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The Big Onion Guide to New York City

The Big Onion Guide to New York City: Ten Historic Tours

Copyright Date: 2002
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 390
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  • Book Info
    The Big Onion Guide to New York City
    Book Description:

    Visit the Big Onion Guide to New York City site

    Whether you're a tourist or a native New Yorker, you will appreciate this witty, informative walking guide to New York City, as authors Seth Kamil and Eric Wakin peel back the layers of New York's most popular neighborhoods. Here in one volume are their award-winning tours. In their "Immigrant New York" tour you can take a walk on the Bowery, the most infamous street in the city and learn how the city's finest roadway became America's "Skid Row." In "Before Stonewall" you'll discover the many facets of gay and lesbian history and trace the development of Greenwich Village as a cultural mecca. From SoHo to the Upper West Side; from Harlem to Brooklyn there's something inThe Big Onion Guidefor everyone.

    The authors show how it was nothing new when Mayor Giuliani was unable to ban sales by immigrant mobile food vendors.The Guidetakes us to the place where the Dutch tried to ban street side sales by Scottish peddlers 350 years ago, and where the great Fiorello La Guardia banned most of the pushcart salesmen at midcentury.

    But Kamil and Wakin are not nostalgists or preservationists. Instead, their historical tours connect today's city with the snapshots of yesterday, blending social and cultural history with the evolution of different ethnic and cultural communities.

    The Big Onion Guideincludes ten walking tours, plus a 5-borough driving tour, peppered with informative sidebars, illustrations, and photos from the collection at the New-York Historical Society.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-0013-1
    Subjects: American Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)

    THIRTY-FOUR YEARS AGO, when I first began teaching courses about New York City at Columbia University, few walking tours of the city were available. The historic preservation movement was in its infancy, and Pennsylvania Station had only recently been yanked down. Although Gotham was the subject of dozens of new books each year, serious scholarship on the city was rare. The world has changed a lot in the past third of a century. I write this in the immediate aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster, at a time when New Yorkers are talking of both remembrance and rebuilding. I...

    (pp. 1-5)

    NEW YORK IS the finest walking city in North America. Our terrain is primarily flat; virtually every street has a sidewalk; and each city block is different from the one before. Many think of New York as a massive city. We prefer to think of it as a series of neighborhoods, each with unique characteristics and features, not unlike a distinct collection of towns. New Yorkers speak not about which borough but about which neighborhood they call home. Living and playing in the Upper East Side are distinctly different from the same activities in the Upper West Side or in...

  5. 1 WALL STREET: The Architecture of Capitalism
    (pp. 7-37)

    NEW YORK CITY was founded on money. The Dutch, several years after Henry Hudson’s initial tour of duty in 1609, laid claim to a “new” Amsterdam. Their goals were not to advance the cause of human liberty but to get rich. Unlike Pennsylvania Quakers, New England Puritans, or Maryland Catholics, who came to the New World to worship God as they saw fit, the Dutch had their hearts set on trade and exploitation. Beaver trading was the prime avenue to this end and, tragically, slavery a means to achieve it. The Dutch, whose winding streets are all that remain of...

  6. 2 THE LOWER EAST SIDE: Immigrant New York
    (pp. 39-79)

    THE LOWER EAST SIDE is probably the single most significant multiethnic neighborhood in America. For the past two hundred years it has been the first area of settlement for numerous migrant and immigrant communities, and it continues to be so today. This walking tour is an introduction to the many layers of ethnicity in the Lower East Side.

    What is the Lower East Side anyway? The geographic boundaries of the neighborhood have varied over the years, and New Yorkers continue to argue about where it begins and where it ends. The contemporary neighborhood is bordered to the north by Houston...

  7. 3 GREENWICH VILLAGE: A Gay and Lesbian History
    (pp. 81-109)

    SOME CONTEMPORARY TRAVEL guides refer to New York City as having the largest lesbian and gay population of any city on earth, and for many years, Greenwich Village was the center of this community. While the geographic center of gay and lesbian life in the city has been shifting in recent years (for men, up to Chelsea, and for women, out to Brooklyn), Greenwich Village remains the focus of legend and history, and a walk through the streets of the Village will take you past landmarks from more than one hundred years of the lesbian and gay past.

    Greenwich Village...

