and uninhabited. Abandoned for 50 years, the island is an explorer’s dream. However, the island is now a bird sanctuary, currently abandoned and generally off-limits to the public. The most disappointing news was that, undaunted, other urban explorers have managed to visit. A number of websites, including Gothamist, have run photo essays.

    North Brother Island has one of the richest and most fascinating histories in New York City. The island was uninhabited until 1885, when Riverside Hospital moved there from Blackwell’s Island and was used to quarantine patients with typhus, TB, cholera, yellow fever, leprosy, smallpox, polio, venereal diseases, and heroin addiction. Its most famous resident was Typhoid Mary, who spent 30 years confined there. North Brother Island was also the site of New York City’s greatest loss of life prior to 9/11. In 1905, over one thousand people died when the General Slocum steamship went ablaze near the island. After World War II, the island housed war veterans who were students at local colleges, along with their families. The island has been abandoned since the 1960s.

    I have learned most recently that it is possible to visit the island with special permission from the Parks Department and not during heron season – March to October. A private boat needs to be chartered, and there is no dock. A friend who is well connected to city officials said he could easily arrange such a thing for me. However, after multiple inquiries, I have heard nothing.  I hope one day to finally set foot on North Brother Island

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • The Domino Effect

    I am willing to take risks, however, I am not interested in being arrested or going to jail. Unfortunately, this means it is unlikely that I will get firsthand the types of photos had by trespassers who visited the abandoned Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg as reported by the Gothamist. The series of illicit photos can be seen in their article. A 2010 media tour did NOT include access to the refinery interior. According to the insurance companies, as reported by the Gothamist,

    “the majority of the buildings are filled with large machinery, much of which spans multiple floors. Also, the majority of the buildings do not have solid floors, and instead, machinery is connected to walls and pillars with cat-walks and metal flooring.”

    This type of environment is a dream for many a photographer, what some are calling “ruin porn.” I recently toured the area and photographed the property street side, keeping to the outside of the chain link fence.
    Incredibly, this massive sugar refinery was in operation for over 150 years and only closed as recently as 2004. The plant was built in 1856, and by 1870 it was processing more than 50% of the sugar used in the United States. Who would fancy that this 11 acre, 5 block, industrial site with its iconic Domino Sugar sign would sit along the East River all in plain view from Manhattan? A large mixed-use residential and retail development is planned for the property. The Community Preservation Corporation (CPC) sold the property to Two Trees for $185 million in 2012.

    The image of sugar has been tainted for some time. On the one hand, sugar is synonymous with sinfully sweet goodness; on the other hand, it has over the last decades been pointed to for many health-related ills. Diabetes, obesity, tooth decay, etc. Whether by William Duffy, author of Sugar Blues, published in 1975, Gary Taubes of the New York Times’ article “Is Sugar Toxic,” or by Mayor Bloomberg with his recent ban on large sugary drinks (over 16 ounces) in New York City, the white crystalline substance has been likened by many to a poison.
    As I toured the Brooklyn property, I came across a large sign with the classic Domino packaging. The words “Pure Cane Granulated Sugar” brought back memories of the pure white ingredient of candies and confections, not poison. The complex of industrial properties in Williamsburg, like sugar itself, is likely here to stay. That’s the enduring power of The Domino Effect :)


  • Vacancy

    Given the real estate values in New York City, it is completely baffling to see properties unoccupied for years. Perhaps some of the best examples in Manhattan are properties in the estate of Bill Gottlieb. I had the privilege of meeting this eccentric man in the 1980s when I was looking for commercial space for my business. I had been enamored with the prospect of renting a small one-story garage and was intrigued that all of them bore the name of Bill Gottlieb as agent/owner. I met him and toured a number of properties in his signature old station wagon with cracked windows taped together. Little did I know that this man’s estate was valued in the hundreds of millions.

    Recently, I read about the Spook House of Williamsburg on the Forgotten New York website. So, curious to see the place for myself, I took an excursion to 539 Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The storefront appears to have been abandoned for some time and is framed with a weathered wood exterior. A flag graces the front door and venetian blinds cover all the windows. Little seems to be known about the property, and most online searches trace back to the Forgotten New York website, where information is sketchy. It’s another mysterious case in New York City real estate of unexplained Vacancy


  • Frontier


    It pays to be informed, otherwise you might, like I did in the 1960s, believe you “discovered” a little known, non-touristy area like Times Square (see story here) or that more recently, think you discovered a lesser known structure in Coney Island.

