New York is a city that you can never really stop exploring. But once you've seen the tourist traps, it's hard to know where to head next. Fortunately, author Michelle Haimoff's new book, Secret New York, helps uncover some of the city's intriguing nooks and crannies. We asked her to pick her favorite secret spot in each of the five boroughs.
The Unknown Island of Manhattan: There is an entire island separate from Manhattan that holds the ivy-covered ruins of a smallpox hospital, a community flower garden, and a lighthouse that once guided ships through the choppiest part of the East River. Every square foot of land is coveted in Manhattan, yet the two-mile strip of Roosevelt Island lies relatively unexplored. The five-minute tram ride is an experience in itself as it dangles you above Simon and Garfunkel's beloved 59th Street (Queensboro) Bridge, which straddles the island. The tram runs on the quarter hour and you can catch it on Second Avenue and 60th Street.
A Waterfront Recluse in the Bronx: In the suburb of Riverdale stands a former country house with majestic gardens that look more like the English countryside than New York City. Wave Hill was once a private home for such dignified company as Thomas Henry Huxley and Teddy Roosevelt, and when Mark Twain lived here from 1901 to 1903, he gushed that the "noblest roaring blasts" made him "want to live always." Since 1960, when the last family to own the land deeded it to the public, its 28 acres have provided a serene waterfront hideaway from the commotion of the city. The closest mass transportation options are the Bx7 and Bx10 buses, which you can catch from the 231st Street stop on the 1 train.
The Private Art Gallery in Queens: The most interesting New York homes to peer into are surely those of art collectors. One such collector, Emily Fisher Landau, spent her life compiling works by heavy-hitting artists like Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, Matthew Barney, Ed Ruscha, and Susan Rothberg, and befriending many of them. Happily, she eventually ran out of display space in her own home, bought a parachute harness factory in Queens, and had architect Max Gordon convert the area into a museum. The Fisher Landau Center now has more than 1,000 pieces on display, including a portrait Warhol created of Fisher Landau. The N, W, or 7 trains will all get you there.
The Secret Chinese Garden in Staten Island: There exists on Staten
Island a lush area where retired seamen once dined, laughed, and lived
together, thanks to a posthumous endowment of one of their own. Snug Harbor Cultural Center contains a botanical garden, with hidden quarters
ranging from a hedge maze, to a sensory garden for the visually
impaired, to a "White Garden" that glows silver in the moonlight. The
most exotic nook is the Chinese Scholar's Garden, made in part with
Taihu Lake limestone imported from eastern China. The garden is the only authentic classical Chinese garden built in the United States and includes courtyards, bridges, and plantings of pine, bamboo, plum, and lotus. Check it out by taking the S40 bus from the St. George
The Magical Cemetery in Brooklyn: At the time of its founding in 1838, it was said that a successful New Yorker would enjoy life on Fifth Avenue, leisurely strolls in Central Park, and death in Green-Wood Cemetery. Perhaps this is why Greenwood Cemetery rivaled Niagara Falls as a tourist attraction in the 19th century. The resting place of such varied New York notables as composer Leonard Bernstein, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and Tammany Hall leader William Magear "Boss" Tweed, the cemetery has an ethereal quality, as though it is haunted by the spirits of the people that created New York who are buried within. The cemetery is located near Prospect Park, off of the R train (one block east of the 25th street stop).
Read about more New York secrets in Michelle Haimoff's Secret New York (Interlink 2008), a walking tour guidebook that explores the hidden neighborhoods and secret histories of Manhattan and the boroughs.
Do you have your own secret New York spots?
Photos: above, Roosevelt Island; below, Green-Wood Cemetery. By Rachel Feierman.