Photograph Courtesy of Hildreth Meière Dunn via Open House New York
This year, Open House New York invites the public to explore more than 150 sites across New York City, that do not require advance reservations. These Open Access Sites are open to anyone who is curious to see what’s inside. If you want front of the line access to these sites during the weekend, you can enter to win a free VIP Passport from Untapped Cities! We’ve hand picked a few of our favorite sites that are opening their doors this year, from a glittering Art Deco lobby, to a quaint cottage in the park.
1. Fort Totten Visitor Center & Water Battery
This park, located along the Cross Island Parkway off Totten Avenue between Totten and 15th Roads in the Queens neighborhood of Bay Terrace, is named for the modernized Civil War fortress in which it resides. Originally inhabited by the Matinecock Indians, the neighborhood of Bayside was first settled during the American Revolution. This site was first named Willets Point, but later renamed for General Joseph Totten (1788-1864) who died in Washington, D.C. in 1864. Plans were initially prepared by Captain Robert E. Lee in 1857, and construction of the fortification began in 1862. Built across the East River from its counterpart, Fort Schuyler, Fort Totten was initially charged with defending the eastern approach to New York Harbor.
Soon after its completion, however, with the rapid advances made in fortification design by battlefield engineers and commanders fighting the Civil War in the South, Fort Totten became obsolete as a defensive structure and its facilities were remanded to the position of casualty support and hospital care (1864-1965). After the war, the fort housed the Engineer School of Application (1865-1901), Eastern Artillery District Headquarters (ca.1901), Electric Mines and Army School of Submarine Defense (1921), a prototype anti-aircraft installation (1922), the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Headquarters (1941-1944), and the North Atlantic Wing of the Air Tran.
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 12:00PM to 4:00PM and Sunday, October 20th from 12:00PM to 4:00PM. The Visitor Center is wheelchair accessible. However, in order to access the Water Battery by wheelchair, please sign in at the Visitor Center and staff will open the entrance on Shore Road for access.
2. CUNY Bronx Community College: Gould Memorial Library and Hall of Fame for Great Americans
The Gould Memorial Library and Hall of Fame are Beaux Arts Landmarks designed by Stanford White in the late 1890s. These structures were part of the undergraduate campus of New York University from 1900-1973. The site is now the campus for Bronx Community College. The library and Hall of Fame were designated City Landmarks in 1966, with the library interior following in 1981. The interior of the library is richly decorated in marble, stone, mosaic, wood and bronze and features Tiffany glass. The Hall of Fame is a colonnade with busts of noted scientists, writers, politicians and many other important American figures.
Ongoing 20-minute tours will run from 1pm until 4pm on Sunday, October 20th with Lisa Easton of Easton Architects, LLP; Graham Roscoe of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects; Richard W. Southwick of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects; and others.
3. Hall of Records at Surrogate’s Courthouse
The Hall of Records, a landmark Beaux Arts municipal building at 31 Chambers Street, is home to the NYC Department of Records and Information Services (DORIS), which operates the Municipal Archives, Municipal Library and Records Center. Designed by John Rochester Thomas, the building was completed in 1907 at a cost of $7.8 million. It is a fine example of Second Empire architecture, popular in the late 1800s as American cities competed culturally with the great cities of Europe.
On October 19th, guests may tour a number of exhibits on the city’s history and cultural life, including the Central Park Drawings, a rare selection of the original designs and illustrations for the great urban park; The Language of the City: Immigrant Voices – a multimedia exhibit based on oral histories gathered by the Brooklyn College Listening Project – juxtaposed with historical photographs, audiovisual recordings, and other material from the collections of the Archives and Library; and a preview of an upcoming exhibit on the relationship between water and financial instruments, co-produced with the Museum of American Finance.
Guided tours of the iconic building lobby will be offered at 1pm and 2pm on Saturday, October 19th.
4. AT&T Long Distance Building Lobby
Photograph Courtesy of Hildreth Meière Dunn via Open House New York
In 1932, Art Deco muralist Hildreth Meière designed a ceiling mural in silhouette glass mosaic depicting Continents Linked by Telephone and Wireless, symbolizing the purpose of the AT&T Long Distance building. Meière rendered allegorical personifications of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia connected by gold telephone and telegraph wires to two female messengers with a condor and an eagle in the center of the ceiling. The border is reminiscent of Native American quillwork. In 1991, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the lobby an interior landmark.
Members of the International Hildreth Meière Association will be on-site both days to give tours on the half hour on Saturday, October 19th from 12:00PM to 4:00PM and Sunday, October 20th from 12:00PM to 4:00PM.