    On a recent excursion to Coney Island, my exploration took me a little off the beaten path. Many good things can happen when one Goes West. As I did so, past all the well known attractions and landmarks – the New York Aquarium, the Wonder Wheel, Luna Park, Nathan’s, the Cyclone, the area started to feel much like the frontier with abandoned lots and structures. It was at 21st Street and the Boardwalk that I happened upon a building which became more intriguing the more closely I examined it, thinking that I had made another secret “discovery.” Only today did I happen upon the photos I had taken and decided to investigate the structure, and I was soon to learn that 2102 Boardwalk was about as obscure as the Times Square of my youth.

    My search at the New York Times website brought up a Christopher Gray article. I knew now that the building was very significant, to be featured for Gray’s Streetscapes. I also was comforted that I was in good hands and would get accurate historical information from Gray. The building is described by the Times as “festooned with elaborate, colorful terra cotta nautical motifs, including Neptune rising from the sea draped in seaweed, European ships and intricate crustaceans and other sea creatures.” Here are some excerpts from the article:

    BUILT in 1924, the Childs Restaurant building at West 21st Street and the Boardwalk was one of the last gasps of elegance for Coney Island…In 1924 Childs, the quick-lunch chain known for its simple meals, built an imposing steel-framed restaurant building. Childs was founded in 1889 on Cortlandt Street in Manhattan by the brothers Samuel and William Childs, who sought to serve the rushing ferry crowds in downtown New York. By the mid-1920′s they were grossing $25 million a year from more than 100 branches, half of them in the New York area.

    William oversaw the operational end and Samuel handled the real estate side. Presumably it was Samuel who oversaw the restaurant chain’s trademark design in the 1910′s — storefront establishments that were white-tiled, efficient and clean, responsive to what The New York Times called the American ”lust for sanitation.”

    For their Coney Island building, however, the brothers brought in an elite architectural firm, Ethan Allen Dennison and Fredric C. Hirons, who had both studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The architects embraced the Coney Island aesthetic with creative gusto. Against a soft gray stucco field they set a wild profusion of terra cotta ornament in varied colors, with a rooftop pergola apparently meant as a dining area.

    The Childs brothers’ earlier buildings had been objects of derision by architectural writers, and the sudden burst of ambitious design was unusual. Just after the new Coney Island Childs, the restaurant hired William Van Alen to design an Art Deco jewel-box restaurant, much altered but still recognizable at 604 Fifth Avenue, near 48th Street. It is now a T.G.I. Friday’s.

    The Childs chain sold the Coney Island branch in 1947, and Enrico Ricci, Robert V. Ricci’s father, bought the structure in the 1950′s. Since then the Ricci family has oper ated the Tell Chocolate Company from the building. It has kept up the stucco walls, removed graffiti, kept the building watertight and cared for the terra cotta. But with its windows sealed for factory use, the building has a forlorn air. Noticeable chunks of ornament have been removed, but large sections remain.

    The building was landmarked in 2003 and has been leased for various uses. From 2008-2010, the space was incarnated as Lola Staar’s Dreamland Roller Rink. For an in-depth article regarding this extraordinary structure, see here. In New York City, one can still Go West and find a little Frontier…

    Related Posts: Partial Remission, Parachute Jump


  • Fatu Hiva

    I have always had a fascination with and love of islands. At one time, I pursued that interest much more actively. My fascination was fulfilled with many trips to the West Indies, Fire Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and Monhegan Island (Maine), as well as with readings on islands around the world.

    My favorite armchair travel book is Fatu Hiva. The author, Thor Heyerdahl, was a Norwegian adventurer and ethnographer. In Fatu Hiva, Heyerdahl chronicles his hunt for paradise in the Marquesa Islands in the South Pacific. With his wife Liv in 1937, they embarked on one of the earliest back-to-nature experiments. However, tropical diseases and difficulties with natives led to a short stay of only one and a half years and an embittered view of the entire effort.

    Now, my island intrigue and explorations are closer to home: Manhattan and the many relatively unknown small islands in the waters surrounding New York City. On September 15, 2010, I wrote of U Thant Island, a small outcropping in the East River.

