With a city as large and diverse as New York, residents and guests love to share their home with those outside of the five boroughs. In this age of social media posting, this has never seemed easier. Picture-aggregation site Instagram has consistently rated the city as the most pictured place by its users. Other media services also record high numbers of New York attractions appearing in its collections. With so many places to see, Sights by Sam is the perfect way to snap that selfie or get that perfect photo of New York. Among some of the sites Sights by Sam can show:
Times Square can be seen on a tour of “Midtown Manhattan”, by day or by night. In addition to seeing the bright lights and the waves of people and traffic flowing through the bowtie-shaped intersection, guests will also be able to take their pictures with WWI hero Father Francis Duffy or with Broadway composer virtuoso George Cohan. Guests will also learn why this intersection is called “Times Square” and be able to understand the rise, fall, and new rise of this storied junction.
For those who like nature in the city, Central Park is often a great spot to snap and share photos. Sights by Sam’s “Central Park” tour shows off the emerald jewel of Manhattan in all its glory. Guests will learn about the purpose behind the formation of the park, its decline, and its great resurgence that continues to this day. In addition to learning about the park’s history (and the plants and critters that make the park their home), guests can also get pictures on the Oak Bridge, Bethesda Terrace/Angel of the Waters, and the Mall, among other iconic spots. For something different, visitors on Sights by Sam can even snap pics with a castle in the middle of Manhattan or with some of the most pampered trees in the city.
On Sights by Sam’s “Architecture: Building New York” tour, guests will learn about New York architecture, including some of Midtown’s highest peaks, and learn a bit of environmental and industrial history along the way.. Perhaps the biggest star of the tour is the ground the group actually walks upon—the High Line linear park, a repurposed train viaduct through the Far West Side and the Meatpacking District. This park has quickly become the new star attraction in Manhattan, connecting the new Hudson Yards area with the Whitney Museum of American Art. There is no perfect spot for selfies and pics; indeed, the entire tour is perfect for them.
In addition to all of these main sites, Sights by Sam provides a plethora of great places to photograph such as the Unisphere in Queens, Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, or the birthplace of hip hop in the Bronx (along with the NYC version of the Champs Elysees). Find your perfect spot with a Sights by Sam walking tour.
The New York Police Department (NYPD) forms the largest law-in-order organization in the city. The organization has over 35,000 officers working to keep the city safe—and residents can rest easy knowing that these officers can boast their territory as one of the safest large cities in the country. Their department works from an imposing structure in Lower Manhattan—One Police Plaza.
Built in 1973 by Gruzen and Partners, One Police Plaza’s design is what is called an “inverted pyramid”, meaning the building narrows at the bottom and widens skyward. The building’s “brutalist” style showcases many small windows and large exterior panels, two features that help the structure create an imposing dominance over its surroundings. Not only the location of the NYPD commissioner’s office, One Police Place is also home to the department’s advanced computer equipment, among other commands. And beyond the building itself, there is a neighboring plaza with a small public art piece composed of five interlinking circles—each for one of the five boroughs.
Most people have a passing familiarity with this seemingly anonymous building, as it features prominently in the TV series Law and Order. The building itself has a smaller role in many films and other TV series such as Brooklyn Nine-Nine. For a commanding tour, see New York City with Sights by Sam.
New York City is the home of some of the greatest statues in the world. Among these are the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and Civic Fame atop the Manhattan Municipal Building. One of the most famous ones in the city is near Rockefeller Center and literally has the world on his shoulders. The statue of Atlas is iconic and a distinctive part of the center’s architecture.
Placed in the courtyard of the International Building, “Atlas” began shouldering the world’s burdens in 1937. The principle sculptor of this statue was Lee Lawrie, an artist who had hundreds of commissions over his lifetime (including another one at Rockefeller Center that can be seen on a Sights by Sam walking tour). Rene Chamberlain also helped to sculpt the statue, which depicts the Greek titan holding the globe on his shoulders. The towering “Atlas” weighs seven tons and is 45 feet tall. One of the unique features about the sculpture is the fleur-de-lis that denotes true north in his globe.
