One of the crown jewels of Manhattan, the grand dame of New York City, is turning 100. We are talking, of course, about Grand Central Terminal. A century ago, on February 2, 1913 – after a decade of construction – the building that would revolutionize commuter train travel opened its doors.

There isn’t anything to say that hasn’t been said before about the building’s grandiose and tumultuous history. So, we offer something else to commemorate one of the most amazing buildings in the city: a 360 look at Grand Central. Part of a larger project photographing iconic landmarks in glorious 360 degrees, we teamed up with Shots 360 and photographer Thomas Erh, the man behind the lens of interactive 360º panoramic photography, to document some of our favorite Old New York places.



O. Ottomanelli & Sons | West Village

Onofrio Ottomanelli ,  who opened the Greenwich Village butcher shop "O. Ottomanelli & Sons" that grew into a New York institution died in 2000. His soul,  however,  remains very much alive at the butcher shop located at 285 Bleeker St. His photograph leaning on top of the fridge,  wobbling back and forth with the ceiling fan,  seems to still keep an eye on the work of his sons. When I visited the shop I had the rare opportunity to chat and photograph Frank and Gerry,  two of Mr. Ottomanelli’s four sons that still work the family business. 

According to The New York times "Mr. Ottomanelli was born in Upper Manhattan in 1917 but moved back with his family to their hometown of Bari, Italy, before he was 3. There, on his grandparents' farm, he learned the butchering trade from his grandmother. In 1937, he returned to New York and was drafted into the Army during World War II. A few years later, he opened O. Ottomanelli & Sons on Bleecker Street." Mr. Ottomanelli encouraged his sons,   Gerry,   Nick,   Frank,   Peter,   Michael and Joseph,   to work in the store,   teaching them to butcher by practicing trimming bones.  Mr. Ottomanelli's sons Michael and Nick have left Bleecker Street to work elsewhere in the meat industry.” 

Mr. Ottomanelli always used to say: "Every time you cut a piece of meat,   it's money,'' Frank said. ''So we learned on the cheap stuff.'' 
Gerry Ottomanelli


Mark the Painter

Mark  is a super talented and fascinating guy who does some amazing work around the city. If you live in New York, there is a good chance you've seen some of his artwork and signs.

Here is a small clip of Mark (more to come).


Corona Plaza | Queens

After our visit to the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona (Queens),  we wandered around the neighborhood,  starting on 107th street where the museum is located. We headed towards 106th where Armstrong favorite barber,   Joe’s Artistic Barber Shop used to be. The shop is long gone,  but the sign is still there – something that can be seen throughout the neighborhood where old signs are vestiges of stores that are no more. 

Corona was first settled by Robert Coe in 1655. In the late 1800s,  Louis Comfort Tiffany manufactured his famous Tiffany glass there. The name Corona came from the emblem of the Crown Building Company,  which developed the area (up until the 1850s  it was mostly farmland). The Italian immigrants who moved there referred to it by the Italian word for Crown (Corona).,  , Over the years the neighborhood has been home to many different ethnicities: from primarily Italian and African American in the 1950s,  to Dominican and largely Latin Americans in the 1990s.  

Armstrong favorite barber -  Joe’s Artistic Barber Shop


House of Oldies | West Village

I was really surprised when I "discovered" the House of Oldies. It felt like stepping into a huge record museum crammed into a very tiny space. Very. Tiny. 

Bob Abramson has owned the store since 1968, and counts more than 1,000,000 records – rock, blues and soul – in his inventory. As the name suggests, House of Oldies specializes in out of print records from the 50s, 60s and 70s. 


City Island - The Bronx

I've been curious about City Island for a long time. Before venturing out last summer, I really didn't have any idea of what to expect.
It is hard to believe this photo was taken on a New York City street. City Island is actually within NYC city limits, believe it or not. 
Love the fish statue with the googly eyes. It's at the entrance of the now defunct Neptune Restaurant. 
The island is only a few blocks wide, and every cross street is a dead end. 


