Named "New York's Wackiest Tour Guides" by the Travel Channel!

Beautify Earth

When Hurricane Sandy blew through New York City, it devastated many areas of New York City, but the Rockaways got hit worst of all. The neighborhood that thrived with its beautiful beaches and waterfront property saw most of its land submerged in water, its shoreline washed away, and its boardwalk destroyed. A year and a half later, residents of the Rockaways are still feeling the effects of Sandy’s wrath and is much in need of a morale boost. This is where Chris Stain, Nicolina Johnson, VANS custom culture high school finalists, and the Levy’s Unique New York come in.

On Wednesday, June 11th, guides from Levy’s Unique New York brought the VANS finalists out to the Rockaways to collaborate on a mural with New York based artists Chris Stain and Nicolina Johnson. They have a project known as “Hearts of the World.” They teamed up with Beautify Earth, seeking to bring street art to distressed neighborhood looking for hope, and brought a “Hearts of the World” mural to the Rockaways.

VANS Beautify Earth

To create this wall mural, each VANS finalist was given a large panel with an outline of an anatomical heart and were told to fill it in with things they love, fear, hope for, are passionate about, etc…The VANS finalists decorated their hearts with everything ranging from planets, to inspirational quotes, to drawings of flowers. After putting their own stamps on the anatomical hearts, the panels were wheat pasted to the wall to life spirits for years to come. Hearts of the World and Beautify Earth have created murals in neighborhood and communities all around the world.

VANS beautify earth

Street art has the ability to push neighborhoods in a positive direction. It has given boosts to the Bowery, DUMBO, and perhaps most famously, Bushwick with the Bushwick Collective. The hope is that the same will happen in the Rockaways, people will travel to see the murals, give the local economy a boost, and remember the beautiful beaches they enjoyed in the years before Sandy swept through. According to Beautify Earth, businesses report up to 20% increased revenue due to increased public visibility after the murals are completed. To keep track of murals that are part of the project, follow hashtag #beautifyearth on social media sites such as twitter and facebook.

View Full Post Comment

Amore Opera

For 61 years, the Amato Opera company reigned over the East Village as the world’s “Smallest Grand Opera Company.” After 61 years of delighting audiences with opulent operas ranging from Puccini’s “La Boheme” to Bizet’s “Carmen,” and after being inducted into City Lore’s People’s Hall of Fame for his contribution to artistic life in New York City, Tony Amato bequeathed his company, sets, costume, and staging rights, and all to a small group of his company members wishing to carry Amato’s torch via a new company named “Amore Opera.”

Amore Opera continues to stage grand opera productions in the East Village much the same way that Tony Amato did. Their performances take place at the Connelly Theatre and use a full orchestra, which is rare for companies operating on a small budget in a small space. What the Connelly lacks in seating capacity it makes of for intimacy though, allowing for more truthful performances than are usually equated with Opera. Amore has also recently started branching out by bringing “new” works to New York City via clever double bills. For example, heir recent production of Magic Flute played in rep with “Das Labyrinth,” a sequel to Magic Flute composed by Peter von Winter and a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder, who also wrote the libretto to Magic Flute. Das Labyrinth premiered in Vienna on June 12, 1798, but as of 2013, had never been performed in the United States. Amore Opera decided to change this and brought this hidden gem of an opera to New York audiences. The production itself received mixed reviews, but one has to applaud to company for attempting a new production that has no U.S. performance precedence. This double bill idea seems to work well for the them. Other double bills they have brought to the U.S. include La Nozze di Figaro paired with the U.S. premiere of I Due Figaro and Pagliacci paired with the Circus Princess.

Amore Opera performers have also performed at the Met Opera, New York City Opera, Syracuse Opera, O.A.S. Hall of the Americas, and won several prestigious competitions. The conductors have conducted at the Met Opera and New York Philharmonic. When you go, don’t be deceived by the small space, you will hear big voices and see immense talent.

If you hurry, you can catch their current production of Madama Butterfly running through May 25th, 2014.

Amore Opera Madama

View Full Post Comment

South Beach-Franklin Delano Roosevelt Boardwalk

We gotta send Staten Island some love, so what better way than exploring their beautiful waterfront? South Beach-FDR Boardwalk is a picturesque beachfront filled with baseball fields, playgrounds, a roller hockey rink, and a beautiful dolphin fountain. It is the perfect place for a retreat from city life without ever leaving the five boroughs.