The statue is also known to millions of fans of Atlas Shrugged, as it graces the cover of most versions of Ayn Rand’s best-selling novel. In addition to this statue being a landmark, it is across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan, with many visitors to the city taking pictures with both landmarks at the same time. This is the type of towering information you will learn on a Sights by Sam walking tour of NYC.
New York, like London and Hong Kong, has subway shuttle lines. These lines, unlike the others in the system, shuttle between only two (or sometimes up to five) points on the system. While many of the regular numbered and letter trains of the NYC subway system function as shuttle trains after hours, there are three dedicated shuttle services on the system: one in Brooklyn, one in Queens, and one in Manhattan. The three services also correspond with the former subway companies that serviced the city: the BMT, IND, and IRT.
The Brooklyn service is the Franklin Avenue Shuttle. This line links about two miles between Prospect Park and Franklin Avenue. The train links BMT, IND, and IRT services together between four stops and provides a great way to get to Prospect Park and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Once part of a late 1800s railroad, this shuttle was truncated in 1963. Known for most of its history for its low ridership and accidents from time to time, the Franklin Avenue Shuttle was rebuilt extensively and is unique as it is the only line on the system that is single-tracked. The service also uses two-car trains due to its diminutive ridership levels.
The Queens shuttle is important, linking a stop on Broad Channel to Rockaway Park, a distance of two whole miles being covered with only five stops. This shuttle has been in operation since 1956 and connects some of the farthest-flung communities in the city to the rest of the system. While the shuttle could be impacted by hurricanes (as happened during Hurricane Sandy), the Metropolitan Transportation Authority worked hard to bring the line back up to code and operational again.
In terms of the shortest shuttle ride—and the most famous—there is the 42nd Street Shuttle. This line operates at all times, excluding late nights, and covers 2700 feet in less than two minutes. Originally part of the IRT subway line, the 42nd Street Shuttle was configured in 1918 and has kept its form since then. The shuttle’s line was part of the original IRT line that ran between City Hall and Lower Manhattan to 145th Street in Upper Manhattan via Grand Central and Times Square on 42nd Street (where the shuttle currently operates). One of the more interesting proposals for the line that never came to pass was the idea to replace it with a conveyor belt system. A fully automatic train was put into use on the shuttle for a brief time in the 1960s, but was withdrawn due to cost issues and a fire in the shuttle passage. The shuttle today is known for its train interiors wrapped in advertisements, as it is one of the busiest in the system.
The shuttles on the NYC Subway are some of the more unsung heroes of the system. Although they are not the subject of famous songs (such as Take the A Train), these lines help to alleviate pressure on the others of the network and to get people between lines more expediently. The rides on these trains are also unique among the various subways of New York for their scenery and riders. Catch the best tours of NYC (transit-focused upon request) with Sights by Sam.
As mentioned in one of our first blog posts, the Empire State Building is one of the most famous landmarks of the city. Aside from its observation deck, its place in the popular mind due to movies and television, and its handsome Indiana limestone exterior, the Empire State Building is also famous for its lights that announce the building across the city and beyond. For many, the lights are a symbol of New York. Often in the signature “empire white”, the tower lights are one of the most recognizable symbols of Manhattan.
The first time the Empire State Building was lit up was when a searchlight was turned on in 1932 to signal that New York State governor Franklin D. Roosevelt had been elected as president. In the 1950s, white beacon lights were turned on the tower and remained a nightly feature until the 1970s. In 1976, colors were added to the lights when red, white, and blue were lit up to celebrate the American Bicentennial. Tower lights are turned off at 2:00AM every night. While the tower’s lighting patterns began to commemorate holidays or other momentous occasions, controversies arose over some of the occasions being honored, leading to patterns being vetted after 2006.
In 2012, the lighting system of the Empire State Building was renovated. This new combination replaced 400 lamps that could display nine colors to 1,200 lamps displaying 16 million colors. While most color combinations are in three pieces, there can be multiple color combinations projected. In recent years, the lights have been dimmed or turned off in spring or fall so that birds migrating through New York City do not hit the building and die due to the bright lights of the tower. Learn enlightening facts about NYC on a Sights by Sam walking tour.