5. Battery Weed
Photograph Courtesy of National Parks Service
Designed by Joseph G. Totten between 1847-1864, Fort Wadsworth is one of the oldest military installations in the nation. The site occupies 226 acres on the northeastern shore of Staten Island, on the Narrows of New York Harbor. Rich in history and natural beauty, Fort Wadsworth affords the opportunity to observe an important part of our nation’s history, while offering magnificent views of New York Harbor. Fort Wadsworth contains a National Register Historic District that is characterized by resources primarily associated with the coastal defense system and its protection of New York Harbor for some 200 years. The site is remarkable for the conspicuous bluff that rises approximately 150 feet from the coastline.
Battery Weed lies at the toe of the slope; Fort Tompkins is located at the highest point. Both represent major third system fortifications listed on the National Register and retain much of their historic character. Battery Weed, begun in 1847, is one of the earliest structures that remains intact at Fort Wadsworth. Battery Weed’s construction involved the use of granite blocks in a half-hexagon shape and included a central parade ground. At the time of its completion (1861-1864) it included 116 cannons, three tiers of casemates, and a fourth barbette tier, each with gun emplacements. Battery Weed is also recognized as a New York City Landmark for its “special historical, aesthetic interest and value as part of the development, heritage and cultural characteristics of New York City.”
Guided tours of Battery Weed will be conducted by National Park Service rangers at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm on Sunday, October 20th.
6. Fort Tryon Park Cottage & Heather Garden
The 1908 cottage designed by Guy Lowell, 1908, flanking the Heather Garden was originally the gatehouse of the C.K.G Billings Estate and has retained its charm over its many uses in the last 109 years. The Heather Garden is part of the larger Fort Tryon Park, which was donated to New York City in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and designed by the renowned Olmsted Brothers. It boasts over 500 varieties of plants, trees, and shrubs, and breathtaking views of the majestic New Jersey Palisades.
Tours will be given every half hour from 12pm to 3:30pm on Saturday, October 19th and Sunday, October 20th. Tour space is limited and will be first come first serve. Heather Garden is wheelchair accessible. The Cottage has multiple floors and is not wheelchair accessible.
Photograph Courtesy of the Mmuseum via Open House New York
Mmuseumm is made up of an expanding network of wings in unexpected spaces. The first two locations are housed in a former freight elevator and a former loading dock. Mmuseumm tells contemporary stories about humanity through vernacular objects from around the world. There are 12 exhibitions currently on view that cover the globe, social issues, violence, freedom, and incarceration.
Visitors to Mmuseumm Alley may also now enjoy a hot espresso, a refreshing ice-pop or a bag of chips as well as Mmuseumm publications, souvenirs, pencils, 3D postcards, practical jokes, everyday items for daily and non-daily use, limited-edition Mmuseumm collectables.
The MMuseumm will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 10:00AM to 6:00PM and Sunday, October 20th from 10:00AM to 6:00PM. No pets are allowed in Mmuseumm, but they may be kept outside. Site is entirely ground-level, but sidewalk is a bit bumpy for wheelchairs. Audioguide available with call-in phone number. A reference number for each artifact is required, which docents can provide upon request.’
8. New York Marble Cemetery
Courtesy of the New York Marble Cemetery
Oldest non-sectarian, privately-owned burial ground in the city. The half-acre Greek Revival-style open space is hidden in the interior of the block, accessible through iron gates and a 100-foot long private alley. The garden is surrounded by 12-foot tall marble walls. There are no individual markers on the lawn; only marble plaques in the wall name the original wealthy merchant families, whose 156 underground burial chambers (vaults), collectively hold more than 2,000 remains. While the deep underground vaults are not accessible to the public, the names and occupations of the dead are all detailed in the cemetery’s registers.
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 10:00AM to 6:00PM and Sunday, October 20th from 10:00AM to 6:00PM.
9. Prison Ship Martyrs Monument
The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument was built in the center of Fort Greene Park in 1908 as a tribute to the 11,500 men, women, and children who died on British prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Step inside this historic monument and learn about Fort Greene Park history, the Revolutionary War, and the stories of those who perished.
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 11:00AM to 3:00PM.
10. Snug Harbor Governor’s House
Photograph Courtesy of credit Nicholas Van Eyck via Open House New York
During OHNY Weekend, explore the historic Governor’s House at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden, which is typically closed to the general public. This building, designed by Richard P Smyth and built in 1880, was actually never the Governor’s House at all, but that of the chief steward, or bookkeeper. At one time Thomas Melville, brother to Moby Dick author Herman Melville, lived in the home, spending time with the residents of the grounds and, perhaps, finding a bit of inspiration. The Italianate architectural style prevalent throughout much of the 19th century can be spied in its long windows, bracketed eaves, and simple porches. The original governor’s house, which no longer stands, was on the northwest corner of the property and was twice the size of this house.
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19 from 12:00PM to 4:00PM.