    Recently, on an excursion to Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier on South Beach in Staten Island, I spotted two islands which were unfamiliar to me. Two local fishermen told me they were Hoffman and Swinburne Islands. The names were not familiar to me either, so they were ripe fodder for photos and investigation.

    In the early 1800s, Staten Island had been the dumping ground for people with deadly contagious diseases – cholera, yellow fever, typhus, and smallpox. The New York Quarantine Hospital, built in 1801, was burned to the ground in 1858 by angry mobs. Two islands were constructed in the Orchard Shoals of New York Harbor. The man-made islands, Hoffman and Swinburne, were used as quarantines until 1929.

    At the start of World War II, the United States government used both islands for various military purposes – the Quonset huts built during this period still stand on Swinburne Island. Various proposals have been made over the years for use of the exiled islands. The islands are currently managed by the National Park Service as part of the Staten Island Unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area. Both islands are still off-limits to the general public to protect the islands’ avian habitat. Perhaps they would be a nice place to settle for awhile.

    Although they are not idyllic or tropical, as Heyerdahl learned quite painfully, paradise is where your heart is, not in Fatu Hiva :)

    Related Posts: Secede, Manhattan Island, ReWarded, City Island, Ellis Island, Governor’s Island, The Shore, Statue of Liberty


  • Not For Tourists

    At my business, we have a showroom which adjoins our offices. The separation between the two is an open doorway and a windowed wall, so nothing is hidden from our clientele. We typically have various prototypes, samples, or products for evaluation in the office area.

    Regardless of how much inventory or diversity we have in our showroom, invariably people will fixate on some sample in our office, craning and straining to see the object of their desire from the doorway and being careful not to overstep the demarcation between showroom and office. Upon inquiry, we inform them that the product is not for sale. Then the interest really escalates. On occasion, we have had begging, with the customer making the case that this is, in fact, exactly what they need.

    The scenario is so common that it has become an inside joke in the office. I have suggested that we take sale merchandise and factory seconds from the showroom, move them into storage, display them a few at a time in our office area, describe them as special prototypes when asked, and raise the prices.

    I have often seen a similar phenomenon on the streets of New York City, where a crowd gathers around a street vendor selling from a large bag. No one can see the contents, which fuels a burning desire in many to learn what is being sold. Once they see what is offered, most will leave immediately without buying. Like the morbid curiosity associated with the rubbernecking of highway accidents.

    People just love the secret, the special, the private, and the undiscovered. At least the idea of such.

    There is a very popular guide book called NFT (Not For Tourists), published for a number of cities, including New York City.
    Trust me, this guide is for tourists.

    Virtually no one really wants to see the things that are Not For Tourists. If you really want that, travel with me on a blistering hot summer Sunday to the industrial sector of Woodside, Queens. Specifically to 37th Avenue and 54th Street.
    Here, you will find the Korean Church of Eternal Life. Notices are hanging from the door, graffiti covers the front, and the church property abuts what appears to be an abandoned diner surrounded by a barbed wire fence. All is adorned by overgrown weeds. You won’t find this church in your NFT guidebooks.

    I don’t think you will find any churchgoers either. Actually, you won’t find anyone at all. It is Not For Sale. And, like Ozone Park, Willets Point, Hunts Point, and the Hole, the Korean Church of Eternal Life is Not For Tourists :(

    Related Posts: Toys “R” Us, Juxtaposition, I Must Confess, With All Due Respect, We Got Religion


  • I Doubt It

    The story behind 95 Bedford Street is befuddled. Not astounding, really, because no one wants to do primary research anymore. Actual pieces of information, misinformation, conjecture, and extrapolation are all blended together. Pieces are copied and recopied. Variants on all these mixings can be found everywhere. Good luck sorting them out.

    Take this simple historic building at 95 Bedford Street in the West Village. The AIA guide says:

    Originally J. Goebel & Company, 95 Bedford St., between Barrow and Grove Sts. W. Side. 1894. Kurzer an& Kohl.  A stable once used by a wine company, as the lettering on the facade clearly indicates; converted into apartments in 1927.

