In 1963, six-year-old Kevin Walsh watched shiny, new aluminum replace old cast iron lampposts on his street. Even then, he knew an historic part of his Bay Ridge neighborhood in Brooklyn was lost.
So it’s no surprise that roughly three decades later, Walsh created a Web site to pay homage to New York’s long-lost landmarks. Forgotten New York: Views of a Lost Metropolis is the title of his recent book, published by Harper Collins.
Walsh began photographing forgotten sites in 1998. His epiphany came in 1997, when he saw an ancient advertisement on a building in the Times Square area from its turn-of-the-century days as Longacre Square.
“The ad was only exposed for a few months before they covered it up,” he said. “But it gave me inspiration to go around New York with my camera and snap things that people had forgotten about.”
The Web site gets roughly 10,000 hits daily, according to Walsh, and up to 3,000 first-time visitors. He speculates that the site was among the first photo blogs on the Web. It’s even expanded to a team of several contributors. Chief contributor Christina Wilkinson is “second in command,” said Walsh, “just in case I get run over by a streetcar.”
“He kind of reminds me of the old philosophers and the renaissance men,” Wilkinson said. “They did what they did to enrich their lives and that’s how Kevin is – doing it for his own personal benefit and to teach other people.”
Mentions in The New York Times and Forbes have undoubtedly brought traffic to the Web site and book sales. But Walsh said the popularity gain is a double-edged sword.
“If the wrong people notice these things, they’ll tear them down because they want to put something up that’s more practical,” he said. “But these things are so ephemeral and I want to document them before they’re removed.”
A perfect example of Forgotten New York, said Walsh, is an ancient sign on Broadway and Waverly that reads Treffurth’s, a restaurant that hasn’t been there for over a century.
“When I can uncover something that has been completely unnoticed for decades,” he said. “That’s very important to me.”
Walsh’s Web site remains his non-profit hobby in addition to his day job as a proofreader and copywriter at a direct mail company. He also runs five to six Forgotten tours per year, which he now hopes to increase to 10 in conjunction with his recent book. The next tour is scheduled for July 29 in Little Neck, Queens.
By Dara Bramson for PeterGreenberg.com
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Photo credit: Forgotten New York
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