11. Ukrainian Institute of America
The Ukrainian Institute of America is a nonprofit organization. The fundamental purpose of the Institute is to develop and promote through educational, professional and social activities a greater awareness, understanding, knowledge and appreciation in the United States of the traditional and contemporary art, literature, music, culture, history and traditions of Ukraine, as revealed through its people, both in Ukraine and abroad.
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 10:00AM to 6:00PM and Sunday, October 20th from 12:00PM to 6:00PM.
12. Mary A. Whalen
The Mary A. Whalen, last-of-her-kind coastal oil tanker, is home to the nonprofit PortSide NewYork, making her the only oil tanker in the world repurposed for public education and culture. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the MARY was built for the Red Hook-based company Ira S. Bushey & Sons in 1938. She is an early example of lap-welding (one steel plate overlaps the other), the transition from riveting to butt welding (the way welded joints are put together today to make a flush surface).
She is significant for her role in the 1975 Supreme Court legal decision U.S. vs Reliable Transfer. On Christmas Day 1968, The MARY went aground on the Rockaways in New York. A Coast Guard light was out and the MARY’s owners blamed the Coast Guard. The case reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that in marine accidents, damages should be apportioned according to blame. The law in effect since 1854 had been that damages were split 50/50 regardless of fault.
During OHNY Weekend, tour the engine room, galley with wood-paneled fridge and diesel stove, wheelhouse, and cabins. Learn about her history and ongoing restoration efforts. Hear what it means that she is a bell boat, sit in the sun-lit galley and hear stories of pink food and peas. Ponder the workings of her massive engine and pose by her wheel in the pilothouse.
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 1:00PM to 6:00PM. The main deck of the ship MARY A WHALEN is accessible by wheelchair via the gangway. However, the rest of the ship is not. Rubber-bottomed shoes advised, not leather or high heels. Gangway can be steep at high tides. Ship does not leave the dock but does sway gently. Photographs and an audio tour can be found online — links upon request.
13. Manhattan Borough President’s Map Display
Courtesy of credit Manhattan Borough Presidents Office via Open House New York
NYC Borough Presidents are responsible for maintaining the official maps of their borough. During OHNY Weekend, the Manhattan Borough President’s Topographical Bureau will display a historically-essential map in the development of Manhattan executed by John Randel in 1820. This map is the first that plotted the 1811 “Commissioner’s Plan” which established the Manhattan street grid from Houston Street to 155th Street.
The office is the sole repository for these 92 individually hand-drawn and hand-colored panels which will be assembled into a room-size display, roughly 16 feet by 60 feet, so that map geeks and Manhattanphiles may examine every part of these historic documents. In addition, Manhattan residents who live in each map’s quadrant will be able to register for a drawing for a digital print of the map!
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 10:00AM to 4:00PM.
14. The Lotus Garden
Perched atop the salmon-brick Columbia condo tower’s parking garage, The Lotus Garden is an improbable oasis in the sky. Covering one-sixth of an acre with three feet of soil, mulched paths meander through blooms of towering hydrangeas and delicate underbellies of violets while trees and shrubs sprout peaches and blueberries. Ponds are inhabited by schools of fish, darting between water lilies and lotuses while robins and doves raise fledglings and hummingbirds drink from the flowers. Terra-cotta fragments salvaged from the facades of 1910s theaters, which had once occupied the site, line the flowerbeds. Maintained by a nonprofit group of about 30 gardeners, each year from April to November, its gates open to the public on Sunday afternoons. During OHNY Weekend, landscape experts will be on hand to explain the activity of creating and preserving this midair botanical wonder.
The site will be open on Sunday, October 20th from 9:00AM to 1:00PM.
15. Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice
Commissioned by Henry Ford II in the 1960s, The Ford Foundation was designed by Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates as a soaring, inspiring space for the foundation’s headquarters – a radically transparent building of glass, granite, and Corten steel. The 12-story enclosed atrium garden, designed by Dan Kiley, was the first of its kind in the United States. In 1997, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission designated it an official landmark, affirming that the building has stood the test of time as an innovative urban space that captured the aspirations of the foundation’s social justice mission.
Following a 3-year restoration by Gensler, the new Center opened in 2018, preserving the building’s original character while making it even more open and inclusive with an emphasis on sustainability and accessibility. Driven by a mission to serve the individuals, institutions, and ideas that are broadening the frontiers of social change, the Center has dedicated two full floors for programming. The historic atrium garden is open to the public, as is a new gallery focused on artists whose work engages with issues of justice, dignity, and fairness.
The site will be open on Saturday, October 19th from 10:00AM to 2:00PM.
While Open Access Sites don’t require reservations, there are often long lines. You can skip ahead to the front with a VIP Passport. Enter our raffle for a free Passport below!
Next, check out 10 Awesome Reservation Only Sites at Open House New York 2019