Secrets of New York: 11 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Existed

In a city as large as New York, it’s easy to overlook some things that are in plain view. Sure enough a rooftop garden is not an uncommon site to see these days but more than just one and manicured as such right in the middle of Midtown? Perhaps you’re strolling on a residential street and Brooklyn and passed by an unassuming brownstone, not realizing that it isn’t real. Go on, play a game of I Spy, and see how many of these 11 secrets of New York  you’re able to find.

Secrets of New York

1 Surprise on 77 Water

Did someone order a plane? Parked on the rooftop of a high-rise downtown is a reproduction of a battle scarred 1916 British Sopwith Camel biplane designed by William Tarr. Understandably hard to see from the ground, it’s a pleasant surprise to see up in the air, particularly at night, when the runway is lit.

2 The Red Remnants Around Town

If you get asked what do these locations have in common: a public park on Midtown East*, somewhere inside The Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a marina downtown by the World Trade Center site, and the gardens of the United Nations, tell them “The Berlin Wall”. That’s because each one of these locations has a piece of the original wall.

Secrets of New York: Berlin Wall Slab Battery Park
Berlin Wall Slab Battery Park: Image via Flickr by Per Olof Forsberg CC 2.0

3 Fake House in Brooklyn

If you’re a fan of the television series Sherlock, you’ve probably seen the episode where Sherlock Holmes lured Mary Watson to what looked like a Victorian townhouse, except that it was only a façade. New York has one too, in the form of a Brownstone on Joralemon St in Brooklyn. The house is actually a hidden subway vent and also serves as an emergency exit passage for the 4 and 5 trains.

Secrets of New York: 58 Joralemon St
58 Joralemon St

4 Gardens on Rockefeller Rooftops

These carefully manicured gardens have been around for decades but managed to be one of the most carefully guarded secrets of New York because of its exclusivity. The gardens are no longer open to the public (they are reserved for employees) but can still be visited on rare occasions during city-sponsored open house events.

Secrets of New York City: Rockefeller Rooftop Gardens
Rockefeller Rooftop Gardens with Spires of St Patricks Cathedral behind

5 A Waldorf Secret

I’m not referring to the recipe of this hotel’s infamous salad but rather the underground passage that connects the Waldorf Astoria hotel to Grand Central Terminal. Its primary use was to clandestinely transport prominent individuals including former president Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Waldorf and vice versa. Otherwise known as Track 61, it has been rumored to remain in operation on rare occasions. This is one of the secrets of New York that you definitely wouldn’t want to miss!

6 Whispers at Grand Central

When you’re walking around the hallways of Grand Central Terminal and notice a person talking to a wall, don’t be alarmed. He or she is likely testing out the whisper tunnel that exists within the hollow arches of the corner wall across from the Oyster Bar and Restaurant. This spot hold many secrets of New York. Now if only walls can talk…

Secrets of New York: Track 61 Franklin D Roosevelt's Secret Train
Track 61: Franklin D Roosevelt’s Secret Train

7 A Wright House in the Island

Not everything of value is in Manhattan. In fact, Staten Island can boast that it is the only borough in New York that has a house architected by the infamous Frank Lloyd Wright. Crimson Beech house is a simple, unassuming, and privately owned house situated in the middle of the island. There are no gates or fences surrounding the property so admire it all you want as long as you keep your distance.

Secrets of New York: Crimson Beech House by Frank Lloyd Wright
Crimson Beech House by Frank Lloyd Wright: Photo H.L.I.T. / CC 2.0)

8 Movies on Canal

Next time you go to explore the Lower East Side, keep an eye out for the old Loews Theatre on Canal. Once a large-scale cinema house, it sits unattended, withering away from the inside. The exterior façade however, stands out sandwiched between two relatively plain buildings.

9 A Cinematic House of Worship

Head over to Jamaica in Queens and stop by the Tabernacle of Prayer house of worship. Prepare to be in awe not specifically by the gospel of the pastor but by the sheer overwhelming design of this once elaborate cinema house. The building’s baroque exterior is just the beginning. Step inside and it looks like a set taken from a movie production.

Secrets of New York: Tabernacle of Prayer on Queen NY
Tabernacle of Prayer on Queen (Image via Flickr by gigi_nyc CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

10 Concrete Map

Feeling lost in SoHo? No worries, because embedded on the concrete walls along Greene St is a map of the New York City subway system. The installation was the handiwork of Belgian artist Francoise Schein and runs 87 feet in length. Each dot represents a stop and is lit up at night.

11 A Mini Niagara in Midtown

Ok, that might be an overstatement but did you know about the 25-foot waterfalls located in Greenacre Park? Tucked between Second and Third Avenues, this midtown oasis is lauded as one of the best parks in the city. The park is small in terms of size and with the falls taking most of the square footage, it drowns out the surrounding noise making it a quick haven for anyone wanting to escape. Maybe it is somewhat of a Niagara after all.

To find more secrets of New York, check out NFT: Not For Tourist, a website created by locals that highlight some of the restaurants and attractions not found on most guidebooks.

If you have anything to add to our secrets of New York list, let us know in the comments below!

AN: *currently unavailable due to restoration

About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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