New York is indisputably the largest city in the United States. As with most large cities, there are several centers for jobs. Already, the city contains three of the largest business districts in the city (Lower Manhattan, Midtown Manhattan, and Downtown Brooklyn). In addition to these commercial areas, there are several other developments classed as “cities within the city”. Two of these districts immediately spring to the minds of many New Yorkers: Rockefeller Center and MetroTech Center in Brooklyn. At the moment, a new 28-acre development, the largest of its type in the United States, is under construction. When completed in the mid-2020s, Hudson Yards is expected to be a major new district and a “city within a city” in the densest part of New York City (Midtown).
The Hudson Yards development is being constructed over the rail yard for Penn Station. This area had long been one of the last undeveloped areas of Manhattan, with the Javits Center being completed as the only part of various master plans to add civic, commercial, and residential space on the island. In preparation for an attempt to host the 2012 Olympics (won by London), the far west side of Manhattan was rezoned by the City Council. This paved the way for development (first for an Olympic Stadium and then a stadium for the New York Jets NFL team). After bureaucratic hurdles were cleared, construction began on 16 skyscrapers that will cover millions of square feet of commercial office, retail, and residential space.
When fully completed at some point in the 2020s, Hudson Yards will sport two large buildings over 1000 feet tall (30 and 35 Hudson Yards). In addition to corporate headquarters, the development will also have shopping, an observation deck, and a large public plaza (with a distinctive public art structure in the middle of said plaza). The Hudson Yards will also be easily accessible from the High Line linear park. The development can be seen on an “Architecture: Building New York” walking tour through Sights by Sam, or by a personalized tour of the area.
Midtown Manhattan is known for its theaters—especially those showing Broadway productions. While theater on the whole is one of the main economic generators for the city, one of the most famous hosts not Broadway shows nor classical music shows, but song and dance spectaculars. This is the famous Radio City Music Hall.
The 6,000-plus seat theater was designed and built with the rest of the complex in the 1930s. It was the idea of Samuel Rothafal, who was responsible for the design and promotion of several other theatrical venues in the city. The structure was designed by Edward Durrell Stone and its interior designed by Donalds Deskey. As it was going up in the 1930s, it was built in an Art Deco style, with the backdrop to the main stage mimicking a sunset. As the event was meant to have movies, concerts, and other events, it contained a complex system of elevators to raise and lower bands and orchestras onto the main stage. It is alleged that the U.S. Navy copied the system in the concert venue on Essex class carriers during World War II.
For much of the venue’s history, Radio City Music Hall showed movies along with stage spectaculars. After a decline in the 1970s, the venue was declared a City Landmark and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was renovated in the 1980s and now mainly is home to concerts, award shows, and song-and-dance spectaculars, the most famous of which is performed during the winter holiday season.
With its famous architecture, Radio City Music Hall is often a must-see for many first-time visitors to New York and a window into a somewhat bygone era. This is the type of information you can learn on a Sights by Sam walking tour.
As the largest city in the country, New York is the home of millions of residents. While the city is known for having the most living souls in the USA, there are many lost souls and undead residents that are supposedly left in the city. New York is littered with locations that have been the alleged sites of hauntings and paranormal activity. In the spirit of Halloween, this blog will conduct a quick survey of haunted locations in the city.
As a major port into the Eastern United States, New York has been the collection point for ships and cargo since the Colonial and Antebellum Eras. The city is full of spooky stories regarding shipping. There are unconfirmed reports of women in colonial dress waiting for their husbands or ships that never arrived to the city in Lower Manhattan. They are often found in the dead of night near former East River docks. The Merchants House Museum (which is shown on the Sights by Sam “Around the Villages” tour) is the site of a haunting by the ghost of Gertrude Tredwell, who was an unmarried daughter of Seabury Treadwell. Another ghost sighting from the Colonial Era is that of the final Dutch governor of New Amsterdam, Peter Stuyvesant. It is said that Stuyvesant’s ghost walks around the St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, which was constructed over his estate, as well as his tomb.
