Gramercy Park—from Swamp to Private Park

This charming little park can only be enjoyed from the outside . . . unless you happen to have a key. The general public is welcome to stroll around or stare into the park through the fence but is not allowed in. Gramercy Park has a rare distinction of being the only private park in…

Northern Dispensary—an Empty Building at the Heart of the West Village

Reflecting Greenwich Village’s highly irregular street patterns, one side of the triangular Northern Dispensary faces two streets (Christopher and Grove), while the other two sides form the corner of Waverly Place and . . . Waverly Place! And this is not even the strangest thing about the building. The peculiar structure stands empty in one…

Hangman’s Elm—the Oldest Living Tree in Manhattan

The sprawling English elm, which has been standing at the northwest corner of Washington Square Park for the last 300 years, is the oldest living tree in Manhattan. It was planted in 1679, a mere 15 years after the English took over the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York. The tree’s…

12 Gay Street: Where the Ghosts still come to Party

This quiet house on Gay Street, built in 1827, was once a bustling speakeasy and the home of a mayor’s mistress. Thanks to its name, this charming little street happens to be one of the city’s most photographed.  Alas, it was called “Gay Street” long before the word “gay” developed its present meaning. The street…

House of Death

This serene-looking brownstone, built in the 1850s, witnessed 22 deaths. Their spirits never left . . . This dignified yet unremarkable house that stands on one of the Greenwich Village’s loveliest blocks, has earned a reputation as one of the most haunted places in the city. Built in the 1850s as a single family house,…

75½ Bedford Street: A Tiny House with a Huge History

This tiny, 9 1/2-foot-wide house used to be a carriage entranceway for the neighboring house, but in 1873 was turned into a small home—the narrowest in the city! From then on, it was owned by various tradespeople, functioning at different times as a cobbler’s shop and even as a candy factory. But its life as a…

St. Paul’s—a Chapel Older than the United States

Built in 1766, St. Paul’s is New York City’s oldest public building in continuous use as well as Manhattan’s oldest surviving church building. After Manhattan fell to the British in 1776, a raging fire set the city ablaze. Nobody knows for certain whether the fire was an accident or an act of arson by retreating…

New York City Hall

The first city hall in Manhattan was built the mid-17th century by the Dutch. It was located in the City Tavern on Pearl Street and served beer. The city’s second city hall, built at the beginning of 18th century by the British, stood on Wall Street. After the British were gone and New York City…

Cartier Building—A Pearl of Fifth Avenue

It’s not so much the shimmering beauty of natural pearls that made them more valuable than diamonds during the Gilded Age, but rather the danger inherent in the task of finding the perfect pearl. The divers plunged deep into the waters in search of the gems—alas, most of the mollusks were empty or the pearls…

St. Thomas—Medieval Church on 5th Avenue

The St. Thomas church we now see is not the first St. Thomas on 5th Avenue. Its predecessor, St. Thomas by Richard Upjohn, stood on the same spot from 1870 to 1905. Nestled among 5th Avenue’s most spectacular Gilded Age mansions, it was the parish of the wealthiest—where the Vanderbilts themselves came to worship. The…

Neue Gallery—Grace Vanderbilt’s “Gardener’s Cottage”

The beautiful mansion that houses Neue Gallery was modeled on the 17th-century Place des Vosges in Paris. It was designed in 1914 by the architectural firm of Carrère and Hastings, well-known for their Beaux-Arts masterpieces such as the New York Public Library. While most of the grand, single-family mansions of Fifth Avenue were destroyed in…

A.T. Stewart’s Valuable Bones

It can certainly be considered a sign of success when even your bones have monetary value. Not too many people in history have had their bones stolen and held for ransom, but Alexander Turney Stewart was one such person. A.T. Stewart, an Irish immigrant, pioneered the concept of modern shopping. The idea that seemingly existed…