Something Special | South Village

What can you expect from the best mailbox, other that Something Special? 

Leonard Cecere is 87, a Notary Public and also the proprietor of Something Special. He is one of those people who may seem distant at first, but once the ice is broken the floodgates to his stories and personal anecdotes open wide. 

Mr. Cecere says that when he opened the store there was not much commerce in the area. Nowadays he has the luxury to stay in business because he owns the building. Many other stores in the neighborhood are not so lucky, several having closed due to exorbitant rent increases. 

The shop has a bit of that small town general store feel, with plants in the windows and decidedly retro green gingham and daisy wallpaper. 


TWA terminal at JFK | OHNY

Yesterday I trekked out to JFK to tour the old TWA terminal.  I figured it would be a fun and low key thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. After all, how many people could possibly want to schlep all the way to the airpot without the benefit of going on a trip or picking up a loved one? Besides, this was a late addition to this year's Open House New York. Probably no one noticed, right?

I thought surely I would have the building more or less to myself. And the promised Q&A with the architects leading the restoration? I would have all the time in the world to ask questions. 

Well, not quite... It was a paparazzi-like mob scene, the with the building as the main attraction. The turn out was huge and the hosts were extremely gracious and patient, answering all of our many questions. 

Louis Armstrong's house | OHNY

As part of OHNY, we had a chance to check out the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens, where we got a tour that took us back in time. We received special permission to photograph the museum and we’re super excited to share our visit with you.

Louis Armstrong—the world’s most famous jazz musician—was an international celebrity who could have lived anywhere. Despite his fame, he remained a humble man and lived a simple life in a working-class neighborhood. In 1943, Armstrong and his wife Lucille, settled in a modest house in Corona, Queens. The neighborhood was familiar to Lucille, who was born and raised there, with many friends nearby. Their neighbor, now 80 years old and still living next door to the museum, was a dear friend who would keep Mrs. Armstrong company during her husband’s extensive touring.

No one has lived in the house since the Armstrongs, and the home and its furnishings remain very much as they were during Louis and Lucille’s lifetime. The décor reflects Lucille’s tastes.The couple’s master suite is covered in shiny silver wallpaper with gold accents. The kitchen is an amazing example of the futuristic 1960s, with is build in appliances and amazing bright blue cabinetry.  The visitors really get s feel for Louis Armstrong’s personality in his wood paneled office, which is filled with audiotapes.

Today, the Louis Armstrong House Museum is open to the public, offering guided tours of Louis’s longtime home. Visitors are treated to audio clips from Louis’s homemade recordings and everyone gets a chance to listen to him practicing his trumpet, enjoying a meal, and talking with friends.


The Green-Wood Cemetery Catacombs | OHNY

Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the first rural cemeteries in the country. It was founded in 1838 and, according to their website, by 1860 it had become a popular destination receiving some 500,000 visitors a year  (in case you are keeping score that’s about how many people visited Niagara Falls in the same period). People would come for family outings, taking full advantage of the surroundings.
When I visited  during this year’s Open House New York, I have to admit I only had one thing in mind: going to see the catacombs! 

Back in the early days of the cemetery, the grounds were actively mined for gravel. The resulting open-cut pits were converted into what was described as “apartment buildings for burials.”

This type of burial facility had the main benefit of eliminating the possibility of being buried alive in the ground – something that was not all that uncommon.


General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York | OHNY

While we were checking out the lobby of the Chrysler Building,  we got a tip from an OHNY volunteer that we really should visit the General Society of Mechanics & Tradesmen,  an organization dating back to 1785 and headquartered at 20 West 44th St. since 1885. Well,  say no more!  

