These are a few things you will see along the way as you walk to work in NYC. It never ceases to amaze me how much this city has to offer, after so many years of living here. This is my morning commute, down 5th Avenue from 89th street to 18th street.
Just one street in NYC…
Well, that’s just a nickname we gave Heliopolis Obelisk, which is the oldest manmade monument in New York City. You will find this unreal slab from the past near 81st street on a quiet little hill. Millions pass it each day and don’t even know the 3500 year old marvel is watching over them. A gift from Egypt in 1881, it took 112 days just to move it from the shores of the Hudson River to where it stands now. Underneath it lies a hidden time capsule with a Bible, A dictionary, the complete works of Shakespeare, an 1870’s census, a guide to Egypt, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, and a small sealed box from the man who financed the transportation of the obelisk, the contents of which, no one knows (but was probably a Twinkie).
Old King Jaliello
You wouldn’t expect to find the King of Poland in Central Park, but you will, thanks to the Nazis.
So 1939’s Worlds Fair had this statue greet people at the Polish Pavilion on loan from Warsaw. Remember, NYC has a ton of Polish folks, and thank God, because perogies are amazing. Well, the war broke out, and the statue couldn’t go home, so it was moved to Central Park as a gift from Poland to the brave Men and Women who served overseas. Now he sits, swords crossed, like a badass, protecting the turtle pond at 79th street just across the way. One of my favorite statues in the city for sure, and makes one hell of a silhouette.
specifically the Lehman Gates at 66th street. Designed by the famous Paul Manship, who also did reclining Prometheus at Rock Center, this is a lovely deco gate that has a super playful jauntiness about it, with pan, animals, and birds all around. What I love is that you can walk right through the center of the zoo, and even see some of the animals, for free, any day of the year. The gate itself is the perfect entrance to a children’s zoo, and reinforces the notion that even in a steel and concrete hardened city like New York, you can find a little whimsy.
The British Empire Building
Rockefeller Center is one of my favorite places in NYC. No other complex of buildings scream the deco power of a city on the verge of becoming a legend. Everything about it, every perfect angle, is a throwback to a time when commerce, culture, and art collided in a beautiful harmony. The British Empire Building at 620 5th Ave is no exception. Patina green copper doors emboldened with golden statues signifying the 9 main trades of England. Above the door an ornate crest displaying “Dieu Et Mon Droit” in gothic lettering. “God is my Right” being the motto for the throne of England, to be found on any passport a British citizen holds, is the translation, but it is also a slight jab at the former occupying ruling class; Jennewein, the designer of the door, is said to have chosen that phrase not only because of the British throne, but because it was also the motto of Alexander Hamilton’s NY Militia The Heart of Oaks. Take that you Limeys! (I actually really like British folk.)
Oh boy oh boy, look at that penis, I mean, building right there in the middle of Manhattan. Nothing screams virility more than this 70 story concrete wang of a complex built in 1930 by badass #1 JD Rock.
What can’t you say about this place. Theres a giant Christmas tree, an ice skating rink, art by Diego Rivera that was censored during the Pinko years, an underground city that stretches 10 city blocks, even a Banana Republic. I mean, it’s dope.
What I really love about this building is why it is what it is. Rockefeller was originally going to build an opera house here. Then the market crashed and the country went into the Great Depression, causing millions to go hungry and be out of work. Instead of halting work, he did the opposite; he built bigger. Labor was cheap and plenty and he gave jobs to thousands of people. The reward was one of the greatest landmarks in NYC and a more stable economy to boot. That’s NYC people, hell or high water we make it happen.
The Chrysler Building
The Chrysler Building (which everyone calls the Christ-ler Building) is my 2nd favorite building in the city (right behind Grand Central Terminal). Why? Because it’s a real looker. I mean who builds a skyscraper out of stainless steel? We do. There are lots of reasons to love this building at 42nd street, but most of the reasons you might not know.
- There was a private club and speakeasy at the top (reopen that please).
- The first water bottling plant was in the basement. You’re welcome Desani.
