Apollo Theatre: A Standing Tribute to the History of African-American Arts and Music

by Nick David

The Apollo Theatre stands on West 125th Street, just north of Central Park and right in the heart of New York’s Harlem neighborhood. It is a music hall, a national landmark and a beacon of American music history.

From its heyday in the late 1930s to its modern incarnation, the Apollo has come to stand for all that is great about American music and the contributions of African-Americans to the soul of New York City and the country as a whole.

Apollo Theater

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History of the Apollo
The Apollo Theater began life as the New Burlesque Theater; a neo-classic theater which opened its doors in 1914 as a whites-only venue. It ran popular burlesque shows for years, until it fell into disrepute and disrepair in the 1930s. In 1933, the building was sold after soon-to-be New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia campaigned to close down burlesques.

The building was renovated and then reopened in 1934 as the Apollo Theater. This time it was open to patrons of all colors, and it began showcasing African-American acts, featuring performances by everyone from swing acts and jazz musicians to gospel singers and comedians.

The theater grew to its heyday in the pre-war era, when it labelled itself as the “place where stars are born”. The list of performers who graced the stage at the Apollo is nothing short of legendary; including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Bill Cosby, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Otis Redding, to name just a few of its most legendary acts.

The Apollo, and its Harlem community, hit hard times in the 1970s, but both have since rebounded to embrace a new era.   After the turn of the 21st century, the theatre was renovated and restored to its original glory.

Amateur Night at the Apollo
Since it re-opened its doors in 1934, the most popular nights at the Apollo have been Amateur Nights, complete with “The Executioner” who sweeps bad acts off the stage, and full participation from a famously critical and vocal audience.

The list of people who got their start at Amateur Night reads like a who’s who of American culture. A 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald won $25 here on one of the first Amateur Nights. Other stars that got their debut at the Apollo include Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Mariah Carey and Sammy Davis Jr.

Visiting the Apollo
The best way to visit the Apollo Theater is to come for Amateur Night. Amateur Night celebrated its 80th season in 2014, and is still held every Wednesday at 7:30pm from January to October. You can buy tickets in person at the box office, or at ticketmaster.com. Tickets range from $20 to $32, but plan far in advance as this popular event sells out incredibly fast.

You can also buy tickets to any of the remarkable concerts staged at the Apollo all year round. You can see anything here from a cutting edge comedy act to a dance recital to a world class concert by one of the world’s biggest stars. The Apollo seats about 1,500 people for one concert, but every year, more than a million people visit the theater.

If concert tickets are sold out, you can take a walking tour of the Apollo Theatre, led by the theater’s resident historian, Billy Mitchell, who has been with the Apollo since he started as a teenaged stagehand in the 1960s. Tours last an hour and cost $16 on weekdays, $18 on weekends. Call 212-531-5337 to make tour arrangements.

Grand Central Terminal: None Busier, Prettier or More Historic

by Nick David

Grand Central Terminal is one of the busiest and most historic of New York’s National Landmarks. More than 80 million people pass through this building every year. When the original building opened in 1871, its 42nd Street location was well north of most of Manhattan’s homes and business. Today, it sits in the heart of the city; a jewel of Beaux Arts style and an echo of New York’s glamorous past.

Grand Central Terminal

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The History of Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal began as Grand Central Depot in 1871, an innovative new train station servicing New York’s biggest rail lines. It was almost entirely torn down and rebuilt in the years between 1903 and 1913, reborn as the Beaux Arts gem now called Grand Central Terminal.

Today, Grand Central Terminal is a hub for New York’s many commuter trains. By the mid-1940s, the Terminal was at its peak, with more than 60 million people passing through every year; almost half the population of the United States.

Dozens of television shows and movies have been filmed at Grand Central Terminal, including The Avengers, Carlito’s Way, Midnight Run, even the cartoon hit Madagascar.

Design Elements in Grand Central Terminal
The central attraction is the information booth in the center of the concourse, and its four-faced brass clock is probably the most recognizable feature of Grand Central.

Visitors to Grand Central Terminal should stop for a moment to soak in some of the incredible design in the building. Look for the sculpted oak leaves and acorns that were symbols of the Vanderbilt family, who once owned the station and whose family motto was “from the acorn grows the mighty oak.” You can see some in the chandeliers of the main waiting room.

The floors are marble, imported from Tennessee. The walls are adorned with Botticino marble and Caen stone. Outside, on 42nd Street, you can find an imposing Tiffany clock, as well as statues of Minerva, Hercules and Mercury.