    I don’t know much about wine, but if they are referring to the 3 vessels in the logo, I believe they are crucibles. From Refining Metal Waste, published in 1940, we have a reference:

    J. Goebel & Co., (crucibles, tongs, fluxes, furnaces, casting equipment) 95 Bedford St., New York.


    The building is engraved 1865. How is that related to 1894? Perhaps the business was founded in 1865?
    I did find a book, Metal Industry, which indicates a location of J.Goebel at 67 Cortlandt Street.

    One website says:

    At 95 is a ground-floor former stables belonging to J. Goebel & Co., whose name and symbol is still displayed above the entrance. The 3 cups are appropriate, since he operated a crucible in the building.

    I don’t think he operated a crucible. I believe they manufactured crucibles.

    Yet another site says:

    This beautiful edifice on 95 Bedford Street, marks the former home of J. Goebal & Co., a factory that produced crucibles–containers for holding molten glass–founded in 1865. Notice the three glasses in the edifice design.

    I would guess that the three “glasses” are crucibles. However, crucibles are often used to melt other materials, and “containers for holding molten glass” appears to be just conjecture.

    From New York Songlines, we have:

    The AIA Guide describes this building as being built as stables in 1894, later serving as a winery before becoming apartments in 1927. A neighbor describes this as “hogwash,” however, saying that the building was actually built by J. Goebel & Company as a factory for crucibles–containers for holding molten glass. Apparently the basement is still full of them.

    After reading numerous websites and a few manuscripts, I am still not certain if this building is dated 1894 or 1865, if Goebel was a wine company, if the logo shows glasses or crucibles, or if this building was a former stable and when. Who will do the leg work and sort all this out?  Does anyone care besides Christopher Gray*?  I doubt it.

    *Christopher Gray is a journalist and architectural historian noted for his column in the New York Times, Streetscapes, about the history of New York architecture and real estate. He is the founder of the Office for Metropolitan History, which provides research on the history of New York buildings.

    Other West Village Posts: Friends Pt. 2, Friends Pt. 1, Zena, Buzz and Bling, Itsy Bitsy, Conflicted, McNulty’s, Nuance, Parfumerie, Abingdon Square, Night Out, Paris in New York, 121 Charles, Gay Liberation Monument, Chocolate Bar, 17 Grove Street, Rubyfruit Bar and Grill, Grove Court, The Garden at Saint Lukes, Cherry Lane Theater, Hess Estate Triangle, Jane Jacobs


  • It Hurts Me Too

    Posted on by Brian Dubé


    Please Click and Play Audio Clip to Accompany Your Reading:

    In the off chance you have not heard, read or seen, the painting over of a sign at 11-13 Minetta Street is BIG International news. It’s a media feeding frenzy. In 1958 the Commons opened here. From the 1950s through the 1960s, it became the home of The Fat Black Pussycat Theatre, a legendary beatnik coffee bar which saw the likes of Bill Cosby, Tiny Tim, Mama Cass Elliot, Richie Havens, and Shel Silverstein. It has been said that it may have been here that Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” in 1962 (however, everyone wants to lay claim to a Dylan connection and it appears that there is no hard evidence of such).

    In 1972 the space became Panchito’s, a Mexican restaurant with a main entrance on MacDougal Street and back entrance here at 11-13 Minetta Street. The owner of Panchito’s, Bob Englehardt, is 84 and has been a Village resident since 1951. He has owned the building since the Black Pussycat closed in 1963. Bob frequented the club and says:

    Why don’t we just take the whole world and set it in concrete? That would save everything. The Village was freedom, it wasn’t a concreted-over straitjacket.

    The Pussycat represented the worst of what the Village was. When you wanted to get drugs, get into fights and get with underage girls the Pussycat was where you went. The Village was never about rules. Making someone ask for permission before painting a building is the exact opposite of what made the Village what it was.

    I’ve lived in the village since ’51. The Fat Black Pussycat in my opinion was a cesspool. You could barely see anybody because of the smoke, and you couldn’t talk to anybody because half of the people you wanted to talk to wanted to sell you narcotics.

    Residents are fuming, tourists are raging, some are threatening to boycott Panchito’s. Others, like myself, stopped eating there 30 years ago. I understand the sentiment. The issue is how little of historic significance we have left – neighbors and visitors want to hang on to every last vestige, even though it may have been a cesspool, these are the only connections we have left.

