If you really want to see New York City, you have to look around: Look behind you – it’s easy to miss details when you’re always looking forward. And for goodness’ sake, look up! Amazing sights await those who lift their eyes to the skies!
New York has more than 75 bridges connecting the boroughs to each other and to New Jersey. It’s fascinating how so many different engineers came up with so many different solutions for the same problem: How to cross a river. Here are views of some of the principal East River bridges.
To come: Bronx-Whitestone, Throggs Neck and Rikers Island bridges.
What’s a fire house? Just a dorm with a garage, right? No way!! It’s where New York’s Bravest hang their helmets while pursuing arguably the most exciting career in the city. It’s where a kid might loiter on a summer afternoon: Waiting for the bells to summon firefighters to another blaze, watching the trucks roar to life, hearing the sirens and bells warn mere mortals to clear the way. (Well, fire trucks used to have shiny brass bells, and if you asked really nicely, the firemen would sometimes let you ring the bell.)
That excitement and romantic view of firemen must have inspired New York architects, because they designed some really awesome fire houses!
The elaborate stations of the early 1900s came about as New York City transitioned from volunteer corps to a paid professional force. The FDNY had its own architect, which for many years was Napoleon LeBrun. His crowning work was the station for Engine Company 31, a Loire Valley chateaux-style confection now used as television studios.
Incidentally – when you see a tower attached to or sprouting from a firehouse, that’s where they hang their hoses to dry between fires.
This photo gallery is but a small sample; you might also enjoy the “Ten House” (Engine Company 10/Ladder Company 10) website – it’s a portal into dozens of FDNY websites: www.fdnytenhouse.com/fdnylinks.htm
These three neighboring Brooklyn apartment towers along Flatbush Avenue Extension aren’t actually called the Three Sisters, but maybe they should be. From north to south they are: Oro (Gold), Avalon Fort Greene, and Toren (Tower). Besides proximity, they are similar in height (40, 42 and 38 floors, respectively), have similar luxury amenities, and have glass corner designs (wraparound corner windows) for spectacular views.
For each of these towers, check out the developer’s website, of course, but also the City Realty articles. This real estate broker has its own architectural critic, Carter B. Horsley, who was a real estate/architecture reporter and critic for The New York Times and the New York Post.
Oro, designed by Ismael Leyva, Architects, is the eldest sister, completed in 2008. The 40-story building contains 303 condominium apartments, with asking prices reported in the range of $365,000 to $1.2 million for studio through 3BR units. Apartments have nine-foot ceilings (eight feet is the norm), floor-to-ceiling windows, granite countertops and other luxury features. The building’s amenities include a health club with indoor pool and basketball/racquetball court. Oro’s irregular shape allows five of the seven or eight apartments on each floor to have wraparound corner windows. The condo’s name has a double meaning: Oro (Gold) of course implies luxury; but it so happens that the address is 306 Gold Street.
Avalon Fort Greene – the middle sister – is a rental building offering 631 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments at monthly rents of $2,180-$5,000. Perkins Eastman Architects designed Avalon Fort Greene, which was completed in 2010. Like Oro, this 42-story residential tower has floor-to-ceiling windows and other luxury features.
Toren is the smallest sister – just 240 apartments and 38 floors. Designed by Carl Galioto of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, it was completed in 2010. This is a condo development, also offering studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units at prices of up to $1.2 million. Toren’s unusual non-rectangular shape creates some odd-shaped living and bedrooms. Kitchens are open to the living/dining rooms – not even an “island” stands between sink, stove and sofa.
Brooklyn has some amazing architecture, as these photos will attest. After all, Brooklyn was the second-largest city in America at the time that it joined New York City – so Brooklyn’s civic architecture was as impressive as New York City’s. (That Brooklyn even joined New York City is a surprise – why would it want to give up its identity?)
