Another stroll through some of (but by no means all of) my favorite places in New York City, this time spread out across Brooklyn, Manhattan, and The Bronx (we’ll get to you, Queens; as for Staten Island, I’ll see what I can do). Another of the many things I like about this city — and really, about most places — is that it’s basically one big, open-air museum. Between free exhibits and things that are just on the street there to be witnessed, you can take in a tremendous amount of history, both mainstream and obscure, simply by doing a little research and walking down the block.
Remnant of the Berlin Wall
53rd Street between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue, Manhattan. There are three other fragments of the Wall in New York: in the gardens at the United Nations headquarters; in the Financial District between Gateway Plaza and the North Cove marina; and in the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum up in Times Square.
UPDATE: As of June 2015, the Berlin Wall is no longer there. Rumor is it’s away for a bit of cleaning and maintenance. Other rumors say it is gone for good, sold by the owner who didn’t want to deal with protecting it from vandalism.
Teddy Roosevelt’s Birthplace
28 East 20th Street, between Broadway and Park Avenue South, Manhattan. Teddy had a couple other homes around the city and out in Long Island, but this was where it all began. Get lunch a few doors down at Gramercy Tavern.
The Egyptian Tomb
Brooklyn’s gorgeous, historic Green-Wood Cemetery is home to more marvels and notable dead that you can take in even after years of visiting it, but among the most interesting is this tomb of an amateur Egyptologist and all-around eccentric with a lot of money to spend.
Alexander Hamilton’s Grave
Trinity Churchyard, 74 Trinity Place at Wall Street and Broadway, Manhattan. Undone by his quarrel with former law partner and fellow New Yorker, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton was gunned down by the notorious crank Aaron Burr in a duel that took place across the river in New Jersey. Hamilton was buried in the downtown location of Trinity Church (they have an even larger one with a lot of famous folk uptown).
HP Lovecraft’s Home
169 Clinton Street, Brooklyn. Famed horror/science fiction author HP Lovecraft spent 1924 renting a room on the first floor of this building in what was then considered Red Hook but is now part of stately Brooklyn Heights. Lovecraft, rather on the xenophobic side, was disgusted by the swarthy rabble and cacophony of immigrants who didn’t give the white man his proper due and privilege and deference. It was while living here that he wrote his most transparently racist short story, The Horror Out of Red Hook.
414 W 141st St., Manhattan. Before he was killed by Aaron Burr and buried in the Trinity Churchyard, Hamilton resided in a lovely little manor home in what was then rural Harlem. The city has grown up around the mansion, but you can still visit it and see how the face of the ten dollar bill used to live.
W 249th St, The Bronx. A number of prominent New Yorkers sought escape the beauty and tranquility of this garden estate in The Bronx, looking out across the river at The Palisades. Among them was Mark Twain, who in typically Twain fashion, eschewed the house itself on the grounds and built himself a treehouse. It’s still a gorgeous way to spend a day, even if Twain’s treehouse is long gone.
Grand Masonic Lodge of New York
71 W 23rd St., Manhattan. Stuffed with ballrooms, libraries, meeting halls, and ritual rooms, all lavishly appointed, there are few more entertaining places to tour in New York than the Grand Masonic Lodge. Although we didn’t discover the secrets of the Illuminati, we did get a lovely tour conducted by a elderly gent I came to know simply as “Kind Dracula.”
65 Jumel Terrace, Manhattan. Eliza Jumel was one of the most successful, most infamous women in New York history. A canny businesswoman and former harlot who saved her husband from financial ruin, upon his accidental death she was branded — without evidence — a murderer and endlessly slandered and libeled with a series of increasingly perverse claims about her past and present. She ended up married to Aaron Burr (that guy again!), who blew through her fortune until she finally dumped the guy — in a divorce administered by Alexander Hamilton’s son, no less. Her mansion was at one time the Manhattan headquarters of George Washington during the early days of the Revolutionary War. She now haunts it, or so they say, and is buried nearby at the large Trinity Church Cemetery and Mausoleum.
54 Pearl St, Manhattan. One of the oldest taverns in the United States, Fraunces is where George Washington chose to meet with and bid his troops adieu after his triumphant return to New York at the end of the Revolutionary War. It’s also a nice beer and whiskey bar and serves pretty decent food.
26 Wall St, Manhattan. When he wasn’t drinking with his troops down the street at Fraunces, George Washington was busy getting inaugurated as the first President of the United States on the steps of this building. Well, on the steps of a building that used to be here. The current one was built after the original was demolished in the 1800s. Also, Batman fought Bane out front.
278 West 113th St, Manhattan. Master magician and escape artist Harry Houdini bought this house and lived here for several years. It’s still a house — a private residence, so you can’t go traipsing around inside it. A gate keeps Houdini seekers from screwing around on the stoop, but there is a plaque. If you want to do a little more, you could always visit the free Houdini Museum.
Birthplace of Clara Bow
697 Bergen Street, Brooklyn. The It Girl led a brief, spectacular, and tragic life that started on this non-descript block in Prospect Heights. Her childhood in Brooklyn, under the charge of a sternly religious mother, was not a happy one. The address now — I have no idea what era the apartments there are from — is a private residence, so be respectful. There is no sort of marker or anything to signify it as the one-time home of the young superstar of the silent screen.
Dana Barrett’s Apartment and the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
3 W 65th St and 55 Central Park West, Manhattan. Designed by notorious occultist Ivo Shandor to serve as a gateway between this and the spirit world, the apartment tower at 55 Central Park West was the one-time home of Dana Barrett, before it was besieged by the ancient Babylonian god Gozer. Next door, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church has been expertly restored after having been stepped on by the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.
Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum
177A Bleecker Street, Manhattan. Marvel Comics’ Sorcerer Supreme calls this modest Greenwich Village building home, and his special place to just get away from all the conjuring and demons and making of bland stew that characterizes his day. The real thing looks a little different than the location in the comic book, but if you are lucky, you might still catch Stephen Strange popping down to bodega for a microwave burrito.
Leading Ladies Statues
Broadway at 46th St., Manhattan. Ethel Barrymore, Marilyn Miller, Mary Pickford and Rosa Ponselle stand guard over this building, beautifully restored after the building’s previous tenants (TGI Fridays) allowed them to crumble and decay, then obscured them behind advertising. The four statues were unveiled in 1929, when the building was a shoe store that catered to theatrical productions and stars. When TGI Fridays was finally chased from the building like the scoundrels they are, it was taken over by the clothing company Express, who saw value in the statues and restored them and the entire facade to its former glory, a bastion of glamorous old Times Square amid the modern neon disinterest.