New York City researcher and enthusiast Kevin Walsh, the man behind the mysteries of forgotten-ny.com, gives tips on all things Gotham.
Favorite rendering of New York (film, book, etc.): I like books or films that delve into the New York City that the guidebooks miss out on. I thrive on arcane facts and information about buildings and streets that are no longer there, but have left traces of their presence. In my research for Forgotten NY, I’ve come across a great deal of sources of such information, but I’m saddened to realize that for everything I can find, there are two or three items that I can't.
There are a couple of books I’ve come across the last few years that precisely illustrate what I’m looking for: Thomas Janvier’s In Old New York. It's a prime resource for the network of roads that the island of Manhattan had before the present grid layout was first begun in 1811, as well as a look at the long-lost architecture of New York City of the 19th Century. It was recently reprinted.
The second is Kenneth Dunshee’s As You Pass By, a prime resource for Forgotten NY. Written primarily as a history of NYC’s volunteer fire departments, it’s chock full of illustrations, woodcuts and detailed maps of the NYC of the 19th Century. It’s out of print now, but with the FDNY enjoying a greater public profile after the attacks in September, I believe it’s a prime candidate for a new edition.
My favorite film about NYC is The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3. I enjoyed the portrayal of NYC detectives as a dogged, overcaffeinated bunch who get the job done. It’s a movie but it’s very realistic.
Lots of movies about New York treat the outer boroughs harshly. In Saturday Night Fever and Working Girl, Brooklyn and Staten Island, respectively, are shown as places that are desirableto get out of. And, in the original Out of Towners, made in 1970, New York is shown as a surreal nightmare that poor, naïve Ohioans Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis are trapped in. Sandy Dennis gives an anti-NYC diatribe at the end of the film, and you want to kick in the TV screen.
What’s A) the first place you recommend tourists visit in the city, and B) a typical tourist attraction of no redeeming value: Well, if you’re from out of town, of course you should see Times Square, the Empire State, visit the Statue of Liberty (at least the original one; there are a half dozen sizable Statue of Libertys around town) and see what most people come to NYC to see.
But don't let the guidebooks snow you into thinking there’s nothing of worth outside of Manhattan.
In Brooklyn, there’s Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill (which the swells have recently invaded), and Park Slope for the embodiment of late 18th and early 19th Century architecture, the brownstone house. And you dare not visit Brooklyn without visiting Coney Island. While there, try to get on a tour of the Coney Island subway yards, since that’s where they’re hiding the subway cars they don’t use any more.
The Bronx has pockets of beauty like Mott Haven, Wave Hill, the Fordham U campus, and the botanical gardens. For me the Bronx is the great unexplored borough. I need to get into the Bronx more.
In Manhattan, check out the terrific houses of ‘Strivers’ Row (West 138th St.) as well as Sylvan Terrace, and visit the last stretch of Manhattan’s primeval forest and caves where Indians lived in Inwood Hill Park.
In Queens, see the most beautiful bridge in New York City, Hell Gate Bridge.
And don’t overlook Staten Island, the borough that gets no respect. The solitude goes on forever when you visit Latourette Park, climb the hills, admire the views, and maybe stumble on an abandoned house or two. Abandoned, that is, in 1850.
Occupational title(s), both real and desired-in-another-lifetime: I am an advertising copywriter. I would like to be thought of as a NYC researcher and enthusiast.
Favorite book(s): The Power Broker by Robert Caro, the two I mentioned above, The Other Islands of New York City by Seitz and Miller, Greenwich Village and How It Got There by Terry Miller, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, Season Ticket by Roger Angell, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series from the 1990s, and if you want the really scary stuff, check out your William Hope Hodgson and Robert Aickman.
Heroes: I don’t have many but I like the people who say what’s on their mind, but do it without stridency, with humor and a bit of empathy. John Lennon, Nat Hentoff and Camillle Paglia come to mind, as well as Jane Jacobs and the people who stood up to Robert Moses.
What makes you laugh: Not a lot lately. Comedy on TV and the movies is mostly banal. I saw a hilarious film called The Independent with Jerry Stiller and Janeane Garofalo over the winter, about a Russ-Meyer-type Grade Z filmmaker. I was in stitches. It was done with an enthusiasm and a care of the genre, and the ‘clips’ were right on. It was in the theatres for a week people didn’t get it. I hope it comes out on DVD.
Three favorite lunch spots in New York, and their best dishes: Jeez, well, there’s the Blimpie on 5th and 36th. It’s in a basement. The service is quick. It’s so f––in’ hectic in the area where I work, I need an hour of peace and quiet.
When I’m feeling more social, I haul people over to Burritoville (it’s a chain but the one I go to is on 8th and 23rd) The booths have nice red soft seats, and I like Mexican.
And, most classic diners are great. My home diner is the Cheyenne on 9th and 33rd but I also like the one at Northern and Francis Lewis Boulevards in Bayside, I forget the name, and then there’s Zeke’s Roast Beef on 8th and 66th in Bay Ridge, not a classic chrome diner but the food is the thing.
Charity worth giving to: I gave to the Daily News fund for the firefighters’ families last year.
Five words that sound great: I am published at last.