The Civic Center extends roughly from High Street south to Atlantic Avenue, and Cadman Plaza West/Court Street east to Flatbush Avenue Extension. The neighborhood is surrounded by equally historic districts: Fulton Ferry, DUMBO, and Vinegar Hill to the north; Brooklyn Heights to the west; Boerum Hill and Cobble Hill to the south; Fort Greene/Clinton Hill to the east. (Google Map of area)
In 2011, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated a tiny area (21 buildings in an area of about 2-1/2 blocks) the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District. The Commission’s 63-page designation report includes a history of Brooklyn’s development; Brooklyn fans will enjoy it. Eleven individual buildings outside this district were (earlier) designated NYC landmarks.
While taxpayer-sponsored grandiose architecture makes up a large portion of the photos in this gallery, schools are also well represented. NYU’s Polytechnic Institute, Long Island University Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Law School, and City University have major contributions. MetroTech – a quasi-public commercial development – is a modern intrusion in the area.
Several commercial and civic landmarks – most notably 75 Livingston Street and 110 Livingston Street – have been converted to residential use. A few striking new apartment towers have been erected – I’ve taken the liberty of dubbing a trio the “Three Sisters,” and gave them their own gallery.
Downtown Brooklyn Suggested Reading
Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District Designation Report [63-page pdf]. Includes photos and architectural details for 21 buildings in the district, plus history of Brooklyn (as context for the district) and profiles of significant architects.
You’ll find historical societies in all five boroughs of New York; as you’ll see, they are architecturally interesting in themselves, and are valuable resources for learning more about the boroughs’ history.
Here are some capsule reviews of each, with contact info. Be sure to get current visitor and exhibit information – some sites have very limited hours of operation.
New York Historical Society
The New York Historical Society is both the oldest and among the youngest museums in New York. It was founded in 1804, but the building was renovated and reopened in November 2011. It now includes state-of-the-art interactive displays on three exhibit floors and a spectacular multimedia show – “New York Story” – which by itself is almost worth the price of admission. (The 18-minute show screens every half hour.) The Society is also young in its approach to history – it has a sense of humor that pops up and keeps the exhibits fresh. Where else would you find a “Beer Here” exhibit?
The permanent collection is displayed on the fourth floor (which has its own mezzanine); changing exhibits are on the first and second floors; a children’s museum, library and classrooms are on the lower level. The first floor also contains the auditorium, gift/book shop and cafe. New York Historical Society goes to great lengths to make its collection accessible to all – mobility, sight and hearing impairments are all accommodated.
The New York Historical Society museum and library covers all of New York City – unlike the other societies, which focus on single boroughs. Consequently, there’s some overlap between this museum and the Museum of the City of New York on Fifth Avenue.
Note that the Society’s library closes earlier than its museum – 3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday (closed Sunday).
Address: 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), New York, NY 10024
The Museum of Bronx History operates out of the Valentine-Varian House, a fieldstone farmhouse built in 1758. The Society also maintains a separate archive/library and the nearby Poe House (see below). In addition, the society operates tours.
Address: The Valentine-Varian House/Museum of Bronx History, 3266 Bainbridge Avenue, The Bronx, NY 10467
This is where Edgar Allan Poe spent his last years; where his wife died and where he wrote some of his most memorable works. The docent gives an excellent talk about Poe, his life and times; there’s also an informative video shown in an upstairs bedroom. In the adjacent park, the Parks Department operates an educational center.
And if you need another reason to visit, the immediate neighborhood is rich in architectural treasures – including Kingsbridge Armory, two blocks west.
Address: 2640 Grand Concourse (at East Kingsbridge Road), The Bronx, NY 10458
Founded as the Long Island Historical Society in 1863; changed its name to Brooklyn Historical Society in 1985. The building is still going through restoration – the main floor gallery is the current (as of September 2012) project; most other areas, inside and out, are stunningly beautiful. In addition to the exhibit galleries, the Society houses an impressive research library.
Address: 128 Pierrepont Street (at Clinton Street), Brooklyn, NY 11201
The Queens Historical Society operates out of Kingsland Homestead in Flushing, next to the historic Bowne House (currently closed for restoration). It’s a small operation, open only a few hours on just three days a week. But they do have a good selection of publications – books and pamphlets – about other historic sites in Queens. And, it’s a part of the Flushing “Freedom Mile” walking tour that includes 10 other significant buildings. (Kingsland Homestead was a part of the “Underground Railroad.”)
