Top 10 Jaw-Dropping Hidden Spaces in New York City

The Big Apple has a lot of big spaces. New York City is a city that has many iconic landmarks. From Broadway’s theatres to the magnificent lobbies of grand hotels, world-famous galleries, museums, and Central Park, it’s home to some of the most iconic places on the planet. There are many hidden gems waiting to be discovered, just like the other great cities in this series.

And do it quickly because New York is not doing so well right now—don’t all move to Austin, Texas, just yet! There are many places to visit, as this list will demonstrate.

10 The Metropolitan Club

New York, alongside the world’s other great cities, has a strong game when it comes to old-timey, elegant, exclusive members’ clubs. This one seems a bit more lavish than the others. When you look at the founding members—financier JP Morgan, railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, steel magnate James M Waterbury, former Assistant Secretary of State John L Cadwalader, and James A Roosevelt—it is little wonder how this place became so fancy.

It was established in 1891. The place still retains its Gilded Age beauty. The West Lounge, found on the club’s first floor (of six), is the stand-out space. The stunning Renaissance murals look down upon the ornately decorated marble fireplaces, rendering the impressive views over the iconic Central Park rather dull—why would you look out when this is what is inside? You can rent the spaces in the entire building if you’re looking to gather your friends for a quick knees-up and become allies of industry and masters the new world. I’m sure they’ll take your house as collateral against the down payment…yeah, maybe just blag your way in for a quick peek. [1]

Nearest Subway Station: 5th Avenue Station—Broadway Local Line.

9 Greenacre Park

The fascinating human invention of the park is amazing. More so than any ancient druid pointing to the boughs of an oak tree (where he just hung up a bunch of entrails) to demand reverence for nature, the modern park is the ultimate reverential symbol we’ve made for nature. We, those shaved-apes that send people to space and create intricate systems that regulate all aspects of our lives, carve portions of cities and towns and restore the natural world. This is what we require. Not all parks are created equal. Some parks are relatively overlooked, remaining in shadow of their larger, more historic brethren.

One such “hidden” gem is Greenacre Park. The park’s granite-constructed waterfall, 7.6 meters (25 feet) in height, is the center of the multi-tiered experience. It is a pleasant experience! The waterfall creates a babbling stream that leads to the park’s entrance. A seating area is located next to the waterfall. This is the perfect spot to relax, read a book and forget about New York City’s dying streets.[2]

Nearest Subway Station: Lexington Avenue/53rd Street—E Line or the M Line.

8 The Ford Foundation Building

Many public spaces in Lower Manhattan’s skyscrapers have been off-limits to the general public in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. However, the Ford Foundation Building’s atrium has not closed. Since 1963, the tiered garden space has offered an awe-inspiring haven for people to escape the hustle and bustle of Gotham’s busiest area. If Greenacre Park provides an outdoor getaway for New Yorkers, the Ford Foundation Building’s atrium is the indoor equivalent.

Landscape architect Dan Kiley designed the garden. The tranquility created by the original vision has been preserved after a 2018 redesign. The mid-century buildings and spaces in America’s main city really are a departure from earlier designs. Gone were the days of the celebration of progress and glory, of industrial mastery and financial victories; here came a time of escape, a move toward a more socially-conscious and sustainable future—progress at a more neck-preserving pace than the break-neck past. This form of beauty is supported by the Ford Foundation Building, which is far more impressive than the corresponding monstrosities in the city.[3]

Nearest Subway Station: Grand Central Station—Lines 6, 7, and the 42nd Street Shuttle.

7 Old City Hall Subway Station

Abandoned subway stations are creepy. This one is different. This one is cool as hell—it answers the age-old question of “why did people in the past wear such fancy clothes when out and about?” Beautiful, mirror-shine green and white glass tiles line the gorgeous Gustavino vaulted ceilings, allowing the gentle light from the many chandeliers to dance around this subterranean space. This space was used as a commuter station at the beginning of the 20th century. One wonders how many people took the time to appreciate its beauty when it was still in regular use. Not many, probably.

The City Hall station is a true gem. The New York Transit Museum charges $50 to take a tour of the station. A $60 additional fee applies if you are a member. But if you’re a “meh, I don’t mind a fleeting glimpse” sort of person, why not just hop on the 6 train? It’ll pass through the station on its loop, allowing passengers to take a quick (and deeply envious) look at the sort of environment people used to stand in and wait to get moved around the city.[4]

Nearest Subway Station, c’mon… Okay, NEXT nearest Station: Chambers Street Station—A Line.

6 Gould Memorial Library

Some claim that the USA is the modern equivalent to the Roman Empire. So, there should be no surprise that this 19th-century University library in the Bronx was a reinterpretation of Rome’s Parthenon—and a hell of a good one, at that! This space is now part Bronx Community College. Well worth a visit. It is worth taking a long look.