    In a way there is irony here – a battle to regulate, preserve and protect the images of a counter-cultural generation known for rebellion. We’ve seen this kind of controversy before in New York City, when graffiti artists have defaced other artists’ work – graffiti over graffiti. Here, of course, we have business painting over another’s business. Whose business is it?

    Andrew Berman, executive director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), who called the painting of the sign “a shame” says:

    It’s a tangible link to this incredibly important era in the neighborhood’s history, when so many great musicians and poets and artists used the South Village as a springboard to transform the world. Less and less of it is left.

    The street is not part of any existing historic district, however there has been an effort to create a South Village Historic District, which would include Minetta Street. Many feel such a designation would have saved the sign. However, even if the district were protected, Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said in regards to the recent painting over of the old sign:

    We would have approved it. We’ve never said no to an owner of a commercial establishment who’s wanted to cover advertising for a previous tenant.

    There has been a lot of romanticizing of this small, one-block street. I understand the concerns of the residents and the love of the their street, however, maintaining charm is a war here. Sandwiched between MacDougal Street and 6th Avenue, Minetta Street is often overflow for the late night drunken revelry of MacDougal Street and serves as a shortcut between the neighboring streets.

    You can read the New York Times article here and the GVSHP story here. There’s not much we can do about that sign now (although some believe it could be restored by removing the new paint job). I don’t want to make light of the situation, but it’s for times like this that the Blues are written. If you loosely reinterpret the lyrics of that Elmore James classic (the song link for this story), parts of them fit. I’m playing it a few more times. Why don’t you join me and share our pain? Because when things go wrong, It Hurts Me Too …

    Song Note: Thank you Eric Clapton for this wonderful interpretation of the Elmore James classic – It Hurts Me Too :)

    Related Posts: The Real Peel, Diamonds and Rust, Model for Decorum, Bohemian Flavor of the Day, Summer of Drugs, Physical Graffiti

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Serenity, Tranquility, Peace

    Posted on by Brian Dubé



    Although technically in the borough of Manhattan, I have always felt it was almost a little undeserving for any New York borough to take claim to something so special as the Cloisters – it is located at the northernmost end of the island, as far as one can get from Uptown, Midtown, Downtown or any other area of that one would typically associate with New York City. Apart from the small number of residents in Washington Heights/Inwood, this area is really a destination for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

    The Cloisters is a museum of medieval art and architecture, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Everyone loves this extraordinary complex – it’s a close as you are going to get to genuine French architecture in the city. Germain Bazin, former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, described the Cloisters as “the crowning achievement of American museology.”

    The museum buildings were designed by Charles Collens and constructed from elements salvaged from five cloistered abbeys in France: Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, Bonnefont-en-Comminges, Trie-en-Bigorre, and Froville. The sections used were disassembled brick-by-brick, shipped to New York City and reassembled between 1934 and 1938. From the Cloisters website:

    Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art, such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately three thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from the ninth to the sixteenth century, are exhibited in this unique and sympathetic context.

    Located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, the Cloisters is a world apart from the glitter, glamour, hustle bustle and frenetic energy of the city. For most New Yorkers, Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters is a country getaway, a mini vacation. Visit the Cloisters if you want a small vacation from the city and Serenity, Tranquility and Peace :)

    Related Posts: Down to the Cellular Level, Le Petit Chambord, Fire and Ice, Affront to Dignity, Paraiso, Steps From Paradise, Belvedere Castle, Devil’s Playground

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Fort Schuyler


    There are not a lot of forts in New York City, and you certainly do not expect to run across a huge one, unbeknownst to yourself. It is unlikely you will ever run into this one by accident – Fort Schuyler and the Maritime College are not on the way to anywhere – they are destinations, located at the very tip of the Throgs Neck peninsula in the Bronx. On my recent excursion to the area, my intention was to explore Silver Beach. It is here by accident, that I discovered Fort Schuyler and the State University of New York Maritime College, founded in 1874 and the first of its kind in the United States.

    I met a couple of cadets, and like all the military men I have encountered, they were very approachable. They answered a number of my questions regarding the Maritime College and explained the reason for small sailboats – there was a regatta under way, with the boaters undaunted by the cold weather. They also informed me that the entire area was open to visitors with the entrance way nearby.

