Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, here’s a few sites in Manhattan to see (but certainly nowhere near a comprehensive list) of the history of African-Africans in New York City.

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These first two photos tell the story of Seneca Village, founded in 1825, the first settlement in NYC created by free black people. It had over 300 residents by mid-century, including Irish & German immigrants. It was demolished in 1857 to make way for Central Park (the overwhelming majority of the land that the park sits on was uninhabited). The stone foundation of one of its buildings-- believed to be the village church-- is visible in the park in between two playgrounds near the West 85th St entrance.

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Slavery was abolished in New York State in 1827. Prior to that, in the 1700s, a slave market existed on Wall Street. Much of colonial-era Manhattan was built using slave labor. Lower Manhattan has several monuments dedicated to this monstrous time in our history, including the African Burial Ground National Monument, on Duane St, where thousands of Africans were buried in the 1600s & 1700s.

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There were several stations in NYC for the Underground Railroad, including Brooklyn’s Pilgrim Church (home to pastor Henry Ward Beecher) and (pictured here) the Ruggle home in Manhattan, on Lispenard St in modern-day Tribeca. In 1838, Frederick Douglass arrived here. Ruggles estimated that he brought 600 runaway slaves to freedom through his boarding house.

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Originally a Dutch Village, Harlem became New York's premiere black neighborhood residentially and culturally starting around the 1920s. This was known as the “Harlem Renaissance”. Its most famous cultural landmark is the Apollo Theater. The theater opened as a burlesque venue in 1914, and was whites-only. It reopened as a new performance venue, the Apollo, in 1934, and opened to black patrons. It remains one of the city’s great theaters today.

These are just a few of the sites I visited this month in Manhattan.

You can find a more detailed guide-- and interactive map-- here:
Black History Month in NYC: 15 historic sites to visit

Tips For Tourists: Avoiding Scams

The cliché old New York street hussle is a guy with a sidewalk table challenging passers-by to a game of three-card monte. But today's hussles involve homemade CDs, fake monks, and more.  They are based more on abusing your politeness to get your money. I'll outline the most prominent, so you know how to avoid them.

  • The fake monks.
    While the Elmos and Doras of Times Square get more press, there are far more insidious costumed menaces roaming the city... the fake monks. You will spot them all over the high-traffic areas of Central Park, and occasionally in popular spots like the Financial District or the High Line. Dressed as Buddhist monks, these beggars will approach you, hand you a trinket, and then ask for money. They hope you will be too polite or embarrassed to just hand it back and walk away. But that's what you should do.

    Your best bet: When you see someone in NYC walk up to you, and attempt to hand you something, keep your hands at your side, and just walking. If they verbally attempt to demand your attention, just ignore it. No response is the best response here.
     
  • The CD guys.
    That above advice goes double for the CD guys. The "monks" will at least treat your rejection politely. That's often not the case here. Here's how this goes down: a young man will approach you, telling you he's a breakout musician, and will practically shove a homemade CD into your hand. He will then demand payment for the CD. If you don't pay, the CD guys often become verbally aggressive, until you pay up, just to get away. They tend to congregate mostly around Times Square, but are ever expanding. If they insist, call the police!

    Again, your best is to never take anything someone attempts to hand you in NYC.
     
  • The Battery Park ticket sellers.
    Battery Park is a lovely park in lower Manhattan, with views of the harbor, Statue of Liberty, and downtown skyscrapers like the World Trade Center. It is also your waterway portal to harbor cruises, the (free) Staten Island Ferry, boats to the Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island, the Governors Island Ferry, & more. But in recent years, the park has become plagued by third-party ticket sellers, many unlicensed, who harass visitors into purchasing boat tickets. Many of them lie to, and scam, visitors about what the ticket they purchased is for. One dispute between two sellers recently lead to a shooting in the park.

    Your best bet: Do not purchase tickets from anyone on the street. Buy your ticket from the booth or building where the company is based. If you see aggressive ticket sellers, find and inform the nearest police officer.
     
  • Pedicabs.
    Pedicabs congregate around popular areas like Times Square or Central Park. Many are reputable, but far too many prey on tourists. A recent investigation found pedicabs charging riders hundreds of dollars for fairly basic trips. NYC law requires pedicabs to charge a per-minute rate, and to display that rate prominently on their vehicle, and to make riders aware of that rate before beginning. Many flout this law in various ways. So if you take a half-hour ride on the pedicab and the driver charges $10 a minute (and you were not aware of that), boom you've got a $300 bill at the end.

    Tip: Never, ever ride in a pedicab where the driver is not in full compliance with a well-placed rate sheet on his/her vehicle. You can also try negotiating a set price with a driver before boarding (this advice also works for horse carriage rides). If you see a driver who does not comply, alert a nearby police officer.