  8. 4 FOUR SQUARES: Union Square, Stuyvesant Square, Gramercy Park, and Madison Square
    (pp. 111-149)

    THE CITY SQUARE represents a civic ideal that opposes the environmental chaos that can result from unplanned urban development. Especially on Manhattan Island, where real estate is limited by geography, unguided urban growth tends to create overcrowded, densely packed residential and commercial housing. The city square, by preserving some of this jealously coveted real estate for communal use, offers a slice of uncluttered, open space for the public to enjoy. In city squares, one can retreat from the bustle of the crowded streets to enjoy a relaxing hour on a park bench beneath the cover of trees or to absorb...

  9. 5 THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE: A Walk from Brooklyn Heights to City Hall
    (pp. 151-179)

    THIS WALK TAKES you through New York’s first historic district, a neighborhood with more homes built before the Civil War than any other, and then across the most beautiful suspension bridge in the world.

    We begin at what was the city hall of the City of Brooklyn until 1898 and finish at what has been the City Hall of New York City since 1812. Confused? Brooklyn and New York were separate cities until 1898, when they were consolidated into Greater New York—the current five boroughs. In that year, Brooklyn’s 1849 City Hall was renamed Borough Hall, and a cupola...

  10. 6 CENTRAL PARK: New York City’s Largest Work of Art
    (pp. 181-205)

    YOU ARE ABOUT to enter the largest work of art in New York City, Central Park, a “natural” landscape that is at the same time a gigantic social institution. I say “natural” because almost everything inside was designed, planted, landscaped, and laid out by human hands. As park designer Frederick Law Olmsted said, “Every foot of the Park’s surface, every tree and bush, as well as every arch, roadway and walk, has been placed where it is with a purpose.” The park is a nineteenth-century space that has entirely different meaning in the new millennium than it did when it...

  11. 7 THE UPPER EAST SIDE: Manhattan’s “Gold Coast”
    (pp. 207-247)

    THE UPPER EAST SIDE, can be justifiably considered New York’s “Gold Coast,” and Fifth Avenue its “Millionaires’ Row.” It is in this neighborhood that Lady Caroline Astor countenanced the four hundred most important New Yorkers (those who would attend her illustrious parties); it is on these streets that J. P. Morgan had built— “damning the expense”—his famous Metropolitan Club; and it is here that the longest single uninterrupted set of mansions once stood. If ever there were a competition for wealth and power in one neighborhood, the Upper East Side would win hands down. Yet, despite its undeniable standing...

  12. 8 HISTORIC HARLEM: African American Capital of the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 249-277)

    “THERE IS SO much to see in Harlem,” said the poet Langston Hughes. Some seventy years later, this still rings true. Bounded by the Harlem River, 110th Street, St. Nicholas Avenue, and Fifth Avenue, Harlem is home to some of the most beautiful architecture, interesting topography, and diverse history in the city. This tour could easily look at Harlem as an Italian, Jewish, elite Protestant, or Latino community. But Harlem is best known as the African American capital city. Concentrating on Central Harlem, this tour serves as an introduction to the African American history and culture of this neighborhood.


  13. 9 GREEN-WOOD CEMETERY: A Garden Cemetery Revisited
    (pp. 279-316)

    When Green-Wood Cemetery was chartered on April 18, 1838, New York City was already the commercial and financial center of America and, with a population of more than three hundred thousand, its largest city. Manhattan churchyard cemeteries were rapidly filling and the island was quickly running out of available space. But newly incorporated Brooklyn had fewer than sixteen thousand residents and an abundance of unused land.

    Our story begins when Henry Evelyn Pierrepont (1808–1888), scion of one of Brooklyn’s most prominent families, visited Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study the newly opened Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first planned, nondenminational, rural cemetery...

  14. 10 THE OTHER BOROUGHS: A Driving Tour
    (pp. 317-370)

    Note:This driving tour is designed for travelers in private vehicles (bicycles where allowed, motorcycles, or automobiles) and cannot be duplicated by bus and should not be attempted by bus. Many of the streets on this tour are residential, and it would be staggeringly inconsiderate to bring larger vehicles onto them. This tour abides by all traffic laws and regulations; please do the same. Furthermore, please respect all private-property rights for residences and institutions.

    If you’ve been walking the other tours in our book, you are probably wondering what the many square miles not covered in them look like. You’ll...

    (pp. 371-376)
    (pp. 377-380)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 381-390)