    I was surprised at how free and easy I was able to tour the area with no restriction and virtually no other visitors. Post-9/11, virtually everything in New York City has an added layer of security, including some of the most innocuous office buildings requiring photo ID. Places like the lobby of the Woolworth Building, one of my favorite spots to take visitors, is, sadly, completely off limits unless you have specific business in the building. As far as Fort Schuyler, however, I suppose a man in a small automobile armed only with cameras, poses little threat to a massive fort with military presence.

    The location of the fort and college is at the very tip of the peninsula, where Long Island Sound meets the East River, affording sweeping vistas including Long Island, the Bronx, Queens and a panorama of the Manhattan skyline (essentially the same as that of Silver Beach). The Throgs Neck Bridge is ever present, juxtaposed against nearly every structure as can be seen in many of my photos of the excursion – see the full gallery here.
    Fort Schuyler was one of many forts built along the east coast of the United States after the War of 1812, when it became apparent that the U.S. coast was poorly defended against foreign invasion. The French Style fortification was dedicated in 1875. The site also has a maritime museum, open to the public. Read more here.

    Everything was pristine and immaculate – the grounds, buildings, roadways and artifacts. It was quite chilly, but this is the best of weather conditions for seeing New York City outdoors – crisp air, clear blue skies and greater visibility. Although the warmer months are preferable for walking and touring, the heat of summer also usually means hazy skies with poor visibility and, if you are taking photographs, poorer results. If you’re looking for something truly off the beaten path, try the Throgs Neck peninsula with Silver Beach and Fort Schuyler :)


  • The Outer Limits




    Wandering and meandering without a clear destination is a noble activity. When I am exploring in a small or local area, I do this regularly – setting out with no agenda. Traveling further, however or by vehicle, the risk of disappointment becomes an issue as well as time used.

    So I turn to maps. I do love maps and always use them wherever I travel to get a lay of the land and a sense of breadth and compass. Even in New York City where I have lived for 40 years, when traveling by car, a five borough street map is always at my side. GPS is great, however, if you want a large and detailed overview of an area, only a full size map will do the job.

    I have been amiss in exploring the Bronx and have very few stories in this website. So, it was time to look at a map and see what might have potential. I love the tips and edges, i.e. the outer limits, where often one finds exceptional features, views and unique villages. Looking at the Bronx section of my street map of New York City, my eye was drawn to a peninsula with an area marked “Silver Beach,” situated between the Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone Bridges. A little reading looked like this would be just the place to satisfy my wanderlust.

    What started out as a whimsical choice of a travel destination ended up being one of the most remarkable residential enclaves I have seen in the five boroughs. Sitting on a bluff, 50-60 feet above the river, Silver Beach Gardens is a network of small lanes and 451 homes, established as cooperatives – residents own their homes and lease the land from owners’ collective. To buy, applicants must have three letters of recommendation from current residents. In the early 1900s, the neighborhood developed from summer waterfront bungalow colonies on large estate to the neighborhood it is today. See my photo gallery here.

    The highlight of the day was my walk on Indian Trail, a narrow footpath flanking the edge of the bluff with beautiful vistas of the beach below, the river and the skyline of Manhattan framed by the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. The homes had decks perched on the cliffs, with the beach is accessible by stairways.
    It was here that I met Paul and his wife, busy with springtime yard work. He was extremely friendly, having greeted me first. When I told him that I would be doing a story, he told me how the community was displeased over an article in the New York Times which reported a lawsuit based on racial discrimination in real estate sales.

    Properties for sale in Silver Beach Gardens come very infrequently and typically sell by word of mouth. A small community like this with privately owned single family homes, extremely low turnover, remotely located, little known to outsiders and with strong ethnic history will be slow to change and see the diversity found in a much larger community with rentals and large multi-unit apartment buildings. Silver Beach Gardens is predominantly Irish, German, and Italian. I was reminded of Broad Channel, another extraordinary residential enclave situated on an island in Jamaica Bay. See my story and photo gallery here.

    So, for a little change and some pleasant surprises in your exploring, pull out a map and whether city or state, look for those Outer Limits :)


  • Big Secret on Little Street

    Streets, surprises, and secrets come in different sizes. What better combination is there than a big surprise and secret at the end of a little street? And what if that street is literally named Little Street?
    There is nothing wrong with the beautiful or wonderful that lies in plain view. But somehow it’s the secret discovery that really piques one’s interest and makes it even more special and its secretness feel like it is yours.