- The Cooper Union (a free university here in NYC) owns all the land under the building.
- The spire was secretly hidden and was installed in only 90 minutes to fool a building going up downtown, hence, winning tallest building in the world (in 1930)
- Photographer Margie Bourke-White (see below) lived in an apartment on the 61st floor and had the highest toilet in the world. She paid 387.92 a month. I’d literally kill someone for that right now.
New York Public Library
No body reads anymore. I mean look at this place. Empty. That, is my gift to you.
The NYPL is a fantastic place to visit. Sure there are cool lions outside, and maybe some of the best flagpoles I’ve ever seen, but its the inside that really holds the treasure. Upstairs is the Rose Reading room, which anyone can go to. It’s basically the Sistine Chapel of New York City and maybe the most impressive place to read Harry Potter anywhere in the world.
What would be an iconic NY landmark without crazy history factoids right? For instance the library sits on a very interesting plot of land. It was the battlefield for George Washington against the British during the Battle of New York, it was then a potters field for unknown dead, then it was the main reservoir for NYC. I’m not even going to mention that Ghostbusters was shot there.
The Empire State Building
Ads of another Age
One of my favorite things to do is spot old building ads. If you look up in the city, which is harder to do then you think, you will be rewarded with a window into the past. On faded brick facades throughout town, the remnants of old commerce still haunt us; Italian tailors, Hat shops, Lawmen, and barbers left their mark high above the city streets, and while their shops may be long gone, their memory is all around us.
So, a billion people walk past this monument across from Madison Square at 23rd street and never even realize there is a dead guy inside of it.
General Worth is one of only three tombs located on the island of Manhattan. One of them, yes, is Grant’s Tomb (3rd favorite building) and the other one, well, I’m going to keep a secret. This strange little obelisk though stands watch over one of the most iconic intersections of the world, and the dead Gen inside gets one of the best views of one of the most famous building in the world…
Just kidding. Well, maybe not. Eataly has more visitors perhaps then Grand Central Terminal, the busiest station in the world, and over 22 thousand products for you to put in your face, all of them, delicious. A big shout out to my man Mario who was nice enough to jump on our little sandwich show, which you can watch here.
The Flatiron Building
AKA the Fuller Building or the Cowcatcher, the Flatiron Building is NYC inconcrete (that’s an “incarnate” joke folks. I’m here all week). This is how you maximize use of space people. Built in only 4 months, everyone thought this sucker was going to fall down during the first strong wind. It didn’t, and quickly became a treasure of the city. Some interesting facts about the building is that it had no female bathrooms (imagine that) and its elevators were water powered.
Oh, one more funny fact… the term “23 skidoo” comes from the Flatiron building because the shape would cause strong gusts of winds to blow up the skirts of the women walking by. Cops use to give ogglers the ol’ 23 Skidoo when thier eyes lingered a little too long (and if you go into the subway stop there, the tile mural there shows hats blowing in the wind, just another little nod to the ol Skidoo).
Ok, just a Lego store, but it has some of the most amazing displays that I’ve ever seen and they change frequently. When they do a crew of Legoists come in over night, black out the windows, and construct their masterpiece in under 8 hours, sometimes using over 1 million bricks. I mean I’ve worked late hours before but that’s nuts.
Davy Jones Street Art
Now this is literally street art. Word is that a homeless chap by the name of Davy Jones creates these amazing chalk art pieces on the sidewalks south of 23rd street. If you walk the streets enough you start to see his work everywhere from Lady Liberties to Horse Drawn Carriages. It’s one of the few times looking down in the city gets you a show.
Well folks, that’s it. We’ve arrived at 18th Street and 5th Avenue. Mind you there is a TON more to see and do (the Met, Paris Theater, Chicken and Turntables) but this is just a walk to work (I litterally shot all these in one morning, walking). This is what you would see, in one hour, walking from 89th to 18th street. Just another day. Now time for a cup of coffee. Thanks for walking with me.
Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at www.robertoserrini.com where he can be contacted as well.