Top Things You Did Not Know About New York City
It was the Hollywood of the East
The heart of the American film industry was based on the east coast of the country before the birth of Hollywood in the early Thirties. Major cinema companies, including Paramount Pictures (the second oldest surviving film studio in the country and fifth oldest in the world), based their operations in New York, where several films, such as the first Sherlock Holmes sound film (The Return of Sherlock Holmes), were shot at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens. The historic studio, built in 1920, was declared a national historic district in 1978 and was where other major Hollywood films, including Goodfellas and Carlito’s Way, and several classic American television programmers, including Sesame Street and The Cosby Show, were later shot.
Kaufman Astoria Studios sits adjacent to the fascinating Museum of the Moving Image, the only museum in the country dedicated to exploring the art, history and technology of the moving image, with a collection of more than 130,000 quirky artefacts tracing the history of the film and television industry. One of the museum’s latest projects is Jim Henson’s World, a new monthly screening series showcasing the work of the American director best known as the creator of The Muppets characters. The museum will unveil a new permanent gallery devoted to his works later this month. And New York City’s Central Park has been featured in more films (more than 300) than any other location in the world since 1908 when the first film shot in the park was Romeo and Juliet.
It has wildlife
There is a wealth of wildlife to be discovered across the concrete jungle, such as the world’s highest concentration of peregrine falcons, which are said to set up their nests on bridges and skyscrapers around the city. Thousands of animal species are found in the city’s parks including in Staten Island which hosts a diverse selection of wildlife from hundreds of bird species to white-tailed deers, cotton-tailed rabbits and snapping turtles, one of the world’s largest freshwater turtles.
New York City is home to the world’s highest concentration of peregrine falcons.
Other animals to be spotted include coyotes in the Bronx, opossums (North America’s only marsupial), striped skunks (said to prefer the parks of northern Manhattan) and baby bats, the most common species of bats in New York.
It will be home to one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels
The 630ft-tall New York Wheel set in Staten Island will be the world’s second tallest Ferris wheel when it’s completed, surpassed by the planned 689ft-high Ain Dubai wheel, which is said to be more than halfway complete. Expected to be built by 2018, the New York Wheel promises to be one of the city’s greatest landmarks and offer some of the best vistas of the New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and the New York skyline.
Among the lesser-visited boroughs, the New York Wheel hopes to put Staten Island on the visitor trail of both tourists and New York residents.
It houses the world’s first underground park
Following the success of the city’s hugely popular High Line, an elevated public park built on an abandoned freight railway line on Manhattan’s West Side, earlier this year the city introduced The Lowline, currently set in a preliminary space for what will be the world’s first underground park when it is completed, hopefully by 2021.
The Lowline will be the world’s first underground park
The Lowline is an all natural green space that aims to breathe new life into a disused trolley terminal dating back to 1908. Using innovative solar technology designed by James Ramsey of the New York-based Raad Studio, sunlight will be transmitted throughout the park via a reflective surface underground. Set in the 1.5-acre space of the Williamsburg Bridge Trolley Terminal, below Delancey Street, in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, the Lowline is located in “one of the least green areas” of the city but hopes to be a “bright new spot” for the area.
It is has the biggest Chinatown in the West
The first Chinese immigrants arrived in Manhattan’s Chinatown in the 1800s when it was part of the former Five Points neighbourhood, which came to be known as one of New York’s worst slum areas, plagued by crime, disease and a red light district known as the Mulberry Bend. The first person to have highlighted the devastating conditions of this part of New York was English author Charles Dickens in his travelogue titled American Notes, which prompted several upper and middle class New Yorkers to visit the area to glimpse the incredible scene for themselves.
A street in Chinatown, Manhattan
Today, housing nearly 150,000 Chinese residents across a two square-mile plot of land, Manhattan’s Chinatown is home to the largest concentration of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. It is one among the 12 Chinatowns spread across the New York metropolitan area (including in the neighbouring ‘Tri-state’ area of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania) which forms the highest population of Chinese people outside of Asia, with nearly 812, 410 Chinese residents (nearly 574, 900 in the five boroughs of New York City alone, making New York’s Chinatown the largest in America) as of last year. Most of New York’s Chinese population resides in the borough of Queens, where Flushing is home to one of fastest growing and largest Chinese communities outside of Asia.
There is a ‘Little Britain’
While many cities around the world might have a Chinatown or two, a Little Italy, and perhaps a Little Greece, New York City may be the first to have a ‘Little Britain’ (unofficial, at the moment). A cluster of small shops around Greenwich Avenue in the trendy West Village neighbourhood of Manhattan have become a favourite haunt among Anglophiles and British expats alike.
One of the street’s most popular venues is Tea & Sympathy, a tiny bolthole of a cafe themed after a traditional English tea room which has been graced by the likes of various British celebrities for years since, from David Bowie, Joanna Lumley and Rupert Everett to Joss Stone, Jools Holland and Kate Moss, who is reported to have been visiting the cafe for nearly 17 years. Visitors can enjoy some of Britain’s classic comforts foods with a menu offering everything from bangers n’ mash, Welsh rarebit, and Yorkshire pudding to treacle pudding and rhubarb crumble, and of course traditional afternoon tea served with scones and clotted cream.
