Category Archives: Landmarks

“It’s Complicated” with the Statue of Liberty

New Yorkers have what I’ll call a failing long-distance relationship with the Statue of Liberty. We love her, and we tell her we love her all the time. But we never visit her.

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We never decide to hop on the ferry and have a picnic by her pedestal or bring a date up to her crown.  Maybe we head out once every 10 years if friends are in town, but even this pilgrimage tends to be approached as a necessary evil of introducing visitors to New York.  Perhaps this is because we New Yorkers (like people everywhere) often pride ourselves on avoiding the parts of our city that are overrun by tourists.  Or perhaps we’re satisfied with our first and only visit to the Statue, the one we took when we were 10 years old.

With curiosity about this pervasive attitude in mind, I decided to go myself to see if the trip deserves a higher place on New Yorkers’ respectable afternoon excursion list.  Even though I’ve worked in tourism for years, I amazingly had not been to the Statue since I was a child.  So here’s a no-frills evaluation of the Statue of Liberty experience, from a local perspective.

I waited about half an hour including passing through security before boarding the ferry at Battery Park.

I waited about half an hour including passing through security before boarding the ferry at Battery Park.

A ticket online costs $18 with pedestal access, $3 more for the crown.  This includes admission to Ellis Island as well.  I showed up, gradually progressed through the line and then grabbed a spot on the top deck next to the ferry’s guard rail.  The boat ride offered breath-taking views of Lower Manhattan and the Statue that I almost would have paid $18 for alone.  However, you can get almost the exact same ride for free on the Staten Island Ferry so I needed more to be really impressed.

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What a great view of Lower Manhattan!

Warning: Make sure you reserve tickets on the official website for an exact arrival time on a specific day.  DO NOT under any circumstances arrive without a ticket and buy one from a third party vendor on the streets next to Battery Park.  They will sell you marked-up “flex” tickets that you will almost definitely have to wait in a multi-hour line to use.

As we approached Liberty Island, the air hummed with excitement.

As we approached Liberty Island, the air hummed with excitement.  Even though I see the Statue from afar every day, I have to admit that I felt like I was really seeing it for the first time.

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Once on the island, I took a free ranger tour…which was fascinating. Even though we all take the Statue for granted, it took a series of minor and major miracles and over 20 years of work to transition her from an idea to a reality.

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I think one of my most striking realizations was that the Statue is first and foremost a work of art. It’s a sculpture after all and a masterpiece at that.  I have to say that I never grew tired of looking at her from different angles as I struggled to comprehend her gargantuan scale.  Most New Yorkers only see her from afar or in photos, neither of which compares to seeing her up-close and personal.

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Perhaps the biggest drawback was the 45 minute wait on the island for a ferry to pick us up. The wind whipped all around and many of us were underdressed…these are the 21st century huddled masses.

In the end I had a great day.  The enthusiasm and thrill of the tourists rubbed off on me and made me feel like I was on vacation myself.  Perhaps for the first time, I really looked at the details of the statue–the stoic expression on Lady Liberty’s face, the tablet in her hand and the lift of her back foot, revealing that she is actually walking forward–progressing.   My verdict is that the Statue is not overrated.  The fact that people from all over the world come to see her is a clue that New Yorkers should too.  So if you love her, pay her a visit!

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Filed under General, Landmarks, New York

5Pointz: Developers > World Famous Public Street Art

Joni Mitchell wrote : “Don’t it always seem to go / That you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone / They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”  Well in this case, they’re tearing down paradise to put up a 1,000 unit high-rise.  And paradise is located in Long Island City, Queens.  Click on any photo to enlarge.

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5Pointz, the seemingly doomed graffiti art mecca

Bordering a Long Island Railroad rail yard and partially shadowed by the elevated subway tracks is 5Pointz, a collection of warehouses that would seem nondescript, were the facades not covered entirely in spectacular murals.  This breathtaking display is the result of an ongoing collaboration with over 100 artists who come from far and wide to leave their mark on New York’s most famous graffiti destination.

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Tourists too, flock to 5Pointz. On my bike tours, I have watched the delight of countless visitors as they unexpectedly find themselves in the middle of a colossal outdoor art gallery.

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Part of the appeal of the site is its visibility–riders on the 7 train get an excellent bird’s-eye view of the complex. Mets fans on their way to Citi Field know to look out for 5Pointz soon after exiting the tunnel from Manhattan.

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5Points is located directly across the street from PS1, the contemporary art and outdoor concert venue of the Museum of Modern Art. The presence of both have contributed to Long Island City’s rapidly rising trendiness and real estate values.

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Artists contact the curator, MeresOne, well in advance before painting at 5Pointz. A friend of mine is a muralist in Ecuador and she planned an entire trip to New York around an invitation to paint here.

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Each time I go with a bike group, the art at the ground-level has changed

This obscure piece may be a work of Banksy, the world's most famous street artist

This obscure piece resembles the work of Banksy, the world’s most famous street artist…is it his?

For over a decade the art community and the owners of the property have peacefully coexisted, the result of an agreement allowing free and legal painting to take place on the facade.  However, with the Long Island City real estate market booming, the owners have decided it is high-time to demolish the site in favor of luxury condos.  The City Council quickly gave the projects two thumbs up, eager to bring in construction jobs, a public park and 210 affordable units.