Built between 1894 and 1895 by the city’s foremost architect, Stanford White, as part of the University of New York City’s (now NYU) expansion onto the recently acquired Mali Estate, the whole complex is a monument to academia. The main reading area is spectacular. From the sixteen imported Connemara marble columns, one’s eye is drawn upwards to the 21-meter-wide (70-foot) stucco-covered dome gilded with Dutch metal. It is meant to help inspire students to lofty academic heights, driven home with a wonderful quote from Milton’s Paradise Lost adorning the large entablature: “And chiefly thou o spirit that dost prefer before all temples that upright heart and pure. Teach me, for thou shalt know what is dark within me. Illumine what is low raise and support.” Indeed.[5]

Nearest Subway Station: 183rd Street Station—4 Line.

5 AT&T Long Distance Building

Beyond the melty clocks and vaguely smiling ladies, the out-of-place anatomical features, and the formaldehyde-bathed sharks, the visual arts have often been explicitly celebratory of mankind’s achievements, not merely impressionistic, expressionistic, devotional, or outright weird. This heroic style is not seen as often today, except in very small scales such as school murals and public art commissions by small community groups. If you get to visit the AT&T Long Distance Building in Manhattan’s Tribeca district, you’ll certainly get a sense of this once powerful artistic trend.

Amazing art deco stylings are found within and outside the building. There are many other buildings in New York that can boast their exterior deco credentials. This space is a must-see spot for art lovers because of the amazing murals that run through it.[6]

Nearest Subway Station: Canal Street Station—A Line.

4 Grove Court

Some of you may balk at the idea of a gated community—it smacks of elitism as well as producing more than a whiff of “stay the hell away from me.” But once you manage to take a sneaky peek of Grove Court (alongside the many other tourists found doing the same thing), you’ll begin to dream of living there yourself. The charming Federal-era design of this square of brick-red townhouses is a far cry for the brownstone, stooped buildings elsewhere in the West Village.

This hidden architectural gem was built 1854 by Samuel Cocks, an artisan grocer. To house local traders and laborers. It is not a luxury hideaway for the super-wealthy. Well, that’s what it is now, of course. The last time a 2-bed, 2-bath townhouse was up for sale, it sold for $3.5million.[7]

Nearest Subway Station: Christopher Street Station—3 Line.

3 The Tunnels Under Columbia University

One of the worst-kept “secrets” in New York is the network of tunnels found under Columbia University. Despite the wide-ranging knowledge of these fascinating subterranean passageways, they don’t draw in masses of urban explorers that you might expect.

We often forget to recognize that the world around us, all the boons that we take for granted is manufactured and maintained, and requires spaces like these. The tunnels are Columbia University’s circulatory system. But before their role in keeping the uni humming, the tunnels served a far more sinister institution—The Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. The tunnels were also home to scientists involved in the Manhattan Project. So if you want to see the place where scientists, madmen, and some mad scientists used to scurry around, take a trip under Columbia—it’ll be more interesting than attending a lecture.[8]

Nearest Subway Station: 116th Street Station, Columbia University—1 Line.

2 Below the Brooklyn Bridge

In recent years, urban exploration has seen a significant image shift. Similar to BMXing or skateboarding, urban exploration now has a veneer of respectability and cool. Urban explorers are like Indiana Joneses in cities, discovering artifacts and spaces our forefathers used. This might be the crowning achievement for this subculture in New York, the discovery of a disused nuke bunker under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Awesome…or it would have been were it not for the fact that it was actually uncovered by some construction workers doing some routine inspections on the bridge. They can claim the next entry.[9]

Nearest Subway Station: Fulton Street Station—3 Line.

1 The Explorers Club

The styling of a space can influence the feeling one has when they enter it. A luxurious interior creates a feeling of luxury and a relaxed lifestyle. An austere brutalist building suggests humanity’s progress to a utilitarian utopia/dystopia. However, styling can often be overpowered by other elements. A baroque interior dotted with Lalique vases, Romantic landscape oil paintings, and bronze busts of various French monarchs will transport your mind’s eye to a Paris salon.

What we find in New York’s Explorers Club is not so much a transportation to a time and place but rather a whistle-stop journey around the globe’s wilder localities, evoking a sense of adventure, scientific discovery, and mankind’s emergent role as custodians of the natural world. Stuffed animals from all over the world are found everywhere—taxidermized cheetahs, lion pelts, rhino heads on walls, and great Elephant tusks flanking a fireplace in the reading room. Pith helmets might be required. Vegans need not apply…[10]

Nearest Subway Station: 68th Street, Hunter College—6 Line.

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