Explore Our Features

I will be travelling overseas for the next few weeks, so this is the PERFECT time to take one of our five video tours (74 videos in all), or read through our past and ongoing features by clicking on the category title.

We recommend:  NYC DECADE BY DECADE, which chronicles the city's history in 40 ten-year increments; LAYERS OF NYC, a trivia series that tests how well you know the city THEN and NOW; and our newest feature, LITTLE BYTES OF..., which gives readers a brief tour of such sites as the Apple Store on Fifth, the St. Regis Hotel, and the New York Public Library.  ENJOY!

June 17, 2011

Little Bytes Recommends: The New Stretch of the High Line


The new stretch of the High Line, which extends the park from 20th to 30th streets, opened last week.  Now twice as long, you can enter at 30th (elevator access); 28th, 26th, 23rd (elevator access coming soon), 20th, 18th, 16th (elevator access), 14th (elevator access), or Gansevoort Streets.


More photos after the jump.

Continue reading "Little Bytes Recommends: The New Stretch of the High Line" »

June 15, 2011

The Starling and Central Park

In Act 1, Scene 3 of the First Part of King Henry IV, Hotspur fumes:

"(The king) said he would not ransom Mortimer,/Forbade my tongue to speak of Mortimer,/But I will find him when he lies asleep,/And in his ear I'll holler 'Mortimer!'/Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak/Nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him/To keep his anger still in motion."

I would wager anything that Shakespeare had no idea that by writing one of these words he would be altering a continent's ecosystem.  How could he know that one of his future fans, a pharmaceutical magnate named Eugene Schiffelin, would decide to pay tribute to the bard by introducing to North America all of the birds mentioned in Shakespeare.  Shakespeare wrote the word "starling" only once, but in 1890 Schiffelin would import 60 European starlings and release them in Central Park where they would nest in the eaves of the American Museum of Natural History.

Unknown-4 Those 60 birds (and another few dozen he released the following year) have multiplied.  There are now over 200 million starlings in North America, from Alaska to Mexico, competing with other bird populations for food and nest space.  When the indigenous birds who migrate south return to New York, the starlings, who share no migrational impulse, are there to cackle at the homeless birds' misfortune. 

Schiffelin is also responsible for introducing the house sparrow (to Brooklyn, in 1851), another pest species now widespread across the continent.  This bird appears in four of Shakespeare's plays.  

June 13, 2011

NYC and the 3-way Street

As more people take to the bicycle, intersections and crossings become more and more complicated.  Here's a bird's eye video created by Ron Gabriel of close calls at one midtown intersection.

For more information click here.


3-Way Street from ronconcocacola on Vimeo.

June 10, 2011

Have a Beautiful Weekend!

From a stroll through the Conservatory Gardens back in May.





June 08, 2011

Little Bytes of...the Boroughs: Population Figures from the 2010 Census

According to the last census, whose dubious findings are currently being challenged by the city, here are the numbers for our five boroughs:

1--BROOKLYN--2,504,700 (71 square miles)  With approximately the population of Chicago, Brooklyn alone would be America's fourth largest city.

2--QUEENS--2,230,722 (109 square miles)  Queens, more populous than Houston, could also rank as America's fourth largest city.

3--MANHATTAN--1,585,873 (23 square miles)  Manhattan, by far the most densely populated, is half the size of its closest rival, San Francisco, but nearly twice its population.

4--BRONX--1,385,108 (42 square miles)  The Bronx has a slightly larger population than both #7 San Antonio (1,327,407) and #8 San Diego (1,307,402).

5--STATEN ISLAND--468,730 (58 square miles)  Staten Island's growing population ranks between #34 Fresno and #35 Sacramento.

TOTAL 8,175,133 (This is only 400,000 less than the combined populations of the next three largest cities--Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.)

Comparing NYC to state populations, the city as a whole would be the 12th most populous state between New Jersey and Virginia.  (1 out of every 38 Americans is a New Yorker.)