Address: Weeping Beech Park, 143-35 37th Avenue, Flushing, NY 11354
Historic Richmond Town is a score of restored/reconstructed homes, farms, businesses, schools and churches, dating from the 1700s and 1800s. It’s quite rural compared to the rest of the city and very popular for school outings. There are several themed tours – consider this an all-day trip – or several trips!
If you’re very ambitious, there’s a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home (see “The Wright Stuff” gallery.) and a lighthouse at the top of the hill overlooking Historic Richmond Town, and a beautiful church and cemetery across the street.
Address: Historic Richmond Town, 441 Clarke Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10306
Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Library was 35 years in the making – a case of municipal overreaching. Brooklyn’s pride was on the line – former Brooklyn Mayor David A. Boody was the library president. The grandiose plan began in 1906 with sending the chief architect, the consulting architect and the chief librarian to Europe for a 19-city tour to study 24 libraries. The following year, architect Raymond F. Almirall proposed a Beaux Arts design. The library’s board and the city’s Municipal Art Commission approved the plans, but construction didn’t begin until 1911.
Financial support soon became a political issue, and as early as 1914 city administrations were balking at paying the library’s enormous cost. In October 1930 – 19 years after groundbreaking – the library was only one third complete.
A new library administration in 1933 abandoned the grandiose four-story Beaux Arts design in favor of a less expensive three-story modern plan. In 1935 the directors chose new architects: Alfred Morton Githens and Francis Keally. They unveiled new plans in 1937; the city approved the plans in 1938, and construction resumed in 1939. Githens and Keally used the foundations and first three floors of the steel frame, but scrapped most of the existing masonry and ornament. In just under two years, they completed the project.
Brooklyn Public Library Vital Statistics
Location: 10 Grand Army Plaza (junction of Eastern Parkway and Flatbush Avenue)
Montauk Club is “an architectural treasure” of Park Slope, Brooklyn, according to the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission. Francis H. Kimball designed the brownstone and brick building in the style of a Venetian palace, decorated on three sides in terra cotta with scenes of the Montauk Indians. (The north side of the building, adjoining a vacant lot, was left plain for possible expansion.)
The club itself still exists (see their website for details), though it now uses just the two lower floors. The upper floors have been converted to cooperative apartments – accessed through the club’s former “ladies’ entrance.” The ladies’ entrance allowed the lady of 1891 to go directly to the third floor dining room without encountering cigar smoke or other male vices.
Montauk Club Vital Statistics
Location: 25 Eighth Avenue at Lincoln Place
Year completed: 1891
Architect: Francis H. Kimball
Style: Venetian Gothic
New York City Landmark: 1973 (part of Park Slope Historic District)
47 Plaza Street West is often described as Brooklyn’s own Flatiron Building – and the similarities are striking: Both have a triangular footprint, but 47 Plaza Street West is a little more complex – its eastern side gently curves to follow Grand Army Plaza’s perimeter. The 1928 Brooklyn apartment building and the 1902 Manhattan office building both overlook a pedestrian plaza and a park (though the Brooklyn Plaza and park are MUCH more impressive). Both buildings are in Renaissance style – though 16-story 47 Plaza Street West is Italian Renaissance to 21-story Flatiron’s French Renaissance.
Brooklyn’s Flatiron has something that the original lacks – a sibling on the same block. Berkeley Plaza, the 14-story apartment building at 39 Plaza Street West, was also designed by Rosario Candela, in the same style, at the same time.
The Arlington is the last and tallest of four ornate Romanesque Revival/Queen Anne style apartment buildings built on Montague Street; the others, designed by the Parfitt Bros. firm, are The Montague (105), and The Berkeley/The Grosvenor (111/115). The 10-story tower makes this one stand out.
Playwright Arthur Miller lived here, as well as artist/filmmaker Marie Menken and poet Willard Maas.
An Arlington resident – Chuck Taylor – seems to be the building’s self-appointed historian: He’s written four blog pieces about the structure. His Smoking Nun essay includes vintage photos of Montague Street when it was a trolley route, and before.
The Arlington Vital Statistics
Location: 62 Montague Street between Hicks Street and Montague Terrace