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Friday, February 15, 2013

Urban Gadabout: Some highlights of the MAS March-May schedule

The only image I could find of Ada Louise Huxtable's 1961 book Four Walking Tours of Modern Architecture in New York City, which Matt Postal points out is long out of print, was pathetic and unusable. So here's a really lovely photo of Ms. H.

by Ken

Talk about a happy coincidence! This weekend I have walking tours in three boroughs with three of my very favorite tour leaders, all of whom I've written about here frequently: Clinton Hill (Brooklyn) with Matt Postal on Saturday, and "New York in the Time of George Washington" in Lower Manhattan with Francis Morrone and and "The Transformation of Queens Plaza" with Jack Eichenbaum on Sunday. Matt's and Francis's walks are Municipal Art Society tours and long since sold out, but Jack's Queens Plaza walk is his own and is offered on a strictly walk-up basis. (See the section below on Jack's upcoming tours.)

I can't begin to describe how much I've learned from, not to mention enjoyed the company of, all three -- and I've spent a fair amount of time and space here trying. Matt and Francis are architectural historians but with different enough perspectives and eyes to be richly complementary. Jack's perspective is strikingly different as an "urban geographer," showing us how natural and man-made geography shape the development (and redevelopment) of neighborhoods. In the many walks I've done with Jack in four of NYC's five boroughs he has radically reshaped my way of looking at and taking in the city from large vistas down to small details. One thing Jack is proud of is that even when he's leading his groups through areas frequented by other tour leaders, his groups see things we're unlikely to see with anyone else.

I might note that Joe Svehlak's terrific walks through quintessentially NYC neighborhoods not often visited by tours -- places like Sunset Park (Brooklyn) and Ridgewood (straddling Brooklyn and Queens) -- always take into consideration the kinds of developmental factors Jack highlights. These have been some of my favorite MAS tours, though I'm not sure that the folks at MAS HQ value them as highly as I do. It still kills me that I had to miss Joe's Bushwick walk in order to finish a Sunday Classics piece; everyone I've run into who was on it loved it. I've been waiting hopefully for MAS to reschedule it.

On the new schedule Joe is repeating a tour that really intrigues me: through the remains of "Downtown's Lost Neighborhood" (May 11), the barely heralded Lower West Side. The last time Joe offered it, I got as close as the No. 1 subway entrance in front of the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, with the assembling group in view across Peter Minuit Plaza, but it was pouring and I didn't even have an umbrella, so with great reluctance I shuffled back down the steps to the subway. (I only wish I could do that now. As we've noted, the relatively new South Ferry station was pretty much destroyed in Superstorm Sandy. The last I heard, the New York City Transit people planning the rebuild were still trying to determine what if anything could be salvaged.) And wouldn't you know, I don't think I'm going to be able to make it this time. I just hope it hasn't sold out by the time I know.


And the fact is that, now that everyone seems to have settled into the MAS system of preregistering for all tours (mostly online, but you can do it by phone when the offices are open), they do seem to be selling out more regularly, some of them pretty quickly. For example, it's already too late, and has been for a while, to register for Francis Morrone's annual tribute to and re-creation of MAS's very "First Tour," led by architecture critic Henry Hope Reed in Madison Square and Gramercy Park on April 8, 1956, when the idea was an astounding novelty. (Recommendation: Since you know when this tour is scheduled, watch for the announcement of the April 2014 tours and pounce. I can tell you that after doing this walk you'll never look at a flagpole the same way.)

I know that people who prefer short- to long-term planning, or are visiting from out of town, aren't entirely crazy about the pre-registration system, but it's also true that some tours may still be available as late as the-day-of. As far as I know, there's no cutoff for online registration as long as there's still space in a tour, which is clearly indicated. If you have nothing to do on a weekend, it's always worth checking the website to see if there's a tour you can slip into. Quite often the tours that don't attract waves of registrants are not only unusual but unusually interesting.

As I mentioned Wednesday, the recently posted listings cover March, April, and May (again, it's easy to remember: you go to and click on "Tours"), and the first thing that popped out for me is the pair of tours Matt Postal is doing, "Remembering Ada Louise Huxtable in Midtown" (March 2 and 16), based on the NYT's legendary architecture critic's 1961 book Four Walking Tours of Modern Architecture in New York City.