Brooklyn and Queens would rank #36 and #37 between Nevada and New Mexico.

Manhattan (with only 23 square miles) is twice as populous as Alaska (with 663,268 square miles).  The tiny island of Manhattan is home to more people than twelve states (Idaho, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming). 

Ditto for the Bronx (with the exception of Idaho).

Staten Island is the only borough whose residents do not outnumber those of a state...but with a 10% growth rate, just you wait, Wyoming.

June 06, 2011

Paul Roosevelt: The Americans Are Coming!!!

Standing in front of the American Museum of Natural History with the statue of Theodore Roosevelt sitting astride a steed:

8TH GRADER FROM TEXAS:  Theodore Roosevelt was a PRESIDENT?!

ROBERT:  Yes!  He was one of the most important.  He was a two-term, almost three...he's on Mount Rushmore!

8TH GRADER FROM TEXAS:  Oh, I thought he was just the guy on the horse.

ROBERT:  A Rough Rider?

8TH GRADER FROM TEXAS:  I thought he was the one who rode the horse to warn the British.

ROBERT:  Do you mean Paul Revere?


ROBERT:  And he didn't warn the British...he warned...never mind, I don't know where to start.

The funniest (or most terrifying) thing is that this group met Sarah Palin on Liberty Island and Sarah Palin also just went on record in Boston saying (or blundering) that Paul Revere warned the British too.


June 03, 2011

"These Are Fancy Coffee Stirrers"

Chopsticks 1 

Chopsticks 2 

Chopsticks 3 

Chopsticks, actually.

June 02, 2011

The Dome at the United Nations

IMG_3109Do you see that dome sticking out of the top of the General Assembly Building?  It was not in the original plans for the Le Corbusier/Harrison complex.  According to New York, the companion book for the documentary by Ric Burns:  "Late in the design process, a dome was added to the low, swooping roof of the General Assembly...at the suggestion of Senator Warren Austin of Vermont, who argued that the U.S. Congress would never approve funds for a government building without a dome."

I've never liked that dome.  When looking through my pictures of the U.N. for this blog, I realized almost all of them were taken to eliminate the dome.  I guess I'm drawn more towards the other lines and curves.  For example:


June 01, 2011

Four from Seth, a Sixth-Grader from Alabama

The group takes a flight from Montgomery to Memphis and then boards another plane for New York.

TEACHER:  Is this your first time on a plane, Seth?

SETH:  Naw.

SETH'S DAD:  What are you talking about?  You've never been on a plane before.

SETH:  I just flew from Montgomery to Memphis.


ROBERT:  So I heard today was your first time flying?

SETH:  It's my first time on a plane, it's my first time on a subway, it's my first time above the Mason Dixon Line. 


11:00 at night.  Crews are busy paving Seventh Avenue.  Horns are honking, there are shouts and all kinds of noise.

SETH:  Is this why they call it the city that never sleeps?  Because it's too loud?


ROBERT:  Why are you tossing your peanuts in the grass?

SETH:  I'm feedin' the soil.  It's nitrates. 


SETH:  George Washington Carver didn't invent the peanut.

ROBERT:  Didn't think so.

SETH:  But he found three hundred things you could do with a peanut.

ROBERT:  Such as?

SETH:  Well, you can feed the soil.

ROBERT:  That's one.

SETH:  Um.

ROBERT:  What else?

SETH:  You can make peanut butter.


SETH:  And a whole bunch more.

May 31, 2011

Photo of the Week: A Bubble of Zen


This comes from Sean Damato, an eighth grader from Sacramento, who was on one of my tours last week, and caught one of the many bubbles that now float regularly near the Bethesda Angel in Central Park.  Thanks, Sean!