  • The Ground Zero street sellers.
    Technically, this is less a scam, and more just predatory sales. But it's a pet peeve of mine, so I'm including it here. Near the World Trade Center (usually on Church St, between Fulton & Vesey), street sellers gather to sell 9/11 photo books, and similar "souvenirs" to tourists in the area. They are not affiliated with any official organization, and certainly not with the memorial. They are vultures, who are profiting off a tragedy. Please do not buy from them.

    Interested in purchasing books related to the World Trade Center? The memorial & museum have an official gift shop & kiosks... where the money goes to a good cause.

But please don't let this scare you! 99% of New Yorkers are polite, helpful, and are happy to welcome you to our city! But it is important to be aware of these scams, and have the confidence to avoid them.

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Winter Touring

New York City receives millions of tourists year-round, but visitors always worry about what options they will have for touring during the winter months. While the weather is always unpredictable (last winter was actually very warm & mild!), it's more likely than not to be cold.

So we are working to prepare for these months. Here are some tours that we offer that make good winter options:

1. Landmarks of Midtown tour: This tour travels through Midtown to see the area's most significant landmarks. It makes numerous indoor stops, including the Empire State Building, the New York Public Library, Chrysler Building, and Grand Central Terminal. A great chance to see major icons, while spending only a small amount of time outdoors.

2. Underground Winter NYC Tour: Lower Manhattan: This special winter tour is a great look at the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, without ever stepping foot outdoors. We journey from the Fulton Center through the World Trade Center Transportation Hub to Brookfield Place through a half-mile underground connection & retail complex. We've also added an option to add tickets to visit the One World Trade Center's observatory.

We also, of course, still offer all our tours year-round. Looking for a customized or private tour? Contact us to make arrangements!

 

How New York Created Christmas

Many people do not know how much of modern Christmas iconography and traditions are rooted in New York's history.

The first major connection comes from writer Washington Irving (of "Rip Van Winkle" & "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" fame). Upset that there were few unifying holidays in early America, Irving worked to change that. In his 1809 “A History of New York”  (a comical retelling of the city's Dutch era), he declared the European gift-giver St. Nicholas to be the state’s patron saint, claiming that his image appeared on the masthead of the first Dutch ship to arrive in New Amsterdam.

St. Nicholas Day, or the Feast of St. Nicholas, was for much of history a separate holiday in early December associated with the gift-giving saint.

St. Nicholas then himself became tied to the Christmas holiday thanks to another author, Clement Clarke Moore, who lived in a mansion on Manhattan farm land in what later became Chelsea. In his famous short story, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas", Moore described the saint as “a right jolly old elf,” based on “a portly rubicund Dutchman,” in the neighborhood, with his “eight tiny reindeer,” with some other elements borrowed from Irving’s version of the Saint. St. Nicholas Day is traditionally celebrated on Dec. 6 in Europe, but Moore’s poem set his visit on Christmas Eve, informally tying St. Nicholas to the holiday for the first time.

Then, in the 1860s, American political cartoonist Thomas Nast further cemented this depiction with drawings in the NY-based publication Harper's Weekly depicting St. Nick/Santa Claus as a jolly, bearded, fat man in a fur-trimmed cap.

More traditions kept piling up throughout NYC history... Santa's inclusion in Thanksgiving parades, public Christmas trees, decorated store windows, and more.

Today, Christmas remains New York's most enchanting season, and is the busiest tourism season for the city. Holiday markets, elaborately-decorated trees everywhere, bell-ringers... between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day itself, you are hard-pressed to find anywhere in Manhattan where the holiday is not front and center.

You can live this history and magic now by booking my special, seasonal walking tour!

5Pointz, and the Future of NYC Street Art

Several years ago, 5Pointz, the original NYC graffiti "mecca" was lost when the building's owner decided to sell the building to developers. The artists have demanded justice for years, and yesterday a Brooklyn jury agreed the destruction of the art violated the artists' rights. Here are my thoughts on all this:

First, this is a more complicated story than many realize. Contrary to the chaotic, lawless nature of graffiti many artists still cultivate, this was all super organized. The 5Pointz artists were not vandalizing this building. The curator*-- Meres (whose signature art involves lightbulbs)-- sought out this building for a graffiti gallery and asked the owner's permission. The owner, Mr. Wolkoff, agreed, as at the time the neighborhood was undesirable, so who cared. The inside he rented as artist studio space, etc, at low cost. He was known as being very generous, in this regard. So it wasn't even encouraging or allowing the graffiti, it was an active partnership, albeit one where no $$ exchanged hands. So their claim is that they had legit ties to the building, and deserved a say in all this. And that much is fair.

