A Tour Grows In Brooklyn

I was recently contacted by a former resident of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn who was visiting town and wanted a custom walking tour of his old neighborhood. I love planning these custom tours, and it's always great to see parts of the city that are oft-missed by visitors. The tour was a great success.

Bensonhurst dates back to 1652, when it was originally part of the independent Dutch settlement of New Utrecht (the name "Bensonhurst" didn't come to the area until the late 1800s). There remains a very old reformed church in the neighborhood, and a Dutch cemetery dating back to 1654.

Before Brooklyn consolidated (and then became part of New York City in 1898), it consisted of 6 independent towns... Bushwick, Brooklyn, Flatbush, Flatlands, Gravesend, and New Utrecht. Since many early colonial buildings in downtown Manhattan were (regrettably) destroyed, most of NYC's oldest buildings are Dutch structures from this era... including the city's oldest home (the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House, in East Flatbush), and its oldest cemetery (Gravesend Cemetery).

In recent history, the neighborhood has been one of the most quintessentially "Brooklyn" neighborhoods in the borough. In the early 20th century, after the subway system developed, connecting the city more easily, it became home to Italian and Jewish immigrants fleeing the overcrowded Lower East Side tenements. Many of the Jewish families left after WWII, leaving the neighborhood for some time as the 'Little Italy' of Brooklyn. More recently, an influx of Chinese residents has turned parts of the area into the city's largest Chinatown. More and more diverse groups of people are moving in every year.

The unique character of the neighborhood was cemented in popular culture. Famous TV shows like "The Honeymooners" and "Welcome Back Kotter" were set here. Movies like "The French Connection" and "Saturday Night Fever" filmed iconic sequences along the main 86th Street drag.

(Lenny's Pizza is still operating today in the same spot!)

(Lenny's Pizza is still operating today in the same spot!)

But one of my favorite things to show off in any neighborhood is the more hidden, eclectic treasures. Every neighborhood has them. The best such sight in Bensonhurst is on an otherwise unassuming residential street (85th St)... Steve Campanella's "statue house". This homeowner has filled his property with more kitsch than your eye can handle.  If you find yourself in Bensonhurst, definitely find your way to snap some pictures.

(And definitely find your way up 18th Ave for some of the best Italian baked goods in New York.)

If you are interesting in seeing Bensonhurst for yourself (or any of the surrounding areas... Coney Island, Dyker Heights, Gravesend) or are just curious about my custom tour options, please contact me! I would love to help you discover some hidden NYC treasures of your own.

Victorian Flatbush

Introducing my 2-hour walking tour of Victorian Flatbush, Brooklyn.

The main feedback I get from this tour is "wow, who knew there was so much history here?". And that's fair... when we think of the history of NYC, we think of downtown Manhattan. But when the Dutch founded New Netherlands ("New Amsterdam" was just what they called the specific settlement in present-day Financial District), many of the earliest settlements were in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was once an independent city divided into 6 separate towns... including Flatbush. And the subsection of this area called Victorian Flatbush is the most gorgeous and history-filled of them all.

In just this neighborhood-- which consists of numerous, small historic districts-- you can see NYC's oldest high school (founded by Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and others... and attended in more modern times by Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, and more), a Dutch church grounds dating back to 1654, historic palace theatres and landmarked buildings, a private tennis club tucked away behind pre-war apartment buildings, and countless Victorian-style homes dating back to the turn of the 20th century. It is a slice of high-end suburbia tucked away in a busy Brooklyn community.

I think of this tour as as a two-in-one: It is both a journey back in time to old Brooklyn, and also a relaxing exploration of some of the most beautiful NYC architecture outside of Manhattan. So what are you waiting for? Contact me to arrange a custom date around your schedule.

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog for Custom NYC Tours!

I founded this company to share my love of exploring New York City with others... whether visitors or locals. Even before I became a tour guide, I loved to find areas of the city I had never seen before, and spend a day walking and exploring them. Not only its many neighborhoods, but all the secret places the guide books never mention. This is a passion I hope to use now to give customers a tour experience they cannot get anywhere else.

The World Trade Center, The High Line, Greenwich Village, Central Park. Let me share their secrets with you. Or show you my favorite parts of the city. That's what Custom NYC Tours is about.

I want to also use this blog to start a conversation. Are you a local? Or an upcoming traveler? Ask me questions, ask for advice, or share your stories! I want to hear from you today.