New York City is chock full of superlatives. “Best” pizza and tallest building (in the United States) are just some of the first that come to mind. But there are tons of quirky and surprising ones like the smallest park, the shortest lived building, the narrowest shop, and even the smallest subway door. We’ll be continuously updating this, so please submit your ideas to us in the comments or via the hashtag #untappedcities!
Smallest Public Space: Septuagesimo Uno (Or Is it?)
At 256 West 71st Street between Amsterdam and West End avenues is often cited as the smallest public space in New York City. There, between two four-story brownstones, like a short, awkward cousin in a family photo, is Septuagesimo Uno. Calling Septuagesimo Uno a “park” is generous. In fact, the parks department actually calls it a “triangle/plaza.” But Septuagesimo Uno is more like a forgotten dead-end alley that has been reclaimed by Mother Nature. It is a world away from the grand public gathering places (Union Square, Bryant Park, Grand Army Plaza) that we tend to associate with New York City parks. At two-fifths of an acre in size, Septuagesimo Uno could fit into Central Park more than 21,000 times.
Located in the Village, 75 1/2 Bedford Street is just 9.5 feet wide and 30 feet deep. It has the distinction of being the narrowest building in the City and has had an illustrious list of residents including Cary Grant, John Barrymore, Edna St Vincent Millay, and William Steig. The 1873 house sold for $2.175 million in 2010 and in August 2013 it sold again for $3.25 million. See the top 5 narrowest buildings in New York City here.
This tiny triangular plot at the corner of Christopher Street and 7th Avenue in Greenwich Village represents one man’s final protest against eminent domain. It’s now marked by a mosaic in front of Village Cigars which reads “Property of the Hess Estate Which Has Never Been Dedicated for Public Purposes.” In total, the land in question measures 500 square inches.
As the city was expanding the IRT subway line and extending 7th Avenue, it took more than 300 properties by eminent domain. For some reason, this little triangular plot belonging to David Hess remained in his possession, left over from the plot his apartment building, The Voorhis, once sat. The city asked him to “donate” the plot of the land for the sidewalk but he refused, taking the issue to court. It remained the smallest piece of private property until 1938, when the David Hess estate sold it to Village Cigars for $1,000.
The Wyckoff Farmhouse is located at 5816 Clarendon Road, in Canarsie, and its oldest section dates from circa 1652. Pieter Claesen Wyckoff arrived in New Netherlands in 1637 as an indentured servant to the van Rensselaer family. He went on to become a successful farmer and magistrate. Over the centuries, additions were made to the house and its land was sold away. On December 24, 1967, it became the first building designated as a New York City landmark. Today, the house is open to the public and is operated under the auspices of the Historic House Trust.
Read more from a roundup of the oldest buildings in each of the 5 boroughs of NYC
This adorable door in the 60th Street and Broadway subway entrance to Columbus Circle has been making us smile for a while now. Could it be the smallest door in the NYC subway system? On top of the door is a phone number, which leads to the Rail Control Center offering no further clues.
With some debate, One World Trade Center was ruled last year as the tallest building in the United States beating out the Willis Tower in Chicago. It rises to a symbolic 1776 feet, including its radome, which was ruled structural. Take a look at our behind-the-scenes video inside the construction of 1 WTC and an incredible, illegal base jump that took place.
Tallest Residential Building: MoMA Tower
Jean Nouvel’s tower for MoMA has been so long coming, New Yorkers have almost forgot it was once the poster child in the city’s real estate development battle. Famously truncated by Amanda Burden, Mayor Bloomberg’s director of New York City Department of City Planning, the building will now reach 1,050 feet and has been ready for sales (quietly to appropriate buyers) as of spring 2015 even though the building is not built yet.
Previously, this title was held by 432 Park Avenue. Check out the full list of top 10 tallest buildings in NYC.
When John D. Rockefeller, Jr. planned Rockefeller Center in the early twentieth century, he meant for it to be “the grandest plaza in all of New York.” Even the Great Depression couldn’t stop this dream, as Rockefeller financed the $100 million project himself. Upon its completion in 1933, it was–and still is–the world’s largest privately owned complex. But were it not for one fateful transaction, Rockefeller Center might have lost that title to a “Dream City” by developer William Zeckendorf, Sr. just a few avenues away.
Rockefeller Center is also one of the most expensive land deals, selling for $1.85 billion in 2001 to Jerry Speyer of Tishman Speyer and the Lester Crown Family.
Also, don’t miss the hidden rooftop gardens on top of Rockefeller Center!
Oldest Subway Line: The IRT Line
The IRT subway line was the first to open in October 1904, and went from City Hall to Grand Central Terminal, cut across 42nd Street to Times Square, and north to 145th Street. Though the IRT subway stations all opened on the same day, the most famous may be the decommissioned City Hall subway station, built as the “crown jewel” of the new New York City subway line. You can see the beautifully tiled subway station today through tours from the New York Transit museum (and in our photographs here!).