    When traveling in Europe, I was often astounded when finding major historical sites located in the midst of contemporary suburban settings. This is common there and, I imagine, is not seen as particularly shocking. When I first visited Versailles, I could not get over the experience of driving through an ordinary town, turning down a street, and seeing something as extraordinary as the palace of Versailles. Or the windmill in the neighborhood of Montmartre in Paris.

    One does get inured to the juxtapositions one lives among, and here, too, in New York City, I tend to overlook the outstanding architecture that I see daily – period homes dating 200 years old intermingled with buildings of every imaginable style and period. This city has a rich historical past, and the evidence is everywhere to be seen. 

    While carousing through Vinegar Hill, Brooklyn, I plied my way to what appeared on my map to be the outer limits of the neighborhood. I was quite shocked to make a final turn from Evans Street at Little Street and be confronted with a gated mansion. A photographer and male model were busy at work, using this little known cul de sac as backdrop for their photo session. These streets abut the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the large white Federal style residence is Quarters A, the former residence of the commander of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, home to Commodore Matthew C. Perry at the time of his opening of Japan. In 2006, Christopher Gray did a story on the home in Streetscapes for the New York Times. From the article:

    In a New York of secret delights, the Commandant’s House at the Brooklyn Navy Yard is a secret secret. Built early in the 19th century, the big white house, formally known as Quarters A, is the yard’s oldest surviving structure, with exquisite Federal-style detailing.

    In private ownership since the Navy Yard closed in 1964, the three-story house can be glimpsed only in bits and pieces — over walls, through gardens and, distantly, past high gates. Its broad lawn offers a summer fantasy above the East River.

    Just don’t spread the news – that in Vinegar Hill, at the end of Evans Street, there’s a Big Secret on (a) Little Street :)


  • Juxtaposition

    There are some neighborhoods that the visitor to New York City will likely never see and residents outside those neighborhoods will likely never visit either. Brownsville, East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Bushwick are among them. These places often serve as bragging rights for those who grew up there. Surrounded by these neighborhoods is Broadway Junction.

    I was literally stopped in my tracks – the tracks of a confluence of trains and a massive, hodgepodge conglomeration of structures with every disparate element imaginable – different colors and materials embellished with chain link fences crowned with barbed razor wire.
    This is Broadway Junction, where East New York Avenue, Broadway, Jamaica Avenue, Fulton Street, and Interboro Parkway pass, along with subway stations for the A, C, J, L, Z, and the Long Island Railroad.

    Nearby, at 1520 Herkimer Street, I happened across the Calvary Free Will Baptist Church. A perfect addition to the ultimate juxtaposition…


  • The Little


    Here, in lower Manhattan, way under the radar and not touristed at all, I discovered a little school on a little alley. In New York City, this is how I find solace, in the diminutive. A little alley, a little crook in the street, a little shop, a little building, a little garden. Feeling a little tired, because one can never really become exhausted from exploring the little, and if it is a beautiful day, perhaps one may enjoy a little rest and a little snack. This is why I choose to live in Greenwich Village, because the scale is so much smaller and so much more human.

    I have been in many high-rises, and there is nothing quite like the ambiance of a classic prewar building and, if one is so privileged, the views that may come with a residence on an upper floor. Icons like the Waldorf Astoria Hotel or the Plaza just exuded charm. And there is nothing quite so noble as the Chrysler Building at night. But for me, when it comes to a place I call home, I choose the small townhouse.

    I have not been to the new Vegas, and I imagine I will get there at some time. And, like Dubai, I also imagine that there will be some shock and awe. However, living in New York City for the last 40 years, I do not seek out the mammoth or the overwhelming when it comes to man-made environments. And although I live in the country’s largest city, in my business life I have carved out a little niche. It is much easier to succeed in the proverbial small pond.

    At 15 Dutch Street, I was very surprised to find the Downtown Little School. From reading, parents rave about this nursery school, and I think the word Little (like the Little Red Schoolhouse on Bleecker Street) is a signal that this place emphasizes caring, personal attention, and the human touch, embracing all that was good in the old school.

    I was also very surprised to learn that the huge multinational giant, Colgate-Palmolive, had its roots on Dutch Street. In 1806, at 6 Dutch Street, William Colgate opened up a starch, soap, and candle factory, a reminder that not only the good, but also the big germinates from the Little :)



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