May 24, 2011

Little Bytes of...the New York Public Library

Images-5 --Three estates combined to form the New York Public Library, founded in 1895.  Its main building opened one hundred years ago, on May 23, 1911.  SAMUEL TILDEN, lawyer, governor, and almost president (in an election that wasn't decided until three days before the inauguration!), left $2 million and 15,000 books.  (It would have been $4 million, but some greedy relatives contested the will.)  The original name of the New York Public Library was the "Tilden Trust Library."  JOHN JACOB ASTOR had been persuaded earlier in the century by Joseph Cogswell to establish one of New York's first public libraries.  Astor donated $400,000 and the plot of land on Lafayette Street for the library that opened in 1853.  The estate of scholar and bibliophile, JAMES LENOX, whose own library opened on Fifth Avenue in the 1870's, was responsible for $505,000 and 85,000 books including the first Gutenberg Bible brought to the New World.

--The young firm of Carrere and Hastings won the competition to design what would become one of the city's best loved buildings.  Carrere and Hastings also gave New York the magnificent Standard Oil Building at 26 Broadway, the grand entrance to the Manhattan Bridge at the end of Canal, the Lunt-Fontanne theater on 46th Street, and the Frick Mansion on Fifth Avenue (where the Lenox Library once stood).     

--The library building (now named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building thanks to a $100 million gift) was originally built for $9 million ($210 million today). 

Unknown-3 --The remarkable reading room, one of the largest rooms without supporting beams in the country, is 297' long, 78' wide, and 51' high.

--The two lions, modeled by Edward Clark Potter (who also did the lions at the Morgan Library) and sculpted by the Piccirilli Brothers, were originally named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox but were renamed Patience and Fortitude by Mayor LaGuardia who claimed these were the two characteristics needed for a New Yorker to survive the Great Depression.

--The New York Public Library has been featured in Ghostbusters, The Adjustment Bureau, The Day After Tomorrow, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Wiz, Network, Regarding Henry, Sex and the City, and Spiderman.

Unknown-2 --Besides the Gutenberg Bible mentioned above, other treasures among the Library's holdings include the first full folio of Shakespeare's work (1623), the 1640 Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in English in America), Malcolm X's briefcase, S.J. Perlman's typewriter, the walking stick Virginia Woolf took to the River Ouse, the only known copy of the original folio edition of Columbus' discoveries, Charlotte Bronte's pencil, Jack Kerouac's reading glasses, a lock of Mary Shelley's hair, the writing desk of Charles Dickens as well as a letter opener he made from his cat's paw, and the original stuffed animals A.A. Milne bought from Harrods in the 1920's that inspired the Winnie the Pooh stories (pictured).

May 23, 2011

Today in Big Apple History...the New York Public Library

350px-New_York_Public_Library_1908c On May 23, 1911, the New York Public Library opened its doors on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, providing intellectual nourishment on a site formerly occupied by the city's first fresh water reservoir.  Very appropriate.

Peruse some articles celebrating the building's 100th birthday:

The Associated Press

Time Out New York


Salon.com:  Why Libraries Still Matter

Flavorwire:  History's Most Distinguished Literary Hair


May 19, 2011

Little Bytes of...the St. Regis Hotel

Images --The hotel opened in 1904 for those "who were rich, and who were or wanted to be fasionable, but (who wanted a hotel) which would also be somewhat quieter and more exclusive."  Each room/suite had its own personal thermostat, doorbell, telephone and Steinway piano, and the entire hotel was equipped with a centralized vacuum system.

--The St. Regis was one of the hotels--the Astoria (later combined with the Waldorf) and the Knickerbocker were two others--built by John Jacob Astor IV (the richest person to die on the Titanic).

--Television and movies featuring the St. Regis include Mad Men, Taxi Driver, The First Wives Club, The Devil Wears Prada, and Miss Congeniality.

--Famous guests include Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio (there's a legend of a screaming match between the two of them after Marilyn shot her famous skirt scene in front of thousands of spectators), John Lennon and Yoko Ono (pre-Dakota), Salvador Dali (for a decade), Humphrey Bogart, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph Pulitzer, Marlene Dietrich, Scarlett Johansson, Sean Penn, Courteney Cox, and Kirk Douglas (I sat next to him in the lobby a few years ago).