Back in 1785,  things were not going too well for New York City. Heavily damaged by war,  occupation and a massive fire,  the city was broke and its citizens even more so. As a response to the terrible times,  a group of 22 tradesman (blacksmith, silversmith, sail maker, potter, shoe scrimper, bell hanger among others) got together to form a society for mutual help and cooperation. Their goal was to help each other out in times of need,  such as sickness,  distress and to help the widows and orphans of members who died in poverty. They also wished to “encourage the mechanic interests of the city.” And so the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen was born.
From its early accomplishments of working with the legislature to impose tariffs on imports,  the Society took an interest in social reform when,  in the 1820s,  it became involved in improving public education. At that time there was no public school system,  and only two free schools existed in the entire city - so the Society created the Mechanics Institute School,  where members’ children attended for free and others paid a small fee. A separate girls’ school was added the following year.

The Apprentice’s Library,  which was operated by the Society,  was one of the first public libraries in New York City. In its first day,  over 300 books were checked out.

Throughout the years,  the Society evolved,  opening a nigh school for laborers who worked all day. It also offered separate courses for women in subjects such as stenography,  and typewriting – a move that was well ahead of its time,  as women had yet enter the office workforce in any significant numbers. In the early 1900s,  courses grew to include automobile drafting and industrial electricity.

To this day,  the Society maintains the library,  offering lectures and tuition free evening instruction on trades-related education. It is the oldest privately endowed technical school in New York City,  with more than 18, 000 alumni.


Chrysler Building Lobby | OHNY

We love the Chrysler Building and we don’t like it how it always seems to play second fiddle to the Empire State Building. 

Built in the late 1920s and opening in 1930, the building housed the Chrysler Corporation until the 1950s. 
While the building was designed specifically as the home of Chrysler, Walter P. Chrysler himself funded the construction – just so that his children could inherit it. 

Making the rounds

We are huge NYC geeks and we were super excited when Gothamist published one our photos from this weekend's Open House New York. You can see it here, or check out the original post here.


Open House New York Redux

This past weekend we had a great time checking out as many OHNY venues as possible. For NYC geeks like ourselves, the weekend provided a plethora of events not to be missed. Since there are only two of us dividing and conquering doesn't even begin to solve our inability of being in more than two places at any given time. Out of the many interesting places to visit, we checked out the TWA Terminal at JFK,
checked out Louis Armstrong's house in Queens,

visited the Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen

gawked at the lobby of the Chrysler Building,


Magic Shoe Repair | West Village

Across the street from the House of Oldies, is Magic Shoe Repair. 

We didn't get permission from the owner to photograph inside. 

Yet the storefront looks pretty interesting as well. 


Governors Island Underground

As a farewell to summer, I took the ferry over to  Governors Island one last time before the island closed for the season. It's one of my absolute favorite spots in the city, not just because of the amazing views (and the fact you get to take a boat to it), but because there is alway something unexpected to discover. I think this last trip I found the coolest of all hidden places: the island's Magazine.

A Magazine, it turns out, comes from the  French term for  "a safe and secure place to store gunpowder and ammunition." This one at Governor's Island was build between 1832 and 1839. 

The cave-like entrance is dark and really makes you feel like you've stumbled into a different time, or at the very least, into an Indiana Jones movie. 

Inside, once your eyes adjust to the darkness, you'll find separate rooms, some more aptly labeled than others...


Vestiges of the Future

Flushing Meadows Corona Park is possibly one of the most "accidentally retro" parks in New York City. Formerly the dumping ground for burned trash, lovingly named Valley of Ashes, it was completely transformed to host the 1939 World' Fair and later the 1964 World's Fair.

While most traces of the 1939 fair are gone (parts of it remain sprinkled throughout the tri-state area), a lot of the 1960's view of the future remain scattered around the park.

From the enormous sphere sponsored by US Steel - and build from a bazillion tons of genuine stainless steel....
... to the now iconic and decrepit "flying saucers on a stick," the park definitely has a Jetsons vibe - even down to the small details, such as these benches that look like they will take off running any minute. 
To complete the school trip feel, stop on by the Queens Museum of Art and check out this giant model of the City. 
We'll leave you with a totally useless piece of trivia: the building that houses the Queens Museum of Art was built for the 1939 Fair and hosted the United Nations General Assembly from 1946-1950.