Don’t forget to look up. The ceiling of Grand Central Terminal is designed to reflect the starry night sky, complete with constellations, including Orion and Gemini. You can lose count of the more than 2,000 stars painted there, and on a dark day, you can see that the stars even twinkle, thanks to some help from electric bulbs.

In order to see everything that Grand Central Terminal has to over, visitors can download the Grand Central Terminal tour app to their smartphone, or take a Grand Tour or an audio tour of the terminal. For either tour, just head to the GCT Tour window on the main concourse.

Come Hungry
Grand Central Terminal has lots of places to eat, offering everything from a Starbucks coffee or a quick burger at Shake Shack, to some of the most historic fine dining in Manhattan.

Grand Central’s Oyster Bar is the oldest restaurant on the Dining Concourse, having served world class seafood since the building opened itself in 1913. It’s as famous for its design as the building it calls home, with its vaulted tile ceilings providing the best acoustics for quiet conversation in the city,

For a step back in time, head for a drink at the Campbell Apartment, a trendy cocktail lounge often called one of the best bars in the United States. The room used to be the private salon of tycoon John W. Campbell, and its impeccable architecture has been completely restored to breathtaking effect.

If you don’t feel like stopping for lunch or a drink, you can spend your time in one of New York’s most popular activities: shopping! Grand Central Terminal has nearly 70 shops inside where you can buy everything from computers and shoes to bath products and sportswear.

The Brooklyn Bridge: A Historic Landmark & Feat of Modern Engineering

by Nick David

The Brooklyn Bridge is so much more than just a bridge. Certainly, it links the island of Manhattan to Brooklyn across the East River, but it is not just a run-of-the-mill crossing point for commuters, residents and visitors. The Brooklyn Bridge is a National Landmark and a historic work of engineering, and its distinctive cables and pointed Neo-Gothic arches have become a symbol of the city of New York itself.

The Brooklyn Bridge opened to traffic in May of 1883, fifteen years before Brooklyn became consolidated as part of New York City. It was the first steel-wire suspension bridge ever built in the world. Today, it draws millions of visitors a year who come to walk across the East River, enjoying the views, the history, and the chance to spend the day of the most filmed and photographed structures in New York.

Brooklyn Bridge

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History of the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge took 14 years to build at a staggering cost at the time of $15,000,000. When it opened, it was called the “eighth wonder of the world”, and it was the tallest structure in the Western Hemisphere for many years.

It also fast became a place of legend and spectacle, when a year after it opened, world famous circus magnate P. T. Barnum led a parade of elephants across the bridge to quiet rumours that the bridge was unstable and prime for collapse.

Today, the Brooklyn Bridge figures prominently in dozens of television shows and movies, including The Dark Knight Rises, I Am Legend, Annie Hall and Gangs of New York.

Driving across the Brooklyn Bridge
Originally, the bridge was designed for horse-drawn carriages and for rail traffic, with a separate walkway built for pedestrians. Over time, it was adapted for streetcars, elevated trains and eventually, cars and trucks.

Drivers can access the bridge on the Brooklyn side from the eastbound Brooklyn Queens Expressway, from Sands Street. From the Manhattan side, the entrances are on FDR drive, or from Park Row/Centre Streets. However, the best way to experience the Brooklyn Bridge is not to drive, but to walk.

How to Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge
The Brooklyn Bridge Pedestrian Walkway can be accessed on the Brooklyn side from Tillary Street and Boerum Place, or through an underpass on Washington Street two blocks from Front Street. In Manhattan, the pedestrian walkway is accessible from City Hall the end of Centre Street and Park Row, or through the south staircase of Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall IRT subway station.

Plan to spend roughly two hours walking both ways across the bridge, although you can always walk one way and then take a cab or a water taxi back. Bring water on a hot day as there are no shops or vendors any way along the walkway. There are no washrooms either. Make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes, as the wooden boardwalks are not heel-friendly.

Bike across the Brooklyn Bridge
There are also dedicated bike lanes across the Brooklyn Bridge. The bike lanes and pedestrian lanes are separated by a painted line, but watch out for stray walkers distracted by the view. The entrances are the same as for the pedestrian walkway. There are many places to rent bicycles in both Manhattan and in Brooklyn.

What to do near the Brooklyn Bridge
If you walked from Manhattan into Brooklyn, take the time to explore the arty neighborhood known as DUMBO, or “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” Your best bets for a fun afternoon are soaking in the view of Manhattan from a park bench in Brooklyn Bridge Park, heading for ice cream at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory on Old Fulton Street, or waiting in line to grab a slice at the world famous Grimaldi’s Pizza, also on Old Fulton.

In Manhattan, you will end up right at historic City Hall in Lower Manhattan, where there is an endless choice of places to eat and things to see.