--The architects, Trowbridge and Livingston, are best known for two gems downtown--the elegant Bankers Trust Company Building (the northwest corner of Wall and Broad) and the JP Morgan Building (southeast corner of Wall and Broad).  They also designed the Knickerbocker Hotel in Times Square, the original Hayden Planetarium, B. Altman, the Gulf Building in Pittsburgh, and the Oregon State Capitol Building.  

Images-2 --The King Cole painting in the bar (now known as the King Cole Bar) was commissioned by Astor in 1906 for $5,000 and painted by Maxfield Parrish for the Knickerbocker Hotel.  When that hotel was converted into an office building in the 1930's, the famous mural (8' high by 30' wide) was relocated to the bar at the St. Regis, already famous for introducing New York City to the Bloody Mary.  The king's face is reputedly of Astor himself and legend has it that Parrish deliberately painted the king passing gas (he grins with curled toes) to the noticeable chagrin of his courtiers on either side.  The painting was restored in 2007 and is currently valued for over $12 million.

Images-3 --The lobby is one of my favorite interiors in the city.  In his biography of Frank Lloyd Wright, Brendan Gill writes that Wright and his generation of Chicago architects were inspired by aesthetic experiments in Vienna and Glasgow that seemed to skip over the East Coast and head straight to the Mississippi Valley.  "Scores of Secessionist borrowings are to be found in Chicago and almost none in New York City.  A possible exception is the interior of the St. Regis Hotel (1901-1904), designed by Trowbridge and Livingston.  Though the exterior of the building is in a neo-classical Parisian vein, one observes hints of racy, decadent Vienna in the voluptuously oleaginous bases of the marble columns in the lobby.  They appear to be melting, and the effect is a pleasingly erotic one."

May 18, 2011

Pear Tree Corner

Yesterday, we mentioned one of the city's most famous trees--long gone--in whose shade twenty-four brokers signed the Buttonwood Agreement, the origins of what would become the New York Stock Exchange.

About_pear_tree_corner Today we thought we would remember another famous tree, a pear tree from Holland planted by Peter Stuyvesant in 1647.  It would survive for two hundred twenty years on the corner of 13th and 3rd before being struck by a runaway (or badly driven) wagon in 1867. 

What store, which opened as a homeopathic pharmacy named after its owner (it is now a cosmetics brand retailer owned by the L'Oreal Group), has occupied Pear Tree Corner since 1851?

Continue reading "Pear Tree Corner" »

May 17, 2011

Today in Big Apple History...the Birth of the New York Stock Exchange

On May 17, 1792, twenty-four brokers signed the Buttonwood Agreement beneath a buttonwood (or sycamore) tree in front of 68 Wall Street.  They agreed to trade with one another and to set a fixed commission for all interactions.

"We the Subscribers, Brokers for the Purchase and Sale of the Public Stock, do hereby solemnly promise and pledge ourselves to each other, that we will not buy or sell from this day for any person whatsoever, any kind of Public Stock, at least than one quarter of one percent Commission on the Specie value and that we will give preference to each other in our Negotiations. In Testimony whereof we have set our hands this 17th day of May at New York, 1792."

The traders first met and drafted their rules in the Merchant Coffee House at Water and Wall before moving across the street to the Tontine Coffee House in 1793.  The organization would later move west on Wall, drafting a constitution in 1817, naming itself the New York Stock and Exchange Board.  In 1863, the traders would come up with the snappier New York Stock Exchange.

May 16, 2011

Um...the Revolution?

After discussing Civil War monuments in New York City, I recap an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker in which he calls the Statue of Liberty the city's best Civil War memorial.  A woman in my group speaks up.

WOMAN:  I love history.

ROBERT:  Me too.  (So happy to find a kindred spirit.)

WOMAN:  I really like that one when all the British came over here and tried to take over.

ROBERT:  Um...the Revolution?

