Whether you're a veteran resident or regular visitor to New York City (NYC), there's always more to explore, like how to get discounts when visiting attractions, best route to skip traffic down Broadway or where to find the cheapest food truck meal. Beyond the daily humdrum of the city where people live, work, eat and play, there are forgotten, abandoned, overlooked or mysterious spots. Here are 8 of NYC's little known secrets spots that you'll not likely encounter in guidebooks. You'll just have to discover them for yourself. For more information on NYC, visit www.nycgo.com
Grand Central Terminal has many secrets but the Whispering Gallery is its most romantic and fun. This unmarked archway right outside the Grand Central Oyster Bar and Restaurant possesses a delightful acoustic property that made it a favourite performance venue for jazz legend Charles Mingus. Two people can carry on hushed conversations at diagonal arches of the room and still hear each other's voices as if they were standing next to each other. The arched design and glazed tiles that carry the sound waves make the Whispering Gallery a popular spot for marriage proposals. Just remember not to murmur anything you don't others to overhear.
Many residents will agree that the Rockefeller Center's rooftop gardens are a hidden urban treasure of NYC. The Center has been maintaining these five beautifully manicured shrubs, flowers and lawns for the past 75 years. They were originally designed by English landscaper Ralph Hancock between 1933 and 1936.
While they are some of the most spectacular and oldest gardens hundreds of metres above ground in New York, public access to them is a rare event. They can however be rented for weddings and private events. Until the next open house, readers will have to settle for a view of 3 gardens from the Top of the Rock observation deck, the surrounding office buildings or watch the 2002 Spider-Man movie for the garden atop the British Empire Building.
The Frick Collection, a East 70th Street mansion houses all of steel magnate Henry Clay Frick's art collection. It is an architectural beauty with vaulted plaster ceilings, Moorish red-tiled floors and English mahogany-paneled walls. While the array of European art and public spaces of the mansion are enough to wow visitors, the most interesting is the century-old bowling alley in the basement of the Frick Collection.
Built for Mr. Frick in 1914 at a then princely sum of USD850, it features mahogany-paneled walls, pine-and-maple lane beds, a gravity-driven ball return and a set of antique balls which have only 2 holes instead of the usual 3. It is in working order but was neglected and served as a library storage space after Frick's death in 1919. The Frick Collection restored the alley to its former glory in 1997. Unfortunately modern fire codes prevent a crowd from visiting the alley as there is only one exit in the alley via a narrow staircase rising from the Billiard Room next door. Therefore the bowling alley remains a private room that is occasionally opened to friends of the Frick Collection.
Hidden amongst the office buildings on East 53rd Street is Paley Park, an oasis with a waterfall, trees and ivy covered walls in the hustle and bustle of NYC dating back to 23 May 1967. It appears to be an extension of its midtown surroundings and was named one of the best parks in the world by the Project for Public Spaces for its "intimate relationship with the street".
Nestled in the Park is a public mural that goes largely unnoticed by the office workers who lunch there. The five sections of concrete slabs added in 1990 are pieces of Berlin Wall. Measuring 12 feet high and 20 feet long, they were originally located along the Waldemarstrasse and their western-facing side were decorated by German artists Thierry Noir and Kiddy Citny in 1985. The eastern side remains a blank slab of concrete as a reminder of former East Germany's oppressive political regime.
Cemetery Behind the Bowery Hotel
The Bowery Hotel / Photo by La Citta Vita of Flickr
The Bowery Hotel from haute-hoteliers Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson (the team behind the Maritime Hotel and the Waverly Inn) attracts rock stars, film-types and those with disposable incomes. Those who stay will realize that just out the rear windows of the hotel sits an almost block-long "park". However few may realise that the tranquil green lawn they've been admiring is actually a hidden cemetery where the deceased are interred in underground marble vaults marked by plaques.
Underneath this "park" behind Bowery Hotel lies NYC's oldest public non-sectarian burial ground. 10 feet below the lawn are catacomb-like passageways and 156 vaulted rooms, each 8 feet by 10 feet of Tuckahoe marble, which inspired the burial ground's name, the New York Marble Cemetery. Opened in 1830, over 2,000 souls were interred there, mostly before 1870. It was "a Place of Interment for Gentlemen" and the last burial was in 1937. The Cemetery is opened to visitors only for a few hours on the fourth Sunday of each month from April to October.
The cemetery's trustees including descendants of some of the people interred in the vaults have opened the grounds for paid event to contribute funds for repairs and restorations. Some of the events include a Stella McCartney fashion event, a Vogue photo session, 4 weddings, birthday parties, ballet recitals and a setting for films and television shows.
Many residents have walked along 94th and 95th Street without realising a hidden gem. The gated entrance of Pomander Walk at first glance looks like a service entrance to a building or trash storage but up the staircase is a pedestrian-only lane of residences unique to NYC. Tuck away between Broadway and West End from the eyes of passerbys are 27 buildings resembling a Tudoresque London street. These two-story Tudor homes with colorful doors, shutters and timber frames alternate between stucco, brick, and half-timber in design.
This block in the gated secret street was built in 1922. It's name originated from a romantic stage play set in Pomander Walk near Chiswick, London. Its landmark status in 1982 protected the buildings from demolition. Visitors will have to be contented with a peek through the wrought-iron gate unless they have a key or know someone who does.
Saint Augustine's Episcopal Church Slave Galleries
What used to be a shameful part of Saint Augustine's past and reminder of racial segregation in New York has been transformed into a galvanising force for African Americans and other ethnic groups. Within the walls of Saint Augustine's Episcopal Church on the Lower East Side are the "slave gallery'. Built in 1828, they are 2 concealed rooms located behind the 2nd floor balcony. Accessible by cramped staircases, African-American worshippers could only hear the church services.
The space was restored and opened to the public in 2009. The Church hopes the preservation of the 'slave gallery' will give visitors a glimpse of the lives of African Americans in the 19th century and help them attain an expanded appreciation of African Americans' contributions as an immigrant population. Wendy Nicholas, director of the National Trust's Northeast Office supporting the restoration commented that gallery are "a part of New York history that few think about: and "invites you to feel the slaves' experience and to contemplate the meanings for today".
More than 150,000 pedestrians cross the Brooklyn Bridge each day ignorant of what lies beneath. In 2006, City inspectors stumbled upon a hidden chamber near the East River shoreline of Manhattan's Lower East Side. The secret room was sequestered inside one of the arched masonry structures under the bridge's main entrance ramp. A veritable Cold War time capsule according to City officials, it is a grim reminder of a time in US history when citizens were worried about nuclear war and extinction. It was an era when countless bomb shelters were built across the US but most have long since been cleared out.
The New York City bunker is stockpiled with decades-old hoard of some 352,000 water drums, medical supplies, paper blankets, drugs and edible crackers sealed in watertight metal canisters. It seems this cache of survival supplies dated 1957 and 1962 was simply forgotten. For security reasons, the exact location of the chamber remains a NYC secret.