Because we're nosy
Age, occupation, and where you live
I'm 47, which makes me a geezer compared to your usual interviewees. I don't mind 47...it means I have fond memories of both Frank Fontaine and the Ramones. I work for a major retailer as a copywriter and live in fab Flushing.
New York, New York
You run a website, Forgotten NY dedicated to the all the wonderful, lesser known things about the city. How did you get started? What drives your interest in the forgotten things in new york and sharing these things? Enquiring minds want to know!
I'm an odd choice as a New York City expert. I haven't been to a Broadway show since Christmas 1993 (that was Patrick Stewart as Scrooge). I couldn't care less about most museums, restaurants or clubs. I despise the pace of New York City, where everyone runs around like like crazy talking into their wireless telephones. Actually, my goal is to get up enough money so I can move to a North Shore town and sit on a houseboat and drink beer the rest of my life. A good deal of the time, I HATE NYC. But there's also a lot of things I love about it, like stuff that's there solely because nobody wants to bother removing it. That's how things get saved in NYC...not through any cogent preservation process.
When I was a kid in Bay Ridge, they built the Verrazano Bridge about 20 blocks away, and they built the Gowanus Expressway just across the street, barely missing our apartment building. I think the fact that I saw most of the buildings across the street bulldozed to the ground, and then this huge trench opened up where the expressway would be, kind of planted the seed in my mind that things aren't static, they're not always going to be there, and you better save them somehow. The only way, really, is on film.
Around the same time, when I was on my way to first grade one morning, I noticed that all the cast iron lampposts that were on each street corner on Sixth Avenue were replaced by these strange stainless steel goose necked things. I had my parents worried for awhile with my lamppost obsession: I would fill drawing tablets with them (the kind that come in five colors, like Life Savers) and when my parents and I would go places on the bus (we didn't have a car, and I still don't drive) I would bring along a pencil, a Carvel Ice Cream spoon, and one of those little light bulbs that go in flashlights, and make my own lampposts. I never lost my interest in lampposts, or more specifically, the more ornate ones that proliferated when I was little. I'm glad they're kind of getting back to those now, but why tear down the old ones in the first place?
Bay Ridge was rife with old, dark houses in those days. You know, the ones with the overgrown hedges on the outside, and the little old lady and the 10 cats inside. I was always fascinated by old, decrepit architecture that's been there longer than the neighboring buildings. Since the 60s, of course, the old ladies, cats and their dark houses are gone, except in my memory.
For many years, I'd make mental notes about interesting items like this that had disappeared, and more that were still there. But I had never thought to photograph them or make any kind of record. That changed when I got a computer in 1994, went on the web in 1996 and stumbled on a series of websites that inspired me. The first was Frank Jump's Fading Ad Campaign a compendium of those painted ads you see on the sides of buildings, often when an adjoining building has been torn down. I had just begun to notice fading ads, and then encountered Frank's site. The next was Jeff Saltzman's Streetlite Nuts in which I found a kindred spirit with photos of hundreds of NYC lampposts. Other inspirational sites were Steve Anderson's nycroads.com and Dave Pirrmann's nycsubway.org, dealing with NYC's major roads and subways, respectively. The latter two approach a level of organization and comprehensiveness I can only dream of. After months of absorbing those 4 websites, I knew I had the ambition to do the same thing myself.
I sketched out the schematic of what I wanted Forgotten NY to look like in my office at Publishers Clearing House, where I was working at the time, in early 1998. It pretty much had the same categories then as it does now: Streetlamps, Subways & Trains, Ads, Trolley (remnants), Signs, Cobblestones (a misnomer since none are left in NYC), Street Scenes (a catchall category for whatever doesn't fit in the other categories), You'd Never Believe You're In NYC (rural scenes). Alleys, Street Necrology (old names of NYC streets) and Cemeteries came along later.
I took an entire year walking around NYC, every borough, most every neighborhood, with a little Canon point and shoot film camera, recording what I had filed away in my head for decades, but also making new discoveries as I walked. Walking is the only way to see a city. I wanted enough images to fill a goodly amount of pages when I launched the site. There's nothing worse than going to a website with anticipation of what marvels you'll find there, only to see "under construction" or "404 Not Found." Finally, I acquired a knockoff of Pagemill, Adobe's old web building software, and went to work creating logos and assembling pages and photos into something approaching coherency. The first pages were crude, raw things, with amateurish layouts and horrible writing. I've gone in and cleaned them up a bit, but I've mostly left them alone, if only to prove to myself how far, or how little, I have come.
