Aerial view of Rikers Island. Image via Wikimedia Commons: U.S. Geological Survey

Rikers IslandNew York City’s main jail complex (and the island it sits on), is situated on the East River, between Queens and the Bronx. As one of the largest correctional institutions in the world, the facility is comprised of 10 jails which have a total capacity of nearly 17,000 people – although daily numbers are between 7000 and 9000 .In fact, it has been referred to as the “World’s Largest Penal Colony.” As a jail however, stays are one year or shorter, with a large portion of detainees who can’t afford bail simply awaiting hearings and trials. 60,000 people men and women return home from Rikers Island each year.

For some time, Rikers Island has peaked our interests; so, in 2010, when someone on the Untapped Cities team officially received access inside, we made sure to document the experience as we learned about its secrets hidden beyond the ID checkpoints and X-ray scanners of the facility.


This image of 23rd Street and Broadway is viewable in Times Square on the Membit app. Membit is a new augmented reality app that gives you a way to share the past with the present and a way to share the present with the future. It’s so new it isn’t even in the App Store yet, it’s in beta. If you would like to try it out before everyone else, click here.

On October 17, 1966 a devastating fire claimed the lives of 12 firefighters, the most dead after 9/11, in what is called today “The 23rd Street Fire.”

At 9:30pm that evening a fire was reported in the cellar of an art dealer at 7 West 22nd Street, one block south of the Flatiron Building. Although no one knows exactly how the fire started, the basement was filled with highly flammable paints and supplies which caught fire quickly. When the first wave of firefighter’s responded they realized they couldn’t get to the fire through the art dealer’s ground floor entrance because of the thick smoke and intense heat so they went around the corner to the Wonder Drug on 23rd Street.


The unassuming yet mysterious exterior of Fort Tryon Cottage draws sold-out crowds eager for a once-a-year glimpse inside.

Neighbors and friends of northern Manhattan’s Fort Tryon Park, as well as devoted fans of New York City history, lined up this weekend to take a peek inside Fort Tryon Cottage, one of the last remnants of eccentric millionaire C.K.G. Billings’ estate, Fort Tryon Hall. The cottage once served as the gate house for the Billings property, which was the last country estate in Manhattan. It now functions as the northern Manhattan headquarters for the New York City Parks Department.

Thanks to Open House New York, the stucco-covered cottage opens its doors one weekend a year to booked-solid tours of the tiny dwelling.



Woolworth Building-Mezzanine-Interior-Landmark-NYC

We’ve added a new date for our perpetually sold out tour of The Woolworth Building, one of New York City’s most famous off-limits landmarks. Join us on October 22nd for a guided walk through the early U.S. skyscraper, once the tallest in the world. (We also have two dates lined up this November!)

Since 2013, we’ve worked with Woolworth Tours, a company founded by Helen Post Curry, the great-grand daughter of the building’s architect, Cass Gilbert to curate tours of the building lobby and basement level specifically tailored for our discerning readership here at Untapped Cities. Though its Byzantine, cathedral-like interior of glass tesserae and marble is landmarked, security concerns after 9/11 rendered it closed to only those that worked in the building.


As one of the original 28 subway stations in New York City, the Astor Place station features breathtaking tile work and a wide array of decorative plaques. Unfortunately, commuters rushing to and from their destinations do not always have the opportunity to appreciate its architectural and artistic legacy. One frequently overlooked feature can be found outside the turnstiles on the downtown platform of the 6 train. Next time you enter into the station, stop for a brief moment and look for a bricked up doorway with the words “Clinton Hall” carved above it.


mcgrath-16A photo from Norman McGrath’s Penn Station demolition collection. Source: Norman McGrath.

I love lost causes… That’s why I give tours of Penn Station.

She’s the ugly transit stepchild forced to process 650,000 disgruntled travelers a day while her prettier stepsister across town dresses up to host the regional commuter ball. Grand Central Terminal is breathtaking, romantic and loved throughout the world. Penn is made fun of, worn down and almost universally hated. Most people just count her out and pass her by.

But I think inside a lost cause like Penn is the core of something very special. That’s why for almost two years now, Untapped Cities and I have been taking people around the current station to find the still-beating heart of the old one.