The Viele Map

"No other city is so spitefully incoherent"

--James Baldwin

Welcome to Manhattan Unlocked Walking Tours

Discover the hidden-in-plain-sight history and have fun decoding the architectural assortments of New York's most iconic (and architecturally complex) neighborhoods.

About Us

Manhattan Unlocked began as a blog over a decade ago to explore and explain the complex and captivating histories behind New York's constellation of neighborhoods that stretch nearly five miles from the Battery to Central Park--what most people consider New York City. It was a journey to test the waters for a book project, and the results were promising enough to dive into discovering the single story history behind the architectural creation of New York City. Our method of research and exploration involved creating immersive walking tours for key New York neighborhoods that together tell a unifying story of the city.

Our Walking Tours

Join us on a journey through time and space and re-discover long lost geographies and bygone transit systems. Manhattan Unlocked walking tours cover neighborhoods with their own unique stories to tell, but that were all part of the "city's" move uptown from City Hall to Central Park.

What Makes Our Tours Special?

  • Historical Insights:We believe that understanding Manhattan's long lost geography is crucial to grasping how "the city" moved uptown.
  • Transit Tales:Learn how different forms of rail transit--from horsecars in the 1850s to subways in the 1900s--shaped the city's architectural diversity.
  • The Pump Uptown:Discover how the daily act of "commuting to work" played a pivotal role in the city's growth, turning it into the vibrant metropolis we know today.
  • The Book: Build: The History of New York City on the Island of Manhattan

    While our walking tours provide a taste of Manhattan's history, we're also hard at work on a book that will dive deep into the city's past and explain the logic behind the "conveyer belt" of neighborhoods running up Broadway and Fifth Avenue, along a path of modern-day "ruins" of forgotten "cities."

    Join Us on a Walking Tour

    We are relaunching our walking tours over the Fall 2023 after the challenges of covid. We hope to see you on a tour of the history behind the world's most inspiring streetscapes.

    Re-launch dates:

    Sept 18: Midtown Manhattan Art and Architecture Walking Tour

    Midtown west

    Sept 27: Holdouts! Based on the Alpern & Durst Book

    Midtown east

    Oct 10: Recreate the Most Requested Walking Tour of 1840s New York

    NoHo & SoHo to City Hall

    TBD: Explore the Ruins of a Forgotten City in the Middle of Manhattan

    Astor Place to Madison Square

    TBD: A Disastrous History of Housing the Poor

    Chinatown and The Lower East Side

    In the meantime, the old blog for "testing the waters" remains below.

    Click Here to See Tours

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    42nd Street to the Battery: 1855

    The last post showed the city from 63rd Street to the Battery by putting together two pictures from the 1850s.  Here they are again; click here to read the original post.  A painted line runs down Fifth Avenue in both pictures, and you can see the dome and flag of the Crystal Palace on 42nd Street in both. The top one is from 1855, the bottom from 1858.

    This post looks more closely at the first image.  Most people know that the city grew from the bottom up, but what stands out is how much the city also appears to have grown from the outside-in. Many of the blocks in the center of the island have only a handful of structures.

    There are a few notable geographic features visible in the picture.  Murray Hill was a swath of land owned by a wealthy Quaker family during the Revolution.  It’s where Mrs. Murray famously (perhaps apocryphally) delayed general Howe with her hospitality, allowing General Washington and the Continental Army to escape to the north of the island. As good Quakers, though, the Murrays did not take sides in the Revolution (and their economic interests, which were mainly shipping, straddled both sides).  For their neutrality, many Quakers were expelled after the Revolution, and although they were permitted to return a short time later, many opted to remain in England.

    You can detect the slope in the terrain of the actual hill extending from around 39th Street downtown past where the Empire State Building is today.

    And you can see the Murray Hill railroad tunnel that today is an 8 block-long covered traffic tunnel running down the middle of Park Ave south of Grand Central.  Below, the future tunnel appears as narrow empty blocks between the two sides of Park Avenue (then, 4th Avenue) that straddled the sunken passage. Today Park Avenue has one of the widest medians of any of the avenues, the only indication above ground of the dozens of railroad tracks running below the avenue from Grand Central (to the left out of the scope of picture) up to 96th Street.  

    The passage was cut through Murray Hill so the railroad wouldn’t have to climb up it.  After 1855 (the year of the picture), railcars were required to be horse drawn below 42nd Street so as not to be a nuisance to the growing population.  Here’s the tunnel today.  (I made these especially big and they overlap the side panels, but it's worth it to see the pictures).

    It’s also interesting to see what an ordinary road Broadway was in this part of town.  Back in 1855 above 23rd Street it was the Bloomingdale Road, and would be renamed The Boulevard in 1866, finally taking the name Broadway in 1899.
    And there’s a good reason Madison Square and Herald Square do not appear to be significant parts of town…

    The center of town back in 1855 ran the stretch of Broadway from today’s NoHo and SoHo all the way to to City Hall.  The town center would begin its shift to Madison Square around 1859, with the construction of the Fifth Avenue Hotel.

    Here’s a rather dramatic view from the same perspective, using Google Earth.  The NYPL and Bryant Park have replaced the reservoir and the Crystal Palace (though that structure only stood five years, 1853-1858).

    The commercial center of the city moved up Broadway, which from the tip of the island to within a few blocks of Union Square is uncharacteristically straight. The Bowery (in yellow) was the high ground, and the main route in and out of lower Manhattan though most of history. The city grew first up the Bowery before Broadway bridged Canal Street and the center of the city shifted over to Broadway around the 1830s.