New York City, though millennia younger than ancient cities like Rome, Athens or Cairo, is one of the most architecturally advanced in the world. From the Empire State Building to the Brooklyn Bridge, the wonders of the Big Apple’s architecture know few boundaries.
But beyond the obvious tourist attractions, even New Yorkers are missing out on some extraordinary buildings and spaces. Many of these “hidden” wonders are not hidden at all–simply overlooked, lightly trafficked, abandoned or unadvertised.
If you know where to look, through, New York has more to offer than the traditional sites reprinted endlessly upon T-shirts and magnets. Here are ten architectural wonders you probably didn’t know existed in New York City, and why you should visit if you can.
1. Old City Hall Subway Stop
Photo by BronxBoys77 via Flickr
The first line of the New York City Subway system, called the Manhattan Main Line, included a magnificent City Hall stop. Opened in 1904, the stop showcases Guastavino tiles, skylights, brass chandeliers and colored glass tilework. The stop, though closed in 1945, is unique in its usage of Romanesque Revival architecture.
The Old City Hall subway stop can still be glimpsed by riders of the 6 train–or more ideally, seen in depth by Transit Museum members who choose to take a tour.
2. TWA Flight Center
The Trans World Airlines Flight Center opened in 1962 as the original terminal at what is not JFK International Airport. Though most of the center has been demolished, what’s left remains the city’s most astounding example of modernist architecture: the neo-futurist style was built to usher in the jet age with curved white glass, red carpeted floors and a retro-futuristic Mad Men vibe.
Declared a New York City landmark in 1994, the terminal remains empty but is opened to the public one weekend every October. This could change once the one-of-a-kind space is transformed into a hotel, which would preserve and renovate the landmark as a haven for guests and travelers.
3. Park Avenue Armory
Part palace, part industrial shed, not many think to visit New York City’s Seventh Regiment Armory (also called the Park Avenue Armory), located at 643 Park Avenue in Manhattan. Built in 1880, the impressive structure houses a 55,000-square-foot drill hall reminiscent of early 19th-century European train stations.
These days, the Armory is leased by the Park Avenue Armory, a non-profit organization that uses the grand building as an alternative arts space.
4. Loew’s Theaters
New York City’s first atmospheric theater was the 46th street Loew’s Theatre in Brooklyn. The massive, opulent space was designed with an enormous rounded ceiling to resemble a night sky in an Italian garden but has since suffered from some architectural decay.
It’s now used by a furniture company for storage and is not open to the public (though the owner sometimes allows visitors a peek). Even so, the theater is just one of Loew’s 5 “wonder theaters” in Brooklyn. One, now called King’s Theater, underwent a $94 million restoration and is used again as a performance space and retains its Old World charm.
5. Woolworth Building
Designed by architect Cass GIlbert and completed in 1913, the Woolworth Building was the tallest building in the world between 1913 and 1930. Because of its neo-gothic features the building was also referred to as the “Cathedral of Commerce.”
While the outside facade and height are a feat of construction, most New Yorkers have never stepped foot inside its lobby, which has been called one of the most spectacular in New York City. Complete with stained glass, a vaulted ceiling, mosaic and brass details, the Woolworth building is a wonder to behold inside and out.
6. General Theological Seminary
Founded in 1917, the General Theological Seminary is the oldest seminary of the Episcopal Church. It’s located between West 20th and 21st street and Ninth and Tenth Avenues in Chelsea, Manhattan.
Protected by high iron gates around its entire square block of property, the seminary has been called a “hidden oasis,” for the inside is a glorious and yet rarely trafficked site. The campus of red-brick buildings and chapels includes a lovely courtyard modeled after Oxford-style neo-gothic design. It also holds the country’s oldest set of tubular bells.
7. Whispering Gallery
The Whispering Gallery is hidden in plain sight at Grand Central Station, an architectural wonder in its own right. An unmarked archway in front of the famed Oyster Bar and Restaurant possesses a unique acoustic quality: simply stand in front of it and whisper, and your voice will be as if transported to the opposite archway, where others can whisper back.
The seemingly mystical element of the Whispering Gallery has to do with the space’s architectural qualities: specifically its three-dimensional ellipsoidal shape, which reflects the sound from one side to another.
8. French Embassy & Albertine
There are many embassies in New York City, but they are not frequently visited by the public. Of them, the French Embassy may be the most architecturally splendid: its outside is ivy-covered and stately, while it’s inside a marble rotunda, classical statuette offers a slice of European finery right on Fifth Avenue.
New Yorkers and tourists can visit the embassy’s recently opened bookstore Albertine, which sells books in French and English translation. Here, busts of French and French-American figures are on display beneath a painted ceiling of constellations, stars, and planets.
9. Dakota Apartments
For the most historic, architecturally brilliant, and expensive apartment buildings, look no further than the Dakota. A historic landmark built in 1884 by architect Henry J Hardenbergh, the gorgeous building boasts high gables and deep, dormered roofs, balconies and balustrades.
Its various details gave it a North German renaissance character, while its floor plan echoed French architectural trends. In the beginning, no two of its 65 apartments were alike, and the surrounding area was sparsely populated. Notable residents include Judy Garland, Yoko Ono, and John Lennon, who was murdered there in 1980.
Featured image by Seamus Murray via Flickr.