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New Yorkers Share Their Passions for a Weekend of Walking Tours

A oil on canvas painting of The Bronx by local artist Daniel Hauben.
A oil on canvas painting of The Bronx by local artist Daniel Hauben.
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Daniel Hauben

NEW YORK CITY — Linda Fisher's preparation for this Saturday's historic walking tour of Manhattan's Civic Center began four decades ago when she walked into the Legal Aid Society on Duane Street.

It was 1970 and Fisher's first day of work as a legal secretary. In the 42 years since, she has spent every working day somewhere within the civic center's multiple buildings, as a court stenographer recording thousands of court cases, depositions, investigations and NYPD disciplinary hearings. Along the way, Fisher, 60, who lives in Forest Hills, Queens, has amassed an intimate knowledge of the areas streets, buildings and historical points of interest.

Leading a walking tour as part of Jane's Walk NYC was the natural next step.

Daniel Hauben paints a cityscape in The Bronx.
Daniel Hauben paints a cityscape in The Bronx.
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Daniel Hauben

"I have always felt connected to this area," said Fisher recently, as she sat in Foley Square with the columns of Manhattan's federal court towering behind her. "The history is so rich in this area."

This coming weekend some 100 free walks will take place all over New York City thanks to the global event Jane's Walk NYC, a commemoration for the late urban writer and activist Jane Jacobs, organized by the Municipal Arts Society of New York (MAS). The city’s historians, environmentalist, activists and everyday New Yorkers like Fisher are sharing their knowledge and passion with others.

"This is their [the tour guides'] opportunity to have a conversation about something they love," said Jessica Halem, who manages tour programs with MAS.

This is the second year MAS has participated in Jane’s Walk. It offered just 25 walks in 2011. While some guides are known by MAS or are part of another organization that regularly holds tours, some signed themselves as first time tour guides, hosting walks in their chosen field or area.

"There is a very casual atmosphere about it," said Halem.

The walks are diverse, ranging from a tour that covers America's largest concentration of public housing in Brownsville, Brooklyn, to a place where residents are fighting a waste disposal initiative — Yorkville on the Upper East Side.

Walkers can choose to learn about the Tenderloin, Manhattan’s red-light district at the turn of last century, or they can get on a bike to explore the Rockaways with Jeanne DuPont from the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance.

One of the event's more ambitious events is a 13-mile walk that follows the entire length of Broadway from 240th Street in the Bronx, to the southern tip of Manhattan.

DNAinfo.com New York has profiled five walks, one from each borough. 


Manhattan’s Civic Center: From the Dregs of Collect Pond to the Center of Urban Governing.

Date: May 5

Time: 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Walk Host: Linda Fisher

Meeting Place: Chambers and Centre Street and Northern end of City Hall Park.

This walk leads participants through the often confusing knot of municipal buildings in the downtown area to discover the past and present stories of government departments such as the Marriage License Bureau, the Hall of Records and the Central Booking Office.

For example, the first building at 100 Centre St., a jail, was designed to be a reminder of law and order for the poverty stricken residents of the nearby 19th-century slum of Five Points.

"The nickname of the courthouse was 'the Tombs'," explained Fisher, adding that 100 Centre St. still goes by that name for those who work in the area. "There were executions there. People were hung."

After years as a court stenographer working on the cases of mafia boss John Gotti and homemaker pin-up Martha Stewart, Fisher will be sharing a wealth of knowledge and details only an insider would know.

Staten Island

Tottenville (Staten Island): Main Street U.S.A.

Date: May 5

Time: 1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Walk Host: Tottenville Historical Society

Meeting Place: Tottenville train station (last stop on the Staten Island Railway)

Please RSVP: 646-291-7005 or click here.

Tottenville owes a lot to the oyster, according to Linda Cutler, a lifelong resident of the town at the southern tip of Staten Island.

Oysters were sold on New York City street corners in the early 1800s like hot dogs are today, but the bivalve mollusks were over-harvested by 1820.  After a decade-long lull the oyster industry re-emerged on the rocks surrounding the area later named Tottenville, bringing industry and development with it.

"Fortunately for us, Capt. John Totten built a dock here and built a store," said Cutler, 56, who heads up the Tottenville Historical Society. "Surrounding that area, shipyards opened and maritime industry soon developed."