To their credit, the developers have offered up 10,000 square feet of surfaces for artists to graffiti on the new construction.  But this is miniscule compared to the space they use right now.  And whether the community and its curator even want to be part of the new project is a different question.  As of right now, the defenders of 5Pointz are on their last stand.  If their final round of litigation fails, the historic warehouses will see the wrecking ball in a matter of weeks.  Joni Mitchell might be the first to say: “I told you so.”

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Citi Tower, Queens’ tallest building watches over the painted warehouses

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Knowing that its days might be numbered, I took my family to 5Pointz recently. "Let's take a photo," my Dad said. "It's now or never"

Knowing that its days might be numbered, I took my family to 5Pointz recently. “Let’s take a photo,” my Dad said. “It’s now or never”

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Filed under Landmarks, Museums, Neighborhoods, New York, Photography, Queens

The Blessing of the Bikes

Who doesn’t enjoy a visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine?  Largest cathedral in the United States and fourth largest in the world, St. John’s inspires all but the most traveled of churchgoers (specifically “Vaticans,

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Filed under Events, Landmarks, Religious Spaces

Strivers’ Row

While participating in a walking tour of Harlem by fellow guide Matt Baker, I came upon one of the all-time great blocks of New York: Strivers’ Row.  Located at W 138th and 139th St. between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (7th Ave) and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (8th Ave), these magnificent row houses tell the story of the changing perceptions and demographics of New York’s most notorious neighborhood.

The dark brick Italian Renaissance houses of Strivers' Row designed by McKim, Mead and White on W 139th St.

Like much of northern Manhattan, Harlem remained rural and relatively isolated well into the 19th century.  Not until midcentury did the neighborhood began to attract its first urban residents—Irish and German immigrants who settled in shantytowns.

The construction of elevated railroads in 1880 precipitated land speculation.  Block after block of rowhouses was constructed in anticipation of new waves of affluent, white residents.  Grandest of them all were the properties on 138th and 139th streets by developer David H. King in 1891.

The yellow brick with terra-cotta and limestone trim of Strivers' Row at W 138th St., designed by Bruce Prince.

To increase the attractiveness of his homes, King hired 3 sets of prominent architects to design a stretch of the row each.  Most noteworthy was the prestigious firm McKim, Mead and White, already commissioned at this point to design the Arch in Washington Square Park

[caption id=”attachment_274″ align=”aligncenter” width=”225″ caption=”Unlike the vast majority of the homes in New York, Strivers' Row was designed with  a private back alley for carriage houses. Today the entrance still reads: “Walk Your Horses

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Filed under Landmarks, Neighborhoods

The Eldridge Street Synagogue

I have visited many famous places of worship in New York but I feel confident saying that none took my breath away like the Eldridge Street Synagogue.  Regardless of your religious background, this synagogue and museum is well worth a visit for its beauty and the chance to step into a time capsule of American immigrant history.  But due to its only recent restoration and revival, this Lower East Side gem is just beginning to gain notoriety from tourists and locals alike.

The Façade of the Eldridge Street Synagogue on Eldridge St. between Division and Canal

Completed 1887, this was the first synagogue in America built by an Eastern European Jewish congregation.  At this time, the Lower East side was a repository for hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving each year to the New World.  German Jews were the first to arrive en masse in the mid-19th century. But due to cultural similarities and a relatively high level of education, their assimilation was rapid and they gradually progressed uptown.  The Eastern European Jews, however, arriving from the early 1880s on, came from more rural, impoverished backgrounds.   By 1900, over 50% of the immigrants arriving in America were Jews from countries such as Russia, Poland, and modern Lithuania, Ukraine, and Belarus.

Victorian chandeliers and floor-to-ceiling murals as seen from the balcony of the sanctuary

In contrast to the dismal tenements and sweatshops of the Lower East Side, the Eldridge Street Synagogue boasted lavish decorations, stained glass and vaulted ceilings.  Its worshipers represented a mixture of socio-economic backgrounds and its services on high holidays drew such crowds that policemen kept order on the streets outside.

Original leaded stained glass with Stars of David inside the synagogue

However, the Great Depression and changing demographics in the Lower East Side saw a dwindling congregation at Eldridge Street.  Furthermore, the Immigration Act of 1924 specifically excluded Eastern Europeans by using the 1890 census as the basis for entrance quotas, essentially making Jewish immigration impossible.  In the 30s, unable to pay the bills and maintain the building, the main sanctuary was closed off and the congregation began holding services in the unheated basement.

The west rose window, "pie-chart" stained glass and vaulted ceiling

Luckily, in the mid-80s, the synagogue was saved from disrepair.  The sanctuary was rediscovered and a non-profit organization was established to raise money for a restoration.  Part of the west roof had caved in and pigeons were roosting throughout the synagogue.  A 20-year, $18.5 million renovation was completed in 2007, and today the building serves as a museum, an active Orthodox synagogue and a National Historic Landmark.  To truly get a sense of the synagogue and the immigrants who once worshiped there, I highly recommend a visit and guided tour–free on Mondays! On a sunny day, the illumination of the sanctuary is spectacular.

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The intricate Moorish Revival front entrance. Only men would enter through these doors to worship on the main floor of the sanctuary. Women and children would enter through the basement and climb two floors to the segregated balcony so as to not distract the male worshipers.

For more information, visit the museum website

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Filed under Landmarks, Museums, Religious Spaces