Staten Island South Beach

In the mid-1800s, the local residents of Midland Beach and South Beach realized the potential to make a buck via their beautiful beaches. In the summer, Manhattan can be oppressed by sweltering heat. Staten Island offered a fabulous nearby alternative. Hotels, bathing pavilions, theatres, beer gardens, and a ferris wheel soon popped up along the beach enticing visitors. Finally, in 1906, Happyland Amusement Park opened. With Japanese Tea Gardens, a Venetian Carnival, and shooting gallery, Happyland provided an alternative to Coney Island for New Yorkers. That is, until the Great Depression took its toll. By 1935 Happyland had closed its doors and been transformed into a WPA project. To help create jobs and spur on financial recovery from the depression, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt vested the beachfront property to the City and renovations began. Jobs were created when depression era workers came in to remove the now deteriorating musical halls and carousels. In 1939, the newly renovated park was dedicated to FDR and the two and a half mile long beach front property we know today as South Beach FDR Park was created.

Happyland

Happyland

Today’s park offers 170 acres of Sun and Sand. Lifeguards are on duty Memorial Day-Labor Day each summer, 10a.m.-6 p.m. During these times swimming is allowed. Showers and restrooms are available for your convenience. There is also a playground with sprinklers available for those who don’t want to brave the Harbor. (Though we promise you, if you do brave the water, will NOT grow a third eye.) In the colder months, October through May, fishing is permitted. The real draw year round is the beautiful boardwalk. It’s two and a half miles long, making it the fourth longest boardwalk in the world. It is a wonderful place to jog, bike, or just sit out and enjoy the beautiful view of the Verazzano Bridge and sailboats navigating the harbor. To get there from Manhattan, all you have to do is take the Staten Island Ferry (FREE FUN!) then hope on the S51 bus to Father Capadanno Blvd. and Sand Lane.

South Beach Staten Island

View Full Post Comment

Franco the Great

Street Art tours typically focus on Brooklyn and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, but Harlem has Franco the Great painting life and character onto its walls and sidewalks.

Franco the Great

Franco Gaskin, also known as Franco the Great or the “Picasso of Harlem,” paints the metal security gates that cover the storefronts of Harlem at night. He lives by the motto “the world is my workshop” as he paints vibrant mermaids, dancing lovers, and inspirational political figures in the once dismal, now joyous, heart of Harlem.

Franco the Great

After the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968, riots left Harlem in a sad state. Franco saw an opportunity to use art and try to single-handedly turn the neighborhood around. When he saw a closed store, Franco would paint murals over the security gates protecting the store at night. These murals depicted what Franco hoped for Harlem’s future. Over the past 40 years, he’s painted over 200 murals, and seen Harlem turn itself around. So loved is Franco’s work in Harlem, that DSW actually commissioned Franco to paint an indoor mural in their 125th street store. DSW claimed the murals gave them local credibility in the neighborhood. Harlem is a tight knit community of traditions and family owned stores, so a large corporate store moving into the neighborhood wasn’t necessarily welcome. Franco’s murals helped them assimilate.

Franco the Great

Franco did not always show the promise to bring life to a once forgotten neighborhood. When he was just three years old and growing up in Panama, he fell several stories and landed on his head! This left him in a coma for a month and with a swollen head. Effects of this injury left him feeling extremely introverted and having trouble making friends. He discovered his artistic skills could help him overcome this, and in 1958 his grandmother sent him to NYC to pursue his artistic talents. To help establish himself as an artist, he tried to donating his artwork to different organizations. His artwork quickly garnered favorable reviews and he became a revered NYC artist. By 1978, the work he is best known for, his “Harlem Gates,” was born.

Franco the Great

Today if you walk along 125th street you can see about two dozen of his gates. The rest have disappeared with changing laws. The solid flat metal gates that Franco used as his primary canvas are now being replaced with see-through metal gates which the law now requires. A campaign known as “Save the Gates” is trying to get Franco’s remaining gates moved to Triboro Plaza and preserved for future generations. Don’t worry about Franco though. His works still grace many cement walls which won’t be going anywhere. He keeps on paining and travelling around the globe sharing his vibrant hopes and dreams.

Franco the Great

You can follow his works on the official Franco the Great Facebook page.

View Full Post Comment

The First Graduating Class of the Tour Guide Academy!

I know it’s not June yet, but break out the caps and gowns and pop the sparkling apple cider because we just graduated our first class of NYC Tour Guide Academy students!

Tour Guide Academy

A diverse mix of six women and one man who met us all at the illustrious City Reliquary to start with a game of NYC “Who am I?” As every good guide knows, you have to be sociable and want to get to know people to be a proper tour guide! And it’s even more fun when you have to guess the names of famous New Yorkers.

Tour Guide Academy

What followed was a Top Secret series of industry tips, tour knowledge, DCA study tips and a lower Manhattan practice run at becoming the next generation of NYC guides. And you know what? A couple of them ALREADY DID!

Tour Guide Academy

We want to give a shout out to Sandy Martinez, the first graduate of the NYC Tour Guide Academy to already be loaded up on the NYC Tour Guides roster of guides.

So remember folks, if you sign up for the next Tour Guide Academy Course on May 20th your dreams of becoming a LUNY guide might come true!

Email Gideon@levysuniqueny.com to find out more

 

View Full Post Comment