How did the Forgotten NY tours start - we get the sense it's groupies wanting
more Kevin Walsh.
The tours are fun to do, but I'm not a real tour guide in the model of say, Francis Morrone or Justin Ferrate, who are real architecture guys and know what every last detail on a building is called. My attitude is, I'm taking a walk today...who wants to come along with me? I prepare a route, and bring a list of highlights that I talk about when we get there.
Our first tour in June 1999 was along Broadway. In Brooklyn, that is. Brooklyn's Broadway is mostly under an el, and preserves a plethora of ancient advertising...a shoe factory sign in Yiddish, a lot of snake oil and cough remedy ads (one, Tucker's '59' was painted in the 1890s), an embalmer's ad painted in the 1880s, and dozens more. About ten of us walked and trained down Broadway all the way to East New York, and then wound up back in Williamsburg in a bar with a dog. The real mavens were there on that first tour: Jeff, Steve and Frank, who I mentioned above. It was like the All-Stars of urban exploration. The next tour, in July, we walked the Grand Concourse, in the Bronx, on a 100-degree afternoon from Bedford Park Blvd. all the way south to about Franz Sigel Park, checked out an old aqueduct, saw the Hall of Fame (the Bronx has one) split up, got back together, got stuck in a drenching downpour, then got caught in a parade, and finally, some of us were attached to barstools on a Bainbridge Avenue dive where we watched David Cone complete a perfect game.
I do about four tours a year, five if I'm in the mood. People ask for more of them so who knows, maybe there will be more every year. Looks like the next one is in October. I was at Cooper Union in April with Mike (satanslaundromat.com) to see Justin Ferrate do a slide show, and while he was showing Grove Court in the Village, I recognized the photo...it was one of mine!
Groupies? I should be so lucky, you know any?
Do trips outside your home -even ones to buy groceries - become mini-explorations?
I don't carry a camera everywhere I go. I wish I could. I used to take my camera to work, but I noticed every time I did, something bad happened. The big guy up there telling me not to mix business with pleasure. But I do sometimes carry around a scrap of paper or two and a pen so when I see something interesting, I just notate it and then investigate it later.
As my friend Christina, who has the world's best Governors Island webpage has said, sometimes NYC would be much improved if you could get rid of the people. Now, she's not a misanthrope and neither am I, but people and their huge SUV's sometimes wind up getting in the way just when you have something lined up for a shot. And you really have to be careful in southern Brooklyn if you want to get a shot of something...they're manic down there about cameras, if they see you shooting something with one.
Like Dickey Betts, I'm a rambling man. Port Washington, where I used to work, is full of duck ponds, forests and rural patches. Everyone knew I was on another one of my journeys to adventure when I would come back from lunch with my shirt drenching wet. You can't do that so much in midtown, where I work now, because the noise and crowds are miserable, but you know what, there are still times when I find something new by just looking up and studying the skyline where I've walked hundreds of times before.
You're not supposed to look UP, you know? Then they'll know you're a tourist. I'm a tourist in my own city and whenever I see people marveling in the street about NYC, I'm proud of them.
What's been your favorite "discovery" so far? And what do you have your eye on in the future?
I have a whole host of people out there, called Forgotten Fans, who email me with tips and even photos of places they've seen. Now, in Rossville, Staten Island...way out there...there's a bay with rotted hulks of old ships anchored, just rotting away, slowly sinking. You can get pretty close at low tide. I was just sent an email with the news that the Abram S. Hewitt, which was one of the ships that raced to the aid of the General Slocum when it sunk--killing over 1200 people on June 15, 1904--is one of those ships. I'd been there a number of times already, and never knew. I'm always grateful to people that volunteer this kind of valuable information.
I don't know if I've made any breakthroughs or discoveries. What I have done is keep a lot of trivial stuff in my head for decades, like that tiny cemetery on Narrows Avenue in Bay Ridge, or that ancient twin castiron lamp on 6th Avenue and Walker Street in Soho, or that door that says "Knickerbocker" above it on the Times Square Shuttle subway platform. Then I just did Forgotten NY pages about them.
As far as the future goes, I'd just like to keep doing it as long as I'm able to do so. Cosmetically the site has changed somewhat over the years, though not drastically. NYC is so large, I've never had a time when I wasn't able to post. I used to post a new page every week, but that was draining me just a little, so I now do it every two weeks, and I rarely miss. I'm just sorry I got started with it in my late 30s, but that's when I really got started with the photography and when easy-to -use web authoring software showed up. I've never tired of it. I have fun writing or conceptualizing my next Forgotten NY project every single day.