Other UK-themed venues nearby include the fish and chip shop A Salt and Battery as well as Myers of Keswick, owned by Peter Myers from Keswick, England, where you can take your pick of all-things-English, from McVities biscuits to Walker’s crisps.
The area has yet to receive the official stamp of approval from the city as “Little Britain” following an official campaign for its recognition, backed by various celebrities including Sir Richard Branson and London born American actress Mischa Barton, in 2007.
Coney Island’s beach was named after Brighton
With a similar history, topography and southern location, Coney Island’s historical roots can be traced back to the famed English seaside resort.
New York was taken over by the English from around the 1660s and Coney Island started to become a holiday destination around the 1830s and 1840s, after a bridge was built that connected it to the main part of New York. Quicker transport times, made possible via steamship services and more carriage roads, soon made Coney Island a popular holiday spot for the residents of Manhattan, Brooklyn and other New York boroughs. This led to the building of the coastal resort area of Brighton Beach in 1878, named after Brighton in England, which around the same time was also becoming a popular day-trip destination for Londoners after the arrival of the London and Brighton Railways service in 1841.
The beach at Coney Island in 1928
Similar to England’s Brighton resort, Coney Island was also home to a grand hotel (Hotel Brighton) visited by mostly the upper middle class at the time, as well as a pavilion (the 400 ft-tall Brighton Beach Pavilion) – an homage to Brighton’s Royal Pavilion built back in 1783 – and of course a boardwalk and beach pier comparable to Brighton’s.
Coney Island today continues to serve the city as a seaside resort and amusement park offering more than 50 rides and attractions, including its newest – the Ford Amphitheater, a 5,000-seat open-air concert venue set on Coney Island’s boardwalk which opened last summer, with inaugural gigs from the singer Sting and other artists.
The Wonder Wheel at Coney Island, one of the country’s national landmarks.
There’s a waterfall in Central Park
Tucked away in the North Woods – a 40-acre woodland part of Central Park – drowning out the rush and noise of the city, is the quiet calm of The Ravine (pictured below). Forming the park’s only stream valley, its waterfall is created by a loch that’s dammed in several places to create the cascades. The area was intended by the park’s designers to resemble the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains of rural upstate New York.
It housed the first ever hospital in the US
The island forming part of the city’s historic Statue of Liberty attraction (which is set on nearby Liberty Island) is also home to an abandoned hospital (pictured below), which dates from 1902 and once served as a detention facility for immigrants arriving on the island who were considered to be too ill and physically unfit to enter the country. The complex was the first public hospital to open in the US and the largest at the time. It functioned as a hospital until 1930 before it was abandoned in 1954. Its main building was restored and opened as a museum in 1990, while the unrestored parts of the complex were opened to the public for hard-hat tours from October 2014.
You can go surfing in the city
Beyond the much-loved Coney Island, the Big Apple offers a host of sandy beaches just a short metro or car journey from the heart of the city in Queens and Brooklyn, including Rockaway Beach (pictured below) and Long Beach – New York’s only two surfing beaches.
The coastal resort area of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach, pictured below, is a popular spot for locals. Offering plenty of specialty restaurants and shops offering vodka, black bread, dumplings and jams, the beach is known as “Little Odessa” for its Ukrainian feel.
There’s a secret train station below the Waldorf Astoria
New York’s most famous historic hotel, whose original location back in 1893 was on the site of what is now the Empire State building, sits above a ‘secret’ train station known as Track 61, which forms an extension of Grand Central Terminal, located a few streets from the hotel.
The interior of the historic Waldorf Astoria New York hotel
Track 61 was said to have been built in the Thirties for former US president Franklin D Roosevelt (FDR) to be used as a discreet entrance for the hotel in an attempt to keep his polio condition hidden from the public eye. A customised train car and lift (for transfers to the hotel’s garage) were built to accommodate his presidential limousine during his stays at the hotel.
“It was housed there [Track 61] to be protected from the elements,” Grand Central historian Daniel Brucker told Skift last year, “but in 1945, it was being prepped [for a presidential voyage] when FDR suddenly died. It hasn’t moved since.”
Evidence of the secret entry to Track 61 can be seen at the 49th street location of the hotel, where the numbers “101-121” are said to denote an exit leading to the lift created by FDR.
Track 61 has previously been used by the US military general John J Pershing in 1938 and was the site of a diesel locomotive exhibition in 1946, and a fashion show in 1948. It is rumoured to still be in use and was said to have served several other US presidents, including George W Bush, who apparently “had a train kept permanently idling on Track 61 in case he had to escape quickly” during a previous stay at the hotel, according to Christopher Winn, author of I Never Knew That About New York.
