It goes without saying I’m always taking notes on all the places I plan to visit when I’m next in NYC, ones I think you’ll like too. Not just the obvious restaurants and coffee shops to try, art shows and curious shops to discover. Lately, I’m making a list and checking it twice of all those hidden treasure places around New York that aren’t always in plain sight. The ones that offer us a slice of the city’s history; an insight into New York’s heritage; all those off-beat places that tell us an interesting story. So today, I thought I’d open up the pages of my travel scrapbook of NYC hidden treasures, and share a few. I also plan to add to it whenever something new catches my eye…
Mysterious Miniature Front Doors on Dennet Place
Even people who live nearby to Dennet Place, a tiny lane close to the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, have never heard of it, but those who do pass by will notice that each house in this street has a miniature street-level front door. “Residents crouch in and out of the doors as if it were the most natural thing in the world,” according to the New York Times journalist, Alex Vadukul, who went on a fact-finding mission around the neighbourhood only to find “no one knows why the doors are so small”. To this day, they’re an anomaly.
A Tropical Forest Hidden in an Office Building
Inside the Ford Foundation Building at 320 East 43rd Street is where you’ll find this tropical jungle oasis – and best of all, it’s open to the public year round. It’s made of two giant glass walls and a ceiling that together become a large-scale greenhouse that creates tropical conditions for plant life to thrive all year.
Have a proper look inside, here.
Staple Street Skybridge
Close your eyes and see if you can imagine early 20th-century nurses pushing trolleys of sheets, gowns and blankets back and forth across the Staple Street skybridge day and night. These short, enclosed bridges that look like little railway cars were built in the 19th century and still exist all over the city, but this one on Staple Street is my all-time favourite. It was built in 1907 to link New York Hospital’s House of Relief at the corner of Hudson and Jay streets, to a new hospital annex housing a stable and laundry.
(Image credit: NY Through the Lens)
A Secret Door to a Once-Legendary Times Square Hotel
Next time you’re taking the subway from Times Square, look out for this intriguing door with its amazing 1930s typeface which is actually hidden in full view and passed by thousands of commuters and tourists every day. You’ll find it deep in the subway system below Times Square, tucked away on the north end of one of the platforms. It was once a secret entrance to what was once one of New York’s most splendid hotels, John Jacob Astor’s Knickerbocker Hotel.
The hotel was first opened in 1906 built on land owned by John Jacob Astor IV – at the time on of the wealthiest men in the world.
Find out how to get there here.
A Quaint English Village on the Upper West Side
Pomander Walk is a quite the little New York treasure, surrounded by a concrete jungle of high-rise apartments. An English countryside haven built in 1922, this quaint community of Tudor style cottages is discretely tucked away behind an inconspicuous metal gate on West 95th Street from Broadway. Humphrey Bogart once owned one of the houses and there’s still a little green shed at the top of the staircase that was the old guardhouse used by his bodyguard while Bogie was living there!
See what the houses look like inside here.
Nightclub impresario Thomas J. Healy bought the land and named it after a romantic comedy that came to the New York stage in 1910 about the residents of a small crescent in Chiswick, London. He had plans to turn it into a major hotel but financing fell through and luckily he built these adorable little Tudor cottages instead.
NYC resident explorer ScoutingNY has a great article on Pomander Walk.
A Secret Garden on Hudson Street
Next time you’re shopping in Soho and need a rest, head over to Hudson Street where you’ll find this magical little piece of tranquility.
Read more here.
Patchin Place and New York’s Last Remaining Gaslight Lamp
Thousands of gaslight lamps used to light up the streets of New York, but standing proudly at the end of a little cul-de-sac in Greenwich village is the last one left in the city today. This 19th-century landmark sits at the end of the short stretch of brick houses which was built around 1850, apparently for Basque waiters working at the Brevoort Hotel… once famous for housing writers like Theodore Dreiser and EE Cummings. Now a designated landmark, the cul-de-sac remains almost completely unchanged.
Read more here.
(Image credit: Rachel Citron)
Hidden Birdhouses of the West Village
Tucked amid the foliage of McCarthy Square – which is actually a triangle of lushness at the point at which 7th Avenue, Charles Street and Waverly Place meet – is where you’ll find an intriguing collection of birdhouses, all unique and hand-crafted by a mystery artist, Vincent Mele, providing refuge to the city’s bird life. Respect to the birds that bagged the apartment building bird-box.
Read more here.
The Statues of Miss Manhattan
All over New York are statues of a mysterious lady that happen to decorate dozens of memorials and bridges and buildings all over the city. She blends in so well with her surroundings, you’d be forgiven for not noticing her, unless you knew she was there. They’re actually inspired by New York’s first-ever supermodel, Audrey Munson, named ‘Miss Manhattan’ by the New York Sun newspaper at the peak of her career in 1910. She was once so famous a mind-boggling 30 statues in the Met Museum were inspired by her ‘perfect curves’. Today, she might be a forgotten celebrity, but her legacy remains around the city. Look out for her leaning on a white horse in the public library; sitting on a fountain where 59th Street and 5th Avenue cross; lying on a bed at 107th and Broadway, and standing on top of the Manhattan Municipal Building.
The curious people over at 99% Invisible have put together a great podcast on Miss Manhattan.
A Movie Set at Sylvan Terrace
You might recognise the pretty cobblestone street lined with 20 wooden-row houses from Boardwalk Empire, that’s because this quaint Washington Heights street is sometimes used as a film set. It’s called Sylvan Terrace and it used to be a carriage road for the nearby Morris-Jume Mansion, apparently.
Follow resident NYer ScoutingNY on a little tour of the street here.