New York’s streets are laid out in a grid, suggesting a city that is as straight forward as it is accessible.
In part that’s true. But it’s also the case that many of the best things about New York City — the odd and unusual and beautiful places — are only discovered by peering through a gate or taking a detour or walking the streets endlessly while paying close attention.
There is Straus Park, a tiny triangle of land named for Ida and Isidor Straus, the owners of Macy’s. They perished on the Titanic.
The park is landscaped with a reflecting pool, statue and a stone bench with a quotation from the Second Book of Samuel: “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives and in their death they were not parted.”
The quotation is a reference to Ida’s decision to refuse to get in a lifeboat and instead remain by her husband’s side.
Then there is Pomander Walk, a group of 27 Tudor-style row houses with a lovely garden in the middle. The houses squat improbably among towering blocks of apartments just off Broadway between 94th and 95th street.
The houses were built in 1921 by a real estate developer as a temporary way to generate cash flow. He intended to tear them down and build a hotel but failed to get the financing.
The walk is only visible by peering through a gate on 95th street.
The illumination lawn at Lincoln Center is one of my favorite places. It’s a steep pitch of grass that floats above a restaurant tucked between Avery Fisher Hall and the Vivian Beaumont Theater.
You can lie there on a summer night and stare at the stars. Its a block from Broadway and few people know it exists.
Near the George Washington Bridge you can find the Morris-Jumel mansion, which celebrates its 250th anniversary in 2015. The house served as Washington’s headquarters after he lost the battle of Brooklyn Heights. Only 17,000 people visit the house each year, half of them school children.
In 1790, President Washington returned to the house to have dinner with Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Ironically, the home was owned by a woman who later married Aaron Burr, the man who killed Hamilton in a duel.
Walking around Nolita this weekend I found another gem. A small apartment building with a red door adorned with a festive holiday wreath.
I noticed a small plaque just over the mail slot. Often you see signs like this attached to doors. Usually they warn against sitting on the stoop or dropping off menus for the local Chinese restaurant.
I squinted to read this one and my effort was rewarded. The sign said: Pretending to be a Normal Person Day After Day is Exhausting.
I found the experience inspirational.
It was a reminder that so many of the best things in the the city are waiting to be discovered. All you have to do is walk around.
**Published by Ted Merz Dec 14, 2014**