Matt is naturally scheduled for a slew of other tours, which you can check out for yourself. Among those I've done recently enough that I don't need to do them again just yet is a pungent introduction to "Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal" (April 13). I'd love to do Matt's "East River Panoramas" (April 27), but I know I'll be out of commission for that. I hope, though, to be able to do his "New to New York: Downtown Brooklyn" (May 18), even though I've done walks in the area with Francis Morrone and Joe Svehlak -- they all have their own perspectives and emphases.

Francis in fact is also doing his "Downtown Brooklyn" (March 10) again, and also the "Park Slope South" leg (April 28), covering the more working-class southern portion, of his "Three Ways of Looking at Park Slope." Frustratingly, I won't be able to do the "St. Mark's Neighborhood" (April 21) installment of his East Village series, which I was previously registered for and managed to miss (an embarrassing story). I've already registered for Francis's "Irish Footsteps in Lower Manhattan" (March 17), but I have a schedule conflict (a Transit Museum tour of the 180th Street subway shop in the Bronx) for the Washington Square-centered "American Masters: Henry James, John Lafarge, and Stanford White" (March 24). Happily, I should be able to do "Walt Whitman's New York" (May 26); anyway, I've paid my $15.

I've also registered for Eric K. Washington's "Harlem Hike: 145th Street from Hotel Olga to Sugar Hill" (April 7), as a follow-up to his "Harlem Grab Bag," which I'm doing next weekend (that's sold out, but he's doing another version of it on March 31). Eric is known as a leading chronicler of Northern Manhattan, and has written the "Images of America" series volume devoted to Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem, and so I was really looking forward to his recent MAS Manhattanville tour -- so much so that I didn't realize I hadn't actually registered for it till it was too late -- sold out!

Eric is known in particular for knowing more than anybody I know of about Uptown Trinity Church Cemetery, and had a Halloween tour scheduled for MAS which was washed out by Sandy. I made a point of registering for his next MAS foray into the cemetery, the day before Christmas Eve, which synched up, for those who were so inclined, with the annual reading of "The Night Before Christmas" at the beautiful Church of the Ascension, at Broadway and 155th Street, which was for a long time a satellite of the all-powerful (in matters Episcopal in NYC) Trinity Church of Wall Street. I had previously been in the eastern half of the Trinity cemetery, on the east side of Broadway (which you'll recall includes the final resting place of Mayor Ed Koch), notably on an MAS tour that included the Church of the Ascension. But I'd never been in the wilder and more precipitous western half, on the other side of Broadway, which slopes steeply down toward the Hudson River. On that tour I learned that the otherwise-unconnected two halves of the cemetery were actually, for a time, connected by a suspension bridge over Broadway! (Eric had a picture to show us.) Eric will be venturing back into Trinity cemetery for MAS, with "Notable Women of Uptown Trinity Church Cemetery" (March 3) and a "Spring Tour" (May 12).

I've also already registered for architectural historian Tony Robins's "Art Deco on the Upper Upper West Side" (March 31), art deco being a special passion of his. (Tony has been all over the place lately with the publication last year of an updated edition of his 1987 book on the World Trade Center and now of Grand Central Terminal: 100 Years of a New York Landmark.) This time if Tony starts by asking us when art deco was born, I know it's a trick question. Tony's also doing "Landmark Battles of Midtown" (April 21) and "Central Park as a Work of Art" (May 2).

The Bedford Stuyvesant walks of Brooklyn architecture blogger Suzanne Spellen ('s Montrose Morris, after her favorite architect) and architect and architectural historian Morgan Munsey have become an MAS staple, and April 14's "Bedford Stuyvesant" is actually focused on the heart of old Bedford Corners. The duo will also be touring "Brooklyn's Automobile Row" (in Crown Heights, Bedford Avenue between Fulton Street and Empire Boulevard; May 19).


I had a great time on two such walks. Georgia Trivizas brings a native Staten Islander's special perspective to "Staten Island's Developing Waterfront" (March 23), a walk that's bound to take on some somber new tones post-Sandy, especially in the shoreline area to the east of the Ferry Terminal, where I'd never even set foot before the October walk with Georgia.