Ghosts are not limited to the Colonial Era. Ghost trains (and their frantic passengers) have been reported by perplexed workers at Grand Central Terminal and by repairmen on the Hell Gate Bridge. Some famous specters such as Dylan Thomas have been sighted stealing drinks at the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village while the girlfriend of Sid Vicious (Nancy Spungen) is thought never to have left the room at the Hotel Chelsea in which she was murdered. Additionally, the original proprietors of theaters such as the Belasco and Radio City Music Hall are thought never to have left.
Although not the sight of any occult happenings, the annual Village Halloween Parade has occurred for the last 44 years up Sixth Avenue. At this event every October 31st, New Yorkers dress in their scariest costumes. Admission is free and any New Yorker in costume can march in the parade. To arrange a tour of haunted sites (or anything within New York), please contact Sights by Sam for a scary-good tour at +1 (917) 242-8421 or sightsbysam.com.
In addition to having some of the greatest museums in the country and the world, New York is blessed with an abundance of public art. Many artists are drawn to the city (and arts are funded by both private donors as well as the local government). This leads to many great public art displays (sanctioned by the government, companies, property owners, and some unsanctioned displays). Public art can be seen in all five boroughs.
The city has been the site of several large public art installations. These have proliferated since the early 1980s when the city passed a “Percent for Art” law in 1982 that mandated that city-funded construction projects must have a set-aside of one percent of the budget for public artwork. This is also supplemented by a similar program by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA Arts and Design). What this means is that there are many art installations and pieces in front of city-owned buildings and in subway stations. Over the years, several have been controversial, such as a sculpture in the Civic Center called Tilted Arc, which was a 120’ long block of cor-tenn steel across a plaza, which was removed after a court trial. One of the most famous pieces was done in 2005 by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude in Central Park called The Gates, which contained 7,503 orange gates spread throughout the park.
Much of New York’s public art not found in front of city-owned buildings or sponsored by companies can be traced to the work of the city’s Public Art Fund. Founded in 1977 by Doris C. Freedman, the Public Art Fund is a nonprofit organization that seeks to bring public art to spaces across all five boroughs. The goal of the organization is to bring contemporary art to the population of the city. A popular space for the public art fund to exhibit its works are at the entrance to Central Park at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan and at Brooklyn Bridge Park near the eponymous bridge. Some of the most famous/most talked about pieces include New York City Waterfalls in 2006 and the 2017-2018 Good Fences Make Good Neighbors sculptures by Ai Weiwei.
As New York is full of art, visitors are able to see art on any Sights by Sam tour. Reserve your place on one of the exciting Sights by Sam walking tour by calling +1 (917) 242-8421, or through sightsbysam.com today.
As mentioned in the previous post, the George Washington Bridge Bus Station forms a crucial lynchpin in the city’s transportation network. In addition to this building and bridge being named after our first president, the adjoining neighborhood of Washington Heights is one of the most historic and fascinating in the city. As it was a rural area for a lot of its history, stately homes and other historic sites abound in this neighborhood.
For much of its history, Washington Heights was countryside. It featured prominently in the American Revolution, as it was the headquarters for George Washington and the Continental Army during the crucial Battle of New York in the summer of 1776. The neighborhood remained relatively bucolic until the late 1800s, when property developers started to build apartments and houses. The neighborhood gradually gained population until there was a major influx of people between World War I and World War II. During this time, thousands of German and Polish Jews fled to the area, making it a haven for Central Europeans escaping from persecution. After World War II, the neighborhood would become populated by people from the Dominican Republic, creating one of the largest enclaves of people from the eastern part of Hispanola in the U.S. After falling on hard times due to the spread of crack cocaine in the 1980s, Washington Heights has been experiencing a revival in recent decades, becoming a very sought after neighborhood as land and housing prices in Manhattan continue to rise.
Washington Heights contains not only grand apartment houses but also The Cloisters (covered in another Sights by Sam blog entry), the Dyckman House, and the site of Fort Washington. In addition to learning this information on this blog, you will be able to soon tour this exciting neighborhood on a new Sights by Sam walking tour.