At Untapped Cities, with our mantra “Rediscover your city,” we have long espoused the idea that you can be a tourist in your own city. In partnership with Expedia.com, we’ve put together a guide to the fun facts about Brooklyn landmarks that even many New Yorkers do not know. If you want to surprise your friends, impress visitors, and drum up your NYC-street cred, this is your indispensable guide.
1. A Fake Brownstone in Brooklyn Heights Hides a Subway Ventilator
Brooklyn Heights was the first landmarked historic district in New York City. The beautiful brownstone-dominated neighborhood has both a Revolutionary War past and modern secrets hidden in plain sight. Our favorite is the townhouse at 58 Joralemon Street which isn’t a house at all, but a subway ventilator. The blacked out windows and uninviting front door give clues, but otherwise everything seems normal.
Discover more secrets about Brooklyn Heights.
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2. A Glass Watertower Sits in Brooklyn Bridge Park
Brooklyn Bridge Park is now one of the crown jewels of the Brooklyn waterfront, but visitors may be amazed to know of its transformation. Built atop formerly fallow industrial piers and waterfront land, Brooklyn Bridge Park is an example of a quintessential New York City trend: harnessing the power of community advocacy to rehabilitate and build world-class public space. There’s much to enjoy here, from the views of downtown New York City to the piers programmed with sports and recreational activities, and the park isn’t even finished yet.
One of our favorite things to look out for: Tom Fruin’s glass watertower, atop 334 Furman Street in Brooklyn Bridge Park. This play on the iconic New York City skyline element lends a colorful, yet delicate addition.
3. There’s a Cold War Bunker Inside the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks but most people who walk or drive by are unaware that there’s a cold war bunker inside one of the masonry foundations on the Manhattan side. Discovered in 2006, the time capsule was discovered by city workers and had lain untouched there for fifty years. As reported by The New York Times, the vault was filled with “water drums, medical supplies, paper blankets, drugs and calorie-packed crackers — an estimated 352,000 of them, sealed in dozens of watertight metal canisters and, it seems, still edible.”
4. There’s a Quaker Cemetery in Prospect Park
Prospect Park was designed by the same landscape architects as Central Park, and Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux considered the 585-acre Brooklyn park their masterpiece. (Take that Manhattan!) Though you can no longer visit the short-lived Mount Vernon replica that once stood inside, our favorite place today in Prospect Park is the Quaker Cemetery.
Located off of Center Drive, the small pocket cemetery is older than the park itself and run by the Religious Society of Friends, more commonly known as the Quakers. The graveyard contains 2,000 gravestones and is still accepting burials. Even more surprising than the existence of a private cemetery in a public park is the fact that actor Montgomery Cliff is buried inside.
Read more about the secrets of Prospect Park here.
5. The Proposed Coney Island Globe Tower
Coney Island was once once one of the largest amusement areas in the United States and has always been a bit over the top. But one particular outrageous proposal never made it to fruition. In 1906, an entrepreneur/architect named Samuel Friede proposed the Coney Island Globe Tower, which if built would have been the largest steel structure and the second tallest man-made structure in the world besides the Eiffel Tower.
The 700-foot-high globe would have had 11 floors, which were to be filled with restaurants, a vaudeville theater, a roller skating rink, a bowling alley, slot machines, an Aerial Hippodrome, four large circus rings, a ballroom, an observatory, and a weather observation station. Check out what the Globe Tower would have looked like here.
A great reason to visit Coney Island today: the Coney Island Art Walls, with work by 34 renown street artists.
6. The Brooklyn Kings Theatre Was Once Abandoned
The newly reopened Brooklyn Kings Theatre in Flatbush was one of the 5 Loew’s Wonder Theatres in the New York City area – theaters so opulent, you have to see them to believe it. Yet, the Kings Theatre had been closed since 1977 and fallen into such disrepair, it cost $95 million to rehabiltate it in a joint effort from the New York City Economic Development Corporation and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz.
When renovations started, the ceiling and one wall had collapsed, and bats had taken up residence in the theater (along with their guano). After a three year renovation, the Brooklyn Kings Theatre reopened to great fanfare in 2015, welcoming Diana Ross for the opening performance.
Read about 10 secrets of the Brooklyn Kings Theatre.
7. There’s an Abandoned Hospital in the Brooklyn Navy Yard
The Brooklyn Navy Yard is one of New York City’s great examples of adaptive reuse, now a thriving manufacturing hub and film studio. Still, some parts of the Navy Yard remain abandoned, including the Brooklyn Navy Yard Hospital Annex. A recent proposal from Steiner Studios seeks to turn this portion of the Navy Yard into a media complex by 2027. Many of the existing buildings would be saved and reused in this proposal. Until October 24th, visitors will have a chance to step inside the abandoned hospital to see a war photography exhibit.
8. A Farm Inside the Domino Sugar Factory Redevelopment
The former Domino Sugar Factory is one of the most impressive elements along the Williamsburg waterfront, clearly visible when crossing the Manhattan Bridge. It has been undergoing a transformation into mixed-use development, under the direction of developer Two Trees, which partnered with North Brooklyn Farms for the creation of a temporary organic farm and skate park on the property. Now, instead of breaking into the site like urban explorers have done, you can just legally visit by volunteering at the farm or booking for a private event.
9. The Brooklyn Army Terminal is Where Elvis Left for WWII
The Brooklyn Army Terminal is where Elvis Presley embarked for his 18-month service during World War II. He never saw the inside of the atrium above, one of the most impressive spaces in New York City, because military arrived by a train that went directly onto the pier in front of the terminal. You can visit that pier, a public space, today or visit the Army Terminal which is used today for manufacturing and office space.
10. There are Catacombs in Green-Wood
Green-Wood Cemetery is visited by an estimated half a million locals and tourists a year. The vast 478 acres is the home to 560,000 deceased who include Civil War veterans, Leonard Bernstein, Boss Tweed, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Samuel Morse. There are 30 vaults in the catacombs at Green-Wood, and, in many cases, one family owns each vault.