And federal court reporter Linda Fisher brings an insider's knowledge to "Manhattan's Civic Center" (April 13), which a hardy band of us did on a bitter cold day in late December (I don't think the temperature reached as high as 20 degrees that day). I'm seriously considering doing the walk again under more normal circumstances. And who knew anybody willing to endure the security screening can just walk into a courthouse and visit courtrooms? Of course most of the courts aren't functional on the weekends, but even on a Saturday the ground-floor courtroom in the Tombs where basically all Manhattan arraignments are handled will be open, because people are always being arrested in Manhattan, after all.

I'm assuming that Alexandra Maruri will be bringing similar special knowledge to the Bronx's "Little Italy on Arthur Avenue" (March 30), a tour I would love to do (as it happens, I've somehow never visited Arthur Avenue) but don't think I can since I'll be visiting Bayside (Queens) with Jack Eichenbaum that morning (see below), it's quite schlepp from Bayside to Arthur Avenue; I don't see how it can be managed in anything like the time available.


And I don't think Brooklyn even qualifies anymore.

I expect to make the acquaintance of New School Prof. Joseph Heathcott, who's scheduled for "Queens Is the Future: Immigrant Neighborhoods Along the 7 Train" (March 9, already sold out! whoops, we all missed that one, but check out Jack Eichenbaum's "signature tour" of the "World of the #7 Train" below), "Sunnyside Gardens and Jackson Heights: America's First Garden Cities" (April 6), and "Queensbridge: America's Largest Public Housing Project" (April 27). This is territory I've covered a fair amount with Jack Eichenbaum, the Queens borough historian, but again, it's always interesting to see things through different eyes.

Speaking of Jack, though, as I've done so often here, I'm surprised to see that he's represented by just one tour. It's a terrific one, though: "Morisania: From Suburbia to the Grand Concourse" (March 24), which he did last year as the last of three northward-moving walks through the South Bronx. We got to see a staggering variety of urbanscapes sandwiched into the precipitous topography of the West Bronx -- old construction and new, the savage hatchet job inflicted on Bronx neighborhoods by Robert Moses's Cross-Bronx Expressway, the suburban enclave that has replaced the bombed-out Charlotte Street ruins once visited by Presidents Reagan and Carter, lovely Crotona Park, and the grandeur of the Grand Concourse.

Fortunately, Jack has a number of other projects coming up, starting with that Queens Plaza walk this Sunday which I mentioned at the top. More about those projects in a moment.


I feel terrible about all that I've left out, and tour leaders I've left out. I may need to do another post. Let me just point out, though, that there's a night-time tour, ""All Lit Up: Times Square at Night" (with Kathleen Hulser, April 20), and a tour in Spanish, "En Español! El Puente de Brooklyn: Política y Técnica" (April 14), a looks at the history and present of the Brooklyn Bridge and the cities (as New York and Brooklyn both were when the bridge was conceived and built) and the neighborhoods it connects, starting in Lower Manhattan and crossing over the bridge into DUMBO.


First off, if you don't know his website, The Geography of New York City with Jack Eichenbaum, you should, because it contains lots of great information in addition to Jack's schedule. On the "Public Tour Schedule" page you can also sign up for Jack's e-mail updates, which provide advance notice of plans before they make it onto the website. As it happens, Jack has just sent out a very newsy one indeed, which we'll get to.

The World of the #7 Train

Meanwhile, the splashiest news isn't brand new. Jack had already announced that this year's version of his "signature tour" will take place on April 27. I consider this one of the happiest ways an urban gadder can spend a day gadding about NYC. You not only see the full span of the IRT Flushing line (which in Queens is mostly above ground, so there's a lot to see out the windows), but do walks in six strikingly different neighborhoods along its path, including the lunch stop in Flushing's Chinatown. (Jack is a long-time Flushing resident.)