In 2012, the city celebrated its first violent crime-free day in living memory
On November 28, 2012, the New York City police department got the day off—sort of. For the first time in recent history, not one murder, shooting, stabbing, or other violent crime was reported for a full 24 hours. Hey, it’s the small victories.
UPS, FedEx, and other delivery companies earn up to 7,000 parking tickets every day
Convenience has its price, one which commercial delivery companies pay in full. With its notoriously problematic parking, New York racks up to $102 million in fines from UPS, FedEx, and its peers. UPS pays the largest bill, with about 15,000 tickets a month and annual fees amounting to $18.7 million in 2006.
It was the Hollywood of the East Coast
Before Hollywood was born in the early ’30s, the American film industry was based in the Big Apple. Silver screen giants like Paramount Pictures called New York home then, and films, including the first Sherlock Holmes sound film, were shot in humble Queens, New York.
The Empire State Building has its own zip code
Actually, the iconic tower belongs to Manhattan’s 10001 zip code, which covers the area from 25th Street to 35th Street east of Fifth Avenue. In true New York fashion, however, the Empire State Building set itself apart in 1980 when it established its unique code of 10118.
There’s a good chance your favorite park used to be a graveyard
Space has always been an issue in New York, meaning areas of land are often repurposed. Such is the case of Washington Square Park, Union Square Park, Bryant Park, and Madison Square Park, all of which used to be potter’s fields, or cemeteries housing unknown bodies.
Times Square is named after The New York Times
Many New Yorkers would be surprised to learn the city’s biggest tourist trap gets its name from a beloved local icon. When The New York Times moved to Midtown Manhattan in 1904, little-known Longacre Square was renamed, becoming Times Square.
In 1920, one of the first acts of domestic terrorism took place in New York and involved a horse-drawn carriage
According to FBI archives, September of 1920 marked one of the first acts of domestic terrorism, in which a horse-drawn carriage loaded with explosives was detonated on Wall Street, killing 30 people and injuring 300. Though a man was observed driving the cart, no one was ever caught in connection with the crime.
The price of a slice of pizza and the cost of a single subway ride is always nearly equal
Over the past 50 years in New York, a phenomenon known as the “Pizza Connection” (a term coined by The New York Times) has emerged. This connection holds that the price of a slice of pizza in New York and the cost of a single subway ride is always equal or nearly equal, meaning when your favorite slice joint hikes its prices, you can bet a fare increase will follow suit.
The Empire State Building once had an entire floor dedicated to napping
You read that right: one of the busiest office buildings in the country once dedicated an entire floor to sleepy staffers. From 2004 to 2008, the Empire State Building’s 24th floor hosted pod-like electronic beds featuring soothing audio recordings and plush cushioning.
Up until World War II, May 1st was moving day in New York—for the entire city
Moving house is never fun, but up until World War II, the process was an even greater headache, thanks to New York’s now-defunct moving day custom. Each year on February 1st, landlords would inform their tenants of their rent increase, scheduled to take effect three months later. When the new rent was due on May 1st, tenants across New York City would vacate their old premises and move to their new addresses—all on the same day.
New York’s Hog Island was never seen again after the storm of 1893
When a Category 2 storm came ashore in 1893 near the current home of John F. Kennedy Airport, several local entities were completely washed away, including some resort hotels, saloons, and an entire one-mile-long island. The storm reduced the Rockaway Beach-adjacent Hog Island to a few patches of sand and water. By the end of that decade, the island was no more.
There are small shrimp called copepods in the city’s drinking water
Any local will tell you that New York tap water tastes as fine as any bottled variety around. What they won’t tell you about is the secret ingredient in the city’s drinking water: copepods, or tiny crustaceans known to eat mosquito larvae. Before you spit out your drink, know that, while a bit creepy, these microscopic New Yorkers are clean.
In 1857, toilet paper was invented by New York resident Joseph Gayetty
While the first documented use of toilet paper dates back to early medieval China, modern toilet paper wasn’t made commercially available in America until 1857. That’s when New York resident Joseph Gayetty of Gayetty’s Paper introduced Gayetty’s Medicated Paper, which was sold in packages of flat sheets as late as the 1920s.
The best 360-degree view of the city is from…
Governors Island, the birthplace of New York. Last year’s opening of The Hills, one of New York City’s newest landmarks, has breathed new life into this former military base. The new 10-acre public park is made of four hills that pay homage to the hilly landscapes of pre-colonial Manhattan, including Outlook Hill from where visitors can enjoy the best vistas of Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as the best 360-degree panoramas of New York Harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and Jersey City in the distance.
The newly designed park is also home to the longest slide in the city at Slide Hill, while Discovery Hill houses a sculptural work by British artist Rachel Whiteread – said to be her first major permanent public commission in the US. The Hills are open through October.
A rendering of city views from The Hills on Governors Island
The latest development marks the first phase of the Governors Island Park and Public Space Master Plan, which has been in the works for more than a decade to transform the 172-acre island into year-round tourist destination.