So I sympathize with all this. But my concern is how this ruling will ultimately come back to hurt this community of artists.

The Bushwick Collective-- today's NYC graffiti "mecca", and where I do my Brooklyn art tour-- happened because lots of Bushwick commercial property owners agreed to the same as Wolkoff had years ago... allowing artists to use entire blocks as a canvas, for free. And that has a strict curator as well, local businessman Joseph Ficalora. After seeing this case play out, how many building owners of the next Bushwick Collective or 5Pointz will say "no" when asked, because they fear a future lawsuit? I worry about that.

Many of these artists benefited immensely from 5Pointz, more than any legal compensation can offer. Popular NYC street artists, such as Jerkface or Danielle Mastrion, made their names there. It helped legitimize graffiti, aerosol art, and mural as legitimate forms of art. They had a great deal there and, eventually, it ended.

Moreover, the destruction of 5Pointz, while genuinely sad, helped spread out the NYC street art scene, thus allowing more artists to prosper. Its destruction led to the creation of the Bushwick Collective, the Welling Court Mural Project, The New Allen, and so many other art collectives inspired by 5Pointz. This growth has benefited hundreds of amazing artists. Ultimately, I argue, the destruction helped the community more than it hurt.

Ideally, this ends with property owners respecting artists more, and fostering better, clearer partnerships.

The artists all insist today that this ruling will change the graffiti world. But maybe not in that way they expect.

Click on the image below for a link to my gallery of the final art days of 5Pointz:

[*And heavily curated it was. No one painted on 5Pointz's walls without going through Meres, and getting his blessing. There were signs all over the building that insisted any (commercial) photography must get a permit from Meres, and his contact info printed thereon. It was as organized as an art gallery, albeit all outdoors.]

Bushwick Street Art

Years before I became a full-time tour guide, I've been visiting Bushwick, Brooklyn, to photograph & document its vibrant street art scene. I've been collecting my photos in a Flickr album for 3 years. Many of these pieces are long gone, replaced by new murals and new artists. Such is the transient nature of street art... and what makes visiting these areas such an adventure, there's always new art to discover!

Click the image below to view a gallery of years-worth of Bushwick street art.

And interested in discovering the area's current art? Check out my walking tour!

Time Out Recommends Our Victorian Flatbush Tour!

We are extremely honored & proud that our Victorian Flatbush walking tour has been included in Time Out New York's list of "10 fascinating architecture tours in NYC". They write:

The name ‘Victorian Flatbush’ is a bit of a misnomer, as the neighborhood actually includes stately Queen Anne, colonial, Tudor and neo-Revival homes. Tour the area to spot countless examples of stunning architecture, a church that Peter Stuyvesant founded in 1654 and the city’s oldest high school. This walk also offers a glimpse at the process of gentrification—a controversial topic in this neck of the woods.

This is a fantastic, truly local tour that explores a neighborhood that is both a microcosm of the rich history of Brooklyn, but also features some of the most stunning residential architecture in the borough. We have several available dates this Autumn, which is the perfect time to take a stroll through this dynamic area.

Come discover for yourself what is so special about Flatbush!

Space Invader in NYC: A Guide

Most street art fans are familiar with the work of French artist Invader. Taking his name from an early arcade game (and his style from those early 8-bit graphics), Invader began a global project in 1998 called Space Invaders, affixing tile mosaics to the sides of buildings. Today, his work can be found in large cities in dozens of major countries. He is one of the world's most famous (and still anonymous) street artists.

Invader has visited NYC several times and left behind numerous installations. Many, as happens often, have been removed, vandalized, or stolen. My aim is to create a list of all remaining pieces in NYC (as of late 2017) that I have personally verified. If I am missing any, or if any are gone since I last saw them, please comment below!

Manhattan:

