Day: February 28th, 2007

Forgotten New York

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007 | All Things, Books, Eats, Events, NYC History

After my days driving through the American Southwest, it was nice to be reminded of why I love this city. Tonight, the Gotham Gazette Book Club was meeting to discuss Kevin Walsh’s recently published Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis — a written tour of the city’s “landmarks, quiet places, and oddities.” The author was present to give a brief presentation, joined by Roberta Gratz, author of Cities Back from the Edge: New Life for Downtown, and a commissioner on the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Walsh was contracted to write the book, based on the popularity of his website “Forgotten NY,” a compendium of “forgotten, overlooked, ancient sights in New York City” that he writes and designs himself. Walsh first began researching and taking photographs for his site in 1998, launching it in 1999 after he had compiled enough information for the first few dozen pages. Since then, he has kept up a fairly regular updating schedule — a new page of research, accompanied by period and contemporary photographs and maps about every other week — with the new material coming either from tours or his own research, gathered over meandering walks through the far corners of the city. Forgotten NY is by no means Manhattan-centric; Walsh was born in Brooklyn, raised in Bay Ridge, and currently resides in Flushing. He is a stocky, unassuming figure, and is quick to admit that he has no formal training in archival research or history. His site, and the book, rose organically from his own passion. From its humble beginnings — the design was and remains purely utilitarian — the site has amassed a devoted following; Walsh and Forgotten NY have been featured in Salon and on Gothamist.

Walsh seems to promote a different kind of New York City tourism: one that values the city not for its well-known and looming landmarks, but for everything else… the ephemeral trivia and detritus of urban living.

The event was being held, appropriately enough, at the Jefferson Market Branch of the New York Public Library – a site steeped in city history. The ornate Victorian Gothic building and clocktower were designed by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux (who assisted Frederick Law Olmsted in the design of Central Park) and has been a fixture of the West Village since the 1870s, serving at times, as the site of a marketplace, a fire tower and a courthouse. (The adjacent jail was replaced by the New York Women’s House of Detention, which was demolished in 1974 to make way for a serene community garden. The Jefferson Market Greening was one of my favorite spots in the neighborhood when I was living on West 12th Street, predating the nuptials of Miranda and Steve on Sex and the City.)

The building where we sat that night was the center of national attention in 1906, when Harry K. Thaw was tried in the courthouse for murdering prominent architect and socialite Stanford White on the roof of Madison Square Garden – tagged by the newspapers as the “Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” trial. The notorious case was the loose basis of (Bronx Science alum) E. L. Doctorow’s novel, Ragtime, which was later adapted into a stage musical and a film.

Jefferson Market

Jefferson Market

The Jefferson Market clocktower is a regular site on the annual openhousenewyork tour, where the public is invited to climb the 149 steps to the top for 360-degree views of Greenwich Village.

Afterwards, I met SYB a few blocks away at Peanut Butter and Co. on this, the last day to cash in our coupons for jars of peanut butter, which we’d collected at the Time Out “Back to School” festival in Union Square in September. Finally!

I got The Elvis, without the bacon, just like it’s served down in Graceland. I picked up my jar of “The Heat is On”: PB & Co’s “all natural peanut butter blended with fiery spices,” and was even comped my glass bottle of Diet Coke by the friendly cashier. It’s good to be back.

Peanut Butter and Co

The Elvis

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