New York is a city full of great parks. Every borough contains such treasures, but one of the best can be found in Brooklyn. Although Prospect Park is the most famous of the parks in the Borough of Champions, Sunset Park sits on a beautiful, nearly-25-acre plot that provides commanding views of the surrounding neighborhood and views of Manhattan.
The neighborhood developed in the 1800s with the creation and development of the port of Brooklyn and nearby Industry City. When the port was working at full steam from the middle of the Antebellum Era through the end of World War II, it attracted many Scandinavian immigrants who settled in the immediate area (so that they could work at their jobs at the port). This settling activity led to the spread of cooperative housing in the neighborhood (and later throughout the city). There was a lot of port activity at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. The neighborhood began to decline after World War II with a downturn at the port and the completion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.
The Scandinavian population left and the neighborhood became populated by Latino people. They would be joined by Chinese in more recent decades who have established a lively commercial district along 8th Avenue. The main attraction of the neighborhood is of course the park, which was established in the 1890s. It is perhaps most famous for its grand vistas and recreation center built in 1936. This is the type of information that you will learn on a Sights by Sam walking tour. To see the fabulous park and to explore this great neighborhood, contact Sights by Sam at +1 (917) 242-8421 or through sightsbysam.com to book a custom tour today.
Between 14th and 34th Streets to the south and north and from Fifth Avenue and the Hudson River from east to west is Chelsea. Named by a British Royal Army officer after the UK’s military hospital in London, Chelsea was originally a residential area, later becoming industrial, and is now a mixed commercial and residential district.
Most of the neighborhood was previously a bucolic residency before the arrival of railroads in 1847. The proximity to the port made the area very industrial, especially with the Meatpacking District forming the western boundary of the neighborhood. Aside from industry, many landmark establishments such as the Hotel Chelsea in 1885 and the London Terrace apartment complex in 1930 were constructed. As industry left the area, commercial and residential buildings rose up. Chelsea also became known for having a diverse population, especially a large gay population, in the later part of the 1900s.
Chelsea has always been where many famous people have lived. The author of A Visit from Saint Nicholas, Clement Clarke Moore, was born in the neighborhood. Other people who have called the neighborhood home are Kelsey Grammar, Chelsea Clinton, and several writers and artists who stayed at the Chelsea Hotel such as Dylan Thomas and Jim Morrison. This is the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam walking tour of NYC.
New York is full of Christmas and holiday traditions. From holiday villages that pop up in all boroughs to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, there are many traditions that make a winter in New York magical. One of the most breathtaking traditions is in a corner of the southern Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights and its amazing Christmas lights.
Served by the extreme end of the R Train in Brooklyn, Dyker Heights is known for being a traditionally Italian neighborhood that was first established in the late 1800s as a speculative real estate development. No one is sure of when the tradition of grandiose Christmas displays started, but it is believed that it first started in the 1980s. As newspapers covered the lights, more seemed to proliferate. It is not unknown for some of the residents of the neighborhood to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a display. While almost every house in the neighborhood has at least a string of lights or a wreath on the door, many houses have inflatable characters, multistory nutcrackers, and even sound-and-light displays. Even the firehouse in Dyker Heights is now a part of the tradition. While there is no formal award given for the displays, there is a very real informal competition between many of the households in the neighborhood.
The Christmas lights cover hundreds of homes in the neighborhood, but some of the most grandiose and famous ones are along an eight block area around 12th Avenue. The lights remain up from the week after Thanksgiving to the first weekend in January. The lights and accompanying displays are a delight to young and old and worth the trip to this corner of the city. This is the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour.
One of the most famous neighborhoods in the city in recent years is the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. Connected to the Lower East Side of Manhattan by the Williamsburg Bridge and by several subway lines to the rest of the city such as the G, J, L, and Z, the neighborhood has become one of New York’s hip areas.
The neighborhood started out as part of the independent village of Bushwick (now the neighborhood immediately adjacent to Williamsburg). The neighborhood gained its name from American military engineer Jonathan Williams, who surveyed the area in the early 1800s. The village (and later city) was folded into the City of Brooklyn and later became a hub of industry. Long a German and Irish neighborhood, Williamsburg changed into an area that was mainly populated by Latinos and Jews who had either left the Lower East Side or fled from Europe in the aftermath of the Holocaust by the 1940s and 1950s. As industries moved to less crowded parts of the country and areas with more inexpensive labor, the area went into decline. Starting in the 2000s, the area saw an influx of new arrivals as people came to Williamsburg because of its proximity to Manhattan and (then) cheaper rents. Development took off in 2005 when the city (in a bid to get the 2012 Olympics), rezoned many Northern Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Greenpoint and Williamsburg—leading to taller buildings being constructed and more development in the area.
Today, Williamsburg is known the world over for its unique shops and restaurants, excellent weekend flea market, setting of the classic novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and as the spiritual homeland of so-called hipsters. The area is also home to a large Latino and Hassidic Jewish community today as well—although gentrification in this area is still a major issue in the city. You may ask for a special request tour of Williamsburg at sightsbysam.com.
Located near the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, there are many important residential areas that were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The rash of building occurred when the heirs of the Jumel Family sold off their vast landholdings.
In addition to stately apartment buildings and cultural institutions that were constructed at nearby Audubon Terrace, one of the more unique streets is the cobblestoned Sylvan Terrace. Forming a “stair street” on 161st Street, 20 wood framed houses were built by Gilbert Robinson, Jr. in 1883. The houses were originally rented to laborers and servants who lived in the neighborhood and worked at some of the more stately buildings in the neighborhood. After decades of neglect, New York City made the area a historic district and restored the houses back to their original appearance.