The tour will take walkers down Lower Main Street and into the remnants of this Tottenville boom time.

"Many of the homes that were built in the 1850s still exist today," said Cutler.

The historical society was founded in 2003 and since local residents have been trolling records, documents and images to piece together the historical story of an area that is far from the beaten track.

"We want to introduce people to Tottenville and make them aware of our unique history, our unique place in New York City," said Cutler.


Historic Flushing (Queens): Colonists, Quakers, and Tree Nurseries

Date: May 6

Time: 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Walk Host: Linda McDonnell, Friendly Native New Yorker Tours

A postcard shows a scene from Lower Main Street in Tottenville, a small town at the southern tip of Staten Island.
A postcard shows a scene from Lower Main Street in Tottenville, a small town at the southern tip of Staten Island.
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Tottenville Historical Society

Meeting Place: Meet outside the Burger King, near the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue.

A building that is almost 400 years old has to be a rare prize in New York City. Surprisingly, you can find one in Flushing, Queens where a Quaker meeting hall is still in use.

"Can you imagine all those years of continuous worship. It is pretty wild," said Linda McDonnell, 49, who is leading the tour. The school teacher and professional tour guide neither lives or works in the area, but was inspired to delve into her own research after she passed through the area one day.

"I noticed there were all these historical buildings, much more than in Manhattan," said McDonnell, who lives in Kew Gardens, Queens. "I thought, 'Wow I would like to find out about this for myself and tell people about them.'"

Flushing now has a large Asian community, but the area has played a role in numerous historical events. 

"There is a Revolutionary War history and Civil War history," said McDonnell, who is hoping Manhattanites will take the time and a 40 minute trip on the 7 train to see for themselves. 

"Not only can you learn about the history of Flushing, but you can see it," she said.



Time: 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Walk Host: Gerald A. Thomas, Managing Director of the Brownsville Partnership

Meeting Place: 3 Train Stop at Rockaway and Livonia Ave

A walking tour of Brownsville.

While it might make headlines for shootings, gang violence and, more recently, the loss of beloved and “unofficial mayor” Greg "Jocko" Jackson, there is more to this neighborhood in Brooklyn's backyard.

"It has distinguished citizens and a huge boxing legacy," said Gerald A. Thomas, the managing director of the Brownsville Partnership. "Larry King, the Three Stooges are all from Brownsville."

Those attending the tour will visit some of the area's boxing gyms as well as the largest concentration of public housing in the country.

"There are also come great institutional structures," said Thomas. The Stone Avenue Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library, which opened in 1914 as one of the one of the later Carnegie branches, was the world’s first public library devoted to children.

"I want people to understand there are great things happening here," said Thomas.

The Bronx

The BROADWAY: 1000 Steps Baton. 240th Street to 190th Street: Bronx Gateway Through Inwood to Manhattan

Date: May 6

Time: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m (first stretch of a walk that traces Broadway from top to bottom over 12 hours)

Walk Host: Mary Miss, Gabriel Willow, Daniel Hauben, Don Rice

Meeting Place: The intersection of Broadway and Van Cortlandt Park South

Local Bronx artist Daniel Hauben has the honors of kicking off the longest walk of weekend, that will follow the Great White Way from start to finish as six sets of guides work as a relay team along the way.

For his part in the 12 hour relay, Hauben will guide walkers through the borough that he has captured in oil on canvas for decades.

"I have set my easel up along that stretch [Broadway] and all around The Bronx for many years," he said.

Hauben, 55, is planning to bring some of his work along the stretch to parallel art with reality.

"What I am interested in is the unique urban landscape, which often includes the elevated trains, the buildings," said Hauben, "and the people and the unique attitude or body language of the inhabitants of The Bronx — playing dominoes, vendors on the street."

The entire Broadway walk has been organized by Mary Miss/the City as Living Laboratory. The organization's initiative to be enacted next year is to establish a "green corridor" by installing small projects by artists and environmental designer that emphasize to the city as an urban ecosystem.

"We would like people to see new ideas that are sustainable," said Mary Miss, a 67-year-old  artist and Tribeca resident.