WOMAN:  YEAH!  THAT'S IT!  We saw a video of that with the snow coming down.  (Turns to fellow tourist.)  Where were we?  Where were we where they showed us the video of the war with the snow falling down?

FELLOW TOURIST:  Mount Vernon.

WOMAN:  YEAH!  THAT'S IT!  They showed us a video at Mount Vernon of the war with all the snow...

ROBERT:  Valley Forge?


(Punchline:  this woman grew up in Boston!!!!!!!!! where practically every field trip you take...oh, never mind.)

May 13, 2011

Record Retail Purchase on Fifth

I was sent this link after Wednesday's Apple Store post:  NYINC.COM.

Zara will be moving into the 666 Fifth Avenue retail condo formally occupied by the NBA store.  The 39,000-square-foot retail space between 52nd and 53rd just sold to the Spanish retailer, Inditex SA (ITX), for $324 million....or $8300/square foot!!!

Retail rents on Fifth are now approaching $2300/square foot.

May 12, 2011

COMING SOON: No More Butts in Parks or Public Squares


May 11, 2011

Little Bytes of...the Fifth Avenue Apple

Newapplestore2006 --The Apple Cube, which opened in May of 2006, is the only Apple store open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

--Its rent exceeds $1 million per month.

--Its annual sales exceed $350 million, more than any other Apple store.

--The cube is 32-feet tall and the store beneath the plaza is 20,000 square feet.

--The store was designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and the structural glass was engineered by Eckersly O'Callaghan.

--Bohlin Cywinski Jackson also designed 18 other Apple stores around the world as well as the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia, the Barn at Fallingwater, the Grand Teton National Park Discovery and Visitor Center, the Newport Beach Civic Center and Park, and Seattle City Hall.

--Besides numerous Apple stores, Eckersly O'Callaghan's work can be seen in Boston (the Battery Wharf Stair), Diamond Head (the Waipolo Residence), Zimbabwe (the Gota Dam Residence), and throughout London and the UK.

May 10, 2011

Today in Big Apple History

The Astor Place Riots (Riots starts at 1:33):


May 09, 2011

Um, Good Try, But No...

From Cayce:

A couple of weeks ago we asked, "Who was the towering French architect who designed the interior support for the Statue of Liberty?"
One very sweet girl was quick to answer:  "Hitler!"

An architect of an entirely different nature...

May 05, 2011

Excerpt of the Week--NYC as Oldest City

From Kenneth Jackson's Preface for the second edition of The Encyclopedia of New York City:

New York City is different.  For one thing, it is older than virtually every other American city.  Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah, Newport, and Williamsburg come to mind when one thinks of historic places, yet New York City is older than all of them.  As for settlements that were already established when Dutch traders first landed at the southern tip of Manhattan--St. Augustine, Fort St. George, Hampton, Plymouth, and Santa Fe--Jamestown, Plymouth, and Fort St. George disappeared, and the other three failed to prosper for the first three centuries of their existence.

May 04, 2011

M and M and M and M and M

This jacket purchased from a NASCAR store in Atlanta sure did confuse the guards at the Met last week.


The admission button is on the far left.

May 03, 2011

Layers of NYC #32: Then...and Now?

1600 Broadway was built in 1902 when Times Square was still called Longacre Square, and its ground floor served as a showroom for the Studebaker Brothers who sold luxurious horse-drawn carriages as well as their new automobiles.  In 1923 it became home to the Max Fleischer Studios--the famous animators and Disney rivals--who brought Betty Boop and Popeye to the big screen.  1600 Broadway was also the building where three men founded C.B.C. Film Sales Company, which would become Columbia Pictures, and it was the site of New York’s first Odditorium, the museum and freak show of Robert Ripley who opened the showcase in 1939, after its debut at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933. 

1600 Broadway was torn a few years ago and replaced with another bland apartment tower.  The base of that tower, however, has become an obligatory stop for many tourists visiting town.  What is overpriced and sold here now? 

Click here for answer.

June 2011

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30