Today, each of the houses in the district is valued over $1 million. The residences are very stately and the surrounding neighborhood near the Harlem River is very picturesque. In addition to the Morris-Jamel Mansion, the area is also close to High Bridge Park and Fort Tryon Park. This is the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour of New York.
Today the beginning of Second Avenue in the East Village is a commercial strip and an up and coming residential area. In the early part of the 20th Century, this area, then in the center of the Jewish Lower East Side, was the location of a thriving live theater district. Colloquially, this area was called the Yiddish Rialto after the language the vast majority of the immigrants spoke and the area in Venice, Italy. This theater district experienced its heyday from the turn of the 20th century and the 1950s.
In the late 1800s to early 1900s, around two million Eastern European Jews arrived in New York, fleeing religious persecution in their former homelands. They mainly settled in the Lower Eat Side of New York and often worked in menial jobs in sweatshops or hawking items from pushcarts. The main source of entertainment for many of these immigrants was Yiddish theater. The first one was in the Lower East Side on Grand Street, but the district soon spread to Second Avenue, with over a dozen Yiddish language theaters lining the street. In the beginning, Yiddish theater used Shakespearean plays or borrowed themes from other theater productions, but soon came into its own, with original productions being produced. Actors such as Jacob Adler and Fyvush Finkel both got their starts in Yiddish theater productions. Songwriters Ira and George Gershwin also were great fans of Yiddish theater in their youth. At one point, there were over 20 Yiddish language theaters in the district, rivaling Times Square as the second largest theater district in the city. The rise of Yiddish theaters also promoted a rise in new businesses such as restaurants and clubs around where the theaters were located, such as the Second Avenue Deli (which opened at the time that the district started to decline).
In the 1950s, with the arrival of television and changing settlement patterns—where Jews were leaving the neighborhood, the Rialto fell into decline and vanished. An additional factor in the district’s decline was that many Jewish immigrants did not teach their children Yiddish in order to help them assimilate into American society. Today there is only one Yiddish theater company in the East Village. There is also the Yiddish Theater Walk of Fame where the Second Avenue Deli used to be at the corner of 10th Street and Second Avenue. You can see the former Yiddish Rialto on the Sights by Sam tour, “Lost in the Lower East Side.”
Extending on the west side of Manhattan and bounded by 59th Street to the south, the Hudson River to the west, 110th Street to the north, and Eighth Avenue/Central Park West to the east, the Upper West Side is one of the largest neighborhoods on Manhattan in terms of real estate and with a population nearing 200,000, is one of the more sizably-populated neighborhoods in the borough.
The Upper West Side was sparsely settled through most of the early part of New York’s history. Broadway was cut through the neighborhood. A great amount of settlement began in the period after the Civil War, when New York grew and the street grid pushed northward. Many brownstones and apartment buildings were built—especially after the arrival of elevated railroads and subways in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Along Central Park, there exists a very fashionable area where upscale apartment buildings such as the Dakota and the San Remo are located. The largest house on Manhattan, the 75-room Schwab Mansion, used to be located on Riverside Drive between 73rd and 74th Streets. This mansion was torn down after World War II. The neighborhood is also defined as being bounded by both Central Park, and a great portion of the 172 acre Riverside Park, which runs alongside the Hudson River. The neighborhood is mostly residential. Exceptions to this are some grand hotels along the southern edge around Columbus Circle and 59th Street, the Lincoln Center on Broadway and the low-60s, and the headquarters of ABC on 66th Street.
Today, the Upper West Side is known for being a cultural hub. It is in this neighborhood that one can find the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the American Museum of Natural History, and the New-York Historical Society, among many other cultural institutions. In terms of famous residents, the neighborhood is home to such personalities as Tina Fey and Denzel Washington. Some other famous people associated with the Upper West Side include Woody Allen (through many of his early movies) and Jerry Seinfeld (both his longtime home in real life and the neighborhood where Seinfeld was set). This is the type of information you will learn on a Sights by Sam tour—and a tour of this neighborhood can be done on request (go to sightsbysam.com for more details).
Situated between the Civic Center and the Lower East Side is Chinatown, one of the defining neighborhoods of Manhattan. Up to 100,000 people, including recent immigrants and families that have lived in this part of Manhattan for over a century, all crowd into this area. Chinatown remains one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in terms of sights, smells, and tastes (some of the best restaurants in town are located here).
It is believed that Chinese arrived in New York right before the Civil War and settled in the immediate area around Pell and Doyers Street. As more Chinese (soldiers and laborers) came to New York, discrimination against them increased. Chinese men (it was mostly men who immigrated) often joined secret societies (tongs) that often warred against each other. It is believed that conflict between tongs using hatchet men (hatchets were the weapon of choice) led to Doyers Street in Chinatown becoming the scene of the most murders of any spot in the city. After immigration reform in 1965, the population of Chinatown exploded and the neighborhood expanded its boundaries. Owing to the original arrivals and more recent arrivals from Hong Kong, Cantonese is the dominant language in Chinatown—but this is slowly changing as the most recent immigrants arrive speaking Mandarin. The Chinese population in New York now numbers close to one million and counts Flushing in Queens and a Brooklyn Chinatown with Manhattan Chinatown (all linked together by bus companies serving the three locations).
One of the favorite pastimes of Chinatown for visitors is the food. There are many opportunities to get snacks such as candy, Chinese baked goods, bubble tea, dim sum, or a full-course Peking duck meal. In terms of more historic sites, Columbus Park (the last surviving part of the old Five Points), numerous temples, and the Museum of the Chinese in America are all available.
Chinatown, for its vibrancy, history, and great food, should be on the must-see list for any visitor to New York. You are able to see Chinatown on most Sights by Sam tours of Lower Manhattan.