  1. Lower East Side: On Ludlow St, between E. Houston & Stanton, look across from the Hotel Indigo, for a classic Invader
  2. Lower East Side: Also on Ludlow, between Delancey & Broome, look up on the east side of the street for a crowned Invader.
  3. Lower East Side: On Broome St, between Allen & Eldridge, look above the pizza shop awning for Leonardo of the TMNT.
  4. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between Broome & Delancey, look up on the east side of the street for Michelangelo of the TMNT.
  5. Lower East Side: On the intersection of Kenmare & Mott, look above the doorway for a spray-can piece.
  6. Lower East Side: On Mulberry St, between Grand & Hester, look up on the east side of the street for superhero character.
  7. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between E. Houston & Stanton, look up on the east side of the street for a drinking Invader.
  8. Lower East Side: On Lafayette St, between Prince & Spring, look up on the east side of the street for a flowery Invader.
  9. Lower East Side: On Orchard St, between Stanton & Rivington, look up on the west side of the street for a soda can.
  10. Lower East Side: On Bowery, between Hester & Canal, look up on the fire escapes on the west side of the street, for a strip of Invaders.
  11. Chinatown: On Division & Orchard, look up on the west corner, for Raphael of the TMNT.
  12. East Village: On Avenue A, between E. 9th & E. 8th, look up on the corner for a classic Invader.
  13. East Village: On St Marks Place, look above Crooked Tree for a mosaic of Lou Reed.
  14. East Village: On Avenue A & E. 3rd, look up on the northeast corner for a classic Invader.
  15. East Village: On Bowery & Great Jones St, look up on the southwest corner for a beat-up Invader.
  16. SoHo: On Thompson St, between Broome & Grand, look on the west side of the street for a beat-up Ramones piece.
  17. West Village: On 6th Ave & Waverly Place, look above the diner for a burger-chomping Invader.
  18. West Village: On Minetta & Bleecker, look up above the cafe for two classic Invaders
  19. Chelsea: On W. 14th St, between 8th & 9th Aves, look up on the south side of the street for a large Big Apple Invader.
  20. Meatpacking District: On Washington St, between E. 13th & Little W. 12th, look up on the west side, under the Standard hotel, for Buster Bunny
  21. Meatpacking District: On 10th Ave & W. 17th St, look above Artichoke Pizza for Donatello of the TMNT.
  22. Hudson Square: At Pier 40, look on the south end of the building for a classic Invader.
  23. Hudson Square: On Varick St, between Downing & Clarkson, look up on the west side of the street for a classic Invader.
  24. Upper East Side: On E 61st St, between 2nd & 3rd Aves, look up above a doorway on the south side of the street, for a key-holding Invader
  25. Upper East Side: On 2nd Ave, between E. 94th & E. 95th, look up on the west side of the street for a flowery Invader.

Brooklyn:

  1. Bushwick: On Troutman St, between Wyckoff & Irving, keeping looking up on the west side of the street for a tribute to Cost & ENX.
  2. Bushwick: On Gardner St, between Johnson Ave & Randolph St, look up on the west side of the street for Joey Ramone.
  3. Williamsburg: On Bedford Ave, by N 5th St, look for an eye-level installation.
  4. South Williamsburg: At Broadway, between Keap & Rodney Sts, look above KidSuper for a classic Invader.
  5. Greenpoint: At the corner of Nassau & Kingsland, look above Vinnie's Pizzeria for pizza-munching Invader.
  6. Bed-Stuy: On St. Johns Place, between Utica & Rochester, look up on the south side of the street for a speeding Invader.

Any questions? Please comment below!

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Forest Hills, Queens - Special Tour

On Wednesday, November 8 at 10am, I'm doing a special walking tour outside my usual roster... a tour of historic Forest Hills, in Queens. You can book online via Viator.

New York City has few more beautiful neighborhoods than this. Planned on the model of the garden communities of England, on most days it feels like a place out of time.
 
It is also a neighborhood steeped in history. Its famed West Side Tennis Club was once home to the US Open and has housed concerts from stars like TheBeatles, Bob Dylan, and The Who. Forest Hills is the birthplace of a lotof talent–- Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, the Ramones, Billy Eichner, Carroll O’Connor, the fictional Spider-Man, & more.
 
 We will explore the history of this neighborhood, and its home borough, as we walk through this gorgeous neighborhood.
 
This special walking tour is for those who love unique residential architecture and nature hidden in a large urban area.  This will be a relaxing stroll through tree-lined streets in the peak of Autumn color.

(If interested in this tour on other dates, please contact me to arrange a private tour.)

New tour added: Street Art in Queens!

Many tour companies (including us!) offer tours of the amazing street art scene in Brooklyn... we are proud to be the first to offer a tour of the growing art scene along the Queens waterfront!

This tour will explore Long Island City (former home of 5Pointz-- NYC's original graffiti mecca), seeing how the art there is evolving, encounter the best views of the Manhattan skyline, and journey by ferry to the growing Welling Court Mural Project. Guests will also have an opportunity to visit the Socrates Sculpture Park.

This is a great tour for urban explores, artists, and photographers! Tour fee includes a scenic ferry ride back to Manhattan.

Inquire for available dates or custom tours!

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Special Tour for US Open Fans!

The US Open is coming up soon, and Queens is getting ready for one of its biggest annual events!

For attendees & fans of the tennis tournament, I am offering a special version of my World's Fair-themed tour of Flushing Meadows Park on Saturday, September 2 at 11am. This tour will explore numerous World's Fair landmarks, discuss the history of the US Open, and end with a visit to the famous Panorama of the City of New York.

Interested in other dates? Inquire for a private tour!