As usual, the tour will be limited to 25 people, and so requires preregistration, and can fill up in a hurry. Jack is still charging only $39, a steal in 2013 dollars. You can e-mail him ( for "the full day's program and other info,", or just send a check. (The address is on the tour page of the website.) Or you can do both! A recent onsite note reports: "As of 2/15/13, there were 12 spots remaining." Be warned that spaces can fill up in a hurry.

Now for the big news: In October Jack offered his "Day on the J," and his new e-mail update contains the news that in June he will offer "Six Walks on the Number Six Train" -- the Lexington Avenue local train that continues on into the Bronx to the southwestern corner of the city's largest park, Pelham Bay Park. Further information is promised in the next update. Once again I expect to be writing my check the day the details are announced!

In other news, Jack reports: "In conjunction with the Grand Central centennial, I am trying to arrange Maps, Realities and the People’s Palace (scroll down at for a weekend date in April. This tour will require registration and I will post it ASAP." Here's the website description:
 Maps, Realities and the People’s Palace

 Tour Grand Central and Bryant Park, planned areas greatly altered since the Civil War. Then we will see how historical cartography captures the changing urban landscape in the splendidly restored Map Room of the New York Public Library.

And Jack also notes that he will be doing two walking tours as part of the third annual Long Island City Arts Open (LICAO, May 15-18), which will also include "performing arts, special gallery exhibitions, open artists’ studios, [and] a street fair," withe details to be posted at

Now for Jack's other non-MAS tours:

The Transformation of Queens Plaza (this Sunday, February 17, 11am-1pm)

A look back at how this "nexus of early 20th century transportation improvements" (the Queensboro Bridge, Northern and Queens Blvds., lines of all three subway divisions, and the LIRR) set the stage for "NYC's largest and most modern industrial area," then went to seed with the exodus of industry from the area, and now has been transformed with amazing speed into something quite different.

It's $15, and we meet at the fare booth of the 39th Avenue station of the N and Q (Astoria) lines.

Flushing's Chinatown (Sunday, March 3, 11am-1pm)

As I mentioned, Jack is a longtime Flushing resident, and has watched the transformation of the area, which also experienced a period of deep decline, be reborn in mostly separate Chinese and Korean enclaves. Flushing's Chinatown, he says, "has come to rival its Manhattan antecedent. Taiwanese rather than Cantonese at its core, Flushing’s Chinatown plays host to a variety of overseas Chinese groups."

Also $15. Meet near the rest rooms on the second floor of the New World Mall on Roosevelt Avenue near the Flushing terminus of the No. 7 train. (There are more detailed directions on the website.)

My Childhood in Bayside (vs. What’s There Now) (Saturday, March 30, 2013, 10:50am-12:50pm -- the timing based on the scheduled arrival of the 10:18 LIRR train from Penn Station)

Every year Jack does a fund-raiser for the Queens Historical Society, and the ones I've done have been some of my all-time favorite walks. This year, in honor of his 70th birthday, on February 2 (sorry I missed your birthday -- happy birthday, Jack!), he's leading "a walk through old Bayside where I lived from 1943-1958. Most of the personal landmarks of my early life have vanished but there are threads of continuity and many anecdotes."

It's $12 for QHS members, $15 for others. (I'm a member, but I'm planning to spring for the full $15.) Meet in front of the post office on the south side of the LIRR stateion on 42nd Avenue. You can also get there via the Q13 bus from Flushing.)

And then there are these just announced in the e-mail update, and so not yet on the website:

Bowne St, My Street (May 4 or 5, time TBA)

As part of the annual Jane's Walks Weekend festivities, honoring Jane Jacobs (I reported on the 2012 schedule here), Jack will lead this walk "along the length of historic and multiethnic Bowne Street in Flushing where I have been living for 35 years." In recent years MAS has been organizing the NYC Jane's Walks, which are all free, and they've done such a good job that there are likely to be about 30 walks over the two days that I'll want to do. The listings should appear in April.

What’s New in Long Island City? (Friday, May 15, 5:45-8pm) -- a walk from Queensboro Plaza to the East River waterfront

Daylight Loft Buildings in Long Island City (Sunday, May 18, 10:30am-12:30pm)

In case you haven't gathered, Long Island City holds a special fascination for Jack, and these are new versions of walks of his that I think we can describe as popular "standbys."

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