Michelle is the founder of Untapped Cities. She can usually be found in New York (where she grew up), Paris, backpacking in South America or Southeast Asia, or in-transit between. She has an obsession with buses, shoots with a Nikon SLR camera, and destroys cellos on stage with her indie rock band. She’s traveled to 35 countries, including working for earthquake disaster organizations in Peru and Sumatra. She is an author of 100 Ways to Make History, published by the New York Public Library. She holds a masters in urban planning from Columbia University, a B.A. from Harvard in the History of Art & Architecture, and is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music. Follow her on Twitter @untappedmich.
The temporary sculptures along the Park Avenue Mall are one of our favorite public art initiatives in New York City. The curated pieces, done by one featured artist at a time, always seem to be in a dialogue with the city around them. In the lower part of Park Avenue, north of Grand Central Terminal, the works form a distinct contrast with the corporate business culture that pervades the architecture. Further north, they serve to spice up the storied legacy of Park Avenue apartments.
On Saturday August 1st, Ewerdt Hilgemann, Moments in a Stream will be complete, stretching from 52nd to 67th Street. We’ve been hanging out with Hilgemann and his team while they install the sculptures between 10pm and 6am, as required by city regulation.
Last week from the Untapped Cities HQ, we spotted the Staten Island Ferry cruising up (and down) the Hudson River. And we don’t mean downtown around the New York Harbor, close to its natural habitat. It first came into view at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal at 55th Street then continued on past Columbus Circle, West New York (in New Jersey) to the Upper West Side in the 70s before making a U-turn. Was it lost? Going on a joy ride hoping to escape the city?
While the freemasons certainly played a role in the construction of Washington D.C., the persisting rumor that the street grid and other buildings are embedded with masonic code is likely myth. Nonetheless, it doesn’t feel surprising that networks of underground tunnels (and even a subway just for those on Capitol Hill) were built beneath the city. More unique than the existence of the tunnels is how they’re programmed. In Washington D.C., they’re like underground cities, with all the things you would need from the outside world, moved indoors. Hallways become streets, marked by the newspaper boxes you would normally find at your corner.
Here’s a roundup of some of the notable underground corridors beneath Capitol Hill:
Tickets for our upcoming Untapped Cities tours are going fast. Our Edgar Allan Poe Greenwich Village tour is already sold out, but there are two tickets left for the August Woolworth Building tour (and more dates in October, November and December), plus new tours added of a real Prohibition Speakeasy and an adventurous Vertical Tour of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Read more about these tours and get tickets below:
Tour of the Woolworth Building Lobby and Cocktail Event – August 23rd at 12pm
Untapped Cities will be offering readers the chance for intimate, hour-long tour of the normally off-limits Woolworth Building lobby led by Lisa Swyers, a preservationist working directly with the archives of the Woolworth Building. In addition to a guided visit through the spectacular lobby, we will also visit the basement level where the bank vault is located and where the former entrances to the subway are. Other locations, as seen on previous Untapped Cities tours, will be dependent on building access on the particular day. Untapped Cities works directly with the tour guides to provide additional access not necessarily available on regular tours of the building. Following the tour, we will lead guests to an optional cocktail hour at the historic Fraunces Tavern.
Introducing our new series with 6sqft, a publication on architecture, real estate and neighborhoods in New York City.
The glossy cultured patina of Lincoln Center reveals nearly nothing of what the neighborhood once was, and New Yorkers, accustomed to the on-going cycle of building and demolition, have likely forgotten (or never knew) about the lively San Juan Hill that was demolished to make way for the famous cultural center. Any such development dating from the 1960s wouldn’t be without the fingerprints of the now-vilified Robert Moses, who was more than willing to cut up neighborhoods both poor and wealthy in the eye of progress.
While the tough reputation of Hell’s Kitchen on the west side just south of Lincoln Center is well-documented in the history of the Irish diaspora, the history of San Juan Hill was mostly erased by a single sweep of urban planning, by nature of simply no longer existing. As New York City expanded and industrialized, immigrant communities moved northwards. African Americans were also part of this movement, even pre-Civil War, along with their neighbors the Irish, Italians and Germans.
Originally, all groups were mixing and getting in trouble down in Five Points. Harlem’s reputation as the center of African American culture wouldn’t exist without the gradual northward movement of their community through the 1800s. After Five Points, the population moved into Greenwich Village, then to the Tenderloin in the streets between the 20s and 30s, then to Hell’s Kitchen. The area that’s now Lincoln Center was the logical next step, originally settled by the Dutch as an enclave by the name of Blooming Dale with its leafy aristocratic country homes.
The town of Wetzlar, Germany recently celebrated the return of iconic lens and camera manufacturer, Leica, which was founded 100 years ago in this manufacturing enclave outside Frankfurt. The new headquarters, shaped like a camera lens, offers both a look behind-the-scenes into the intricate production process of Leica cameras, as well as an exhibition space that celebrates the company’s illustrious history.
While attending the opening of the new Leica headquarters, we also learned some of the secrets of the company from the staff. One, which particularly caught our attention, was the tunnel system in Wetzlar that enabled Jewish Leica (then the Leitz company) employees to escape Nazi-controlled Germany in the late 1930s. Known by Holocaust historians as the “Leica Freedom Train,” this initiative of Dr. Ernest Leitz II and his daughter Elsie Kuehn-Leitz have all the hallmarks of a Schindler’s List-like story, but remains mostly unknown to the global public. During our trip, we were able to visit the tunnels with a local tour guide.