Do you think the city does a good enough job protecting landmarks?
I can't call myself a preservationist. Right now there's a big fuss because they want to tear down 2 Columbus Circle across the street from the new Time Warner building (which I won't enter because they didn't build it for middle class people...they don't want me in there, so I'll oblige them) But c'mon...2 Columbus Circle is one butt-ugly building.
On the other hand, it's the local developers that are really ruining the city. There was this big, blowsy Victorian building on Boker Court in College Point, Queens..it was in the middle of the street because it was built before the streets were cut through...but it's gone now because some clown wants a 4 or 5 family building there. All over Flushing (where I live at present), there are beautiful houses being ripped down and ugly blond brick boxes going up in their place... the kind with sunken driveways, concrete front yards and water meters out in the front. That's the future of Flushing, and it ain't pretty.
Most of NYC's colonial landmarks are gone, due to fire or neglect. Just last year, a house built in the 1780s on Hubbard Place in Flatlands, Brooklyn, was torn down: it had been allowed to rot for several years. In Lower Manhattan, everything south of Wall Street burned down in 1835. NYC has relatively few colonial landmarks compared to Boston or Philly. Surprisingly Flushing has two houses from the mid-1600s, but one of them, the Bowne House, is in tough shape. Prospect Cemetery, in Jamaica, featured in NYPress this week, dates to the mid-1660s and it's a shameful, weed and needle-strewn home to rats and junkies.
So, no, I'd say we treat our landmarks like a sixth toe.
After the basic battery of NYC sights (Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Times Square, etc.), what other places would you tell visitors to check out?
Hit downtown Flushing! Plenty to keep you busy...the Quaker Meeting House and Bowne House from the 1660s, the Kingsland House from the 1700s, Flushing Town Hall has jazz concerts, there's the Latimer House (the guy who invented the light bulb filament lived there) and then cross the mighty Flushing River and check out the Iron Triangle junkyards and finish your day at Shea watching Cliff Floyd lose another one in the lights, or visit the Corona yards and see the last couple of redbird subway cars from the overhanging walkway. Your best bet is Sunday, when most of these spots are open.
Do you have a favorite borough? Why?
No. Go to any bookstore and heft the NYC guidebooks. Without exception, they're all 250 pages with 225 devoted to Manhattan, with 20 devoted to Brooklyn Heights, and 5 pages for what they term the "outer boroughs."
I am an egalitarian and a populist. There's no "outer" anything at Forgotten NY. All boroughs are covered equally, or attempted to be covered. There are still vast swaths of each borough where I've never set foot, which I intend to remedy before too many years go by.
And some specific questions about the city:
Favorite subway line
If you're looking for original subway architecture, catch the 4 or 5 at Bowling Green, and then the 6 at Brooklyn Bridge and take it to Grand Central. That's the original subway from 1904. If scenery is for you, get the A in midtown and take it out to the Rockaways. And do it quick, before those bastards ban cameras!
Favorite/least favorite gentrification trend
I'm really not a fan of gentrification, and sorry if I sound like a relic, but I don't like it when richies come into a neighborhood and raise all the rents. Even in Flushing, which is down pretty far on the gentrifying list, if it wasn't for rent control, I'd be in a trailer park someplace in Jersey or Long Island. Dumbo is getting to be a bit much, and now it'll happen with Red Hook. I'd like to clear out the junkies and hoodlums, but keep the bankers out too. Gentrification's good if it reduces crime, but bad when it prices out people like me.
Favorite moment in NYC history so far
It would have to be when they let Jackie Robinson suit up for the Dodgers.
Better headlines - NY Post or NY Daily News?
I know a woman who writes 'heds' for the Post who would be a little upset with me if I didn't say them.
Best burger in NYC
There really are no bad burgers in NYC at any bar or diner I've been in, and since I've been in quite a few of those, I can't say where the best one is. The Cheyenne, Blaggards, the Old Town, Eamon Doran's, all are good. I had a burger in Long Beach about 14 years ago that was a hockey puck, but that was there and NYC is here. Surprisingly, Jackson Hole, which has a touted burger, doesn't do it for me. Too gristly.
Dogs, cats or babies
I would have dogs if I had a big back yard, I'm allergic to cats, and babies are not a possibility in the near term.
By the way, Amy's wrong about Luquer. It was NEVER spelled Luqueer, but many denizens down there pronounce it like that. I think it's supposed to be "lu-ker."
Keep an eye on Kevin's site, Forgotten NY, for any upcoming Forgotten Tours