In Washington Heights, the 191st Street stop along the 1 line is considered the deepest at 180 feet below street level, according to the MTA. This is one of the stations that still has full-time elevator operators, since the elevators serve as the main access to the platform. These elevators also have a greater tendency to break down, says the The New York Times (yikes).
See more on the deepest and highest subway stations in New York City.
Shortest Lived Buildings
Grand Central Station. Photo from Library of Congress.
In 1932, Robert Moses had a replica of Mount Vernon built in Prospect Park to to mark the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. The building, constructed by Sears, Roebuck & Company (who also delivered another replica to the Exposition Coloniales Internationale in Paris in 1931) and designed by architect Charles K. Bryant, lasted a mere two years before being torn down. The house was located at the base of Lookout Hill on the Peninsula of the Lake.
Before this, the original Grand Central (not a terminal then, just a station) was torn down less than three years before it had been completed in 1900. Read about the top 10 secrets of Grand Central Terminal here. Check out 8 other shortest lived buildings in NYC.
World’s Tallest Modular Tower: B2 at Atlantic Yards
B2, a prefabricated apartment building just next to the Barclays Center is being built in modular pieces at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then moved to Pacific Park. Nearly completed, the 32-story building will be the tallest modular tower in the world.
Though just half-finished, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights still takes the title of the largest cathedral in New York City, and possibly the world even though it remains unfinished. See 10 of its secrets here, including a Keith Haring triptych, and some alternate designs that never came to fruition. Also, do you know it’s home to some fabulous peacocks?
This is one of the longest hallways in New York City–stretching from Columbus Avenue to Central Park West in the American Museum of Natural History. We got this photograph on a visit behind-the-scenes tour of the art studios where all of the dinosaurs, animals and space recreations come to life.
Largest Basement: Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central has the largest basement of any building in New York City. The basement covers 49 acres, from 42nd to 97th street. The entire City Hall building could fit into its depth with a comfortable margin of room to spare. Today, the MTA is in the midst of an ambitious project to bring Long Island Rail Road trains into the terminal via the East Side Access Project, making Grand Central even larger and deeper. These will be the deepest train tunnels on earth, at 90 feet below the Metro North track and over 150 feet below the street. It will take 10 minutes to reach these tunnels by escalator, at their deepest point. This and more secrets of Grand Central here.
How Cleopatra’s Needle made it to Central Park is an epic tale of engineering brilliance, Yankee ingenuity, clever diplomacy and sheer persistence. Constructed by order of Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III in 1443 BC for his jubilee, it was moved through the idea of US naval officer Henry Honeychurch Gorringe from Alexandria to New York City in 1880 with assistance from Henry Hurlbert owner of the New York World newspaper, William Henry Vanderbilt, Henry Stebbins, the city’s Commissioner of Parks and Elbert Farman, American consul-general in Egypt.
Moving the 200 ton obelisk and 50 ton base involved purchasing a steam ship, excavating the obelisk, and crossing the Atlantic. It took 16 weeks to move the obelisk from 96th Street to Greywacke Knoll in Central Park, taking 19 days, night and day just to cross the park on the 86th St Transverse during bitter winter weather.
Oldest Surviving Bridge in NYC: High Bridge
Crossing the Harlem River, High Bridge is the oldest surviving bridge in New York City. Completed in 1848, it connects the Bronx and Manhattan. Built in the style of a Roman aqueduct, it did indeed carry water into New York City through the Croton Aqueduct system until 1917. When the masonry arches were determined to be a hazard to shipping by the Army Corps of Engineers, local organizations fought against full demolition. Today, the central span is steel from a 1927 alteration.
On the Upper West Side, one of the curious developments in the urban fabric of Columbus Avenue are the narrow shops that exist between buildings. The Smoke Shop at 208 Columbus Avenue (pictured below, its official name is quite amazingly, the “Amazing Store & Smoke Shop” is one of the narrowest in the city at measures 46″ including the door frame, leaving 36″ of walkable space. This isn’t a one-off occurrence however. The occupation of these narrow shops between buildings is part of a special zoning plan from the city of New York, which seems to have reinforced and/or extended already existing usages of in-between spaces along this avenue.
BUT, a shop in the Garment District selling knockoff DVDs is even narrower:
It’s 44″ wide including the door frame, with only 22″ of walkable space. If you include the electronic equipment that blocks more than half of the entryway, you’re left with about 10″, all of which is blocked by the fire hydrants outside.
Have more superlatives in NYC? Send them our way by commenting or tweeting with the hashtag #untappedcities!