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

HooplaHa: The Power of Positive Levys

The Levys are the star video today on a new site called HooplaHa. It’s a website that spotlights positive people, stories & ideas and we think it’s the perfect stage for us.

See, we’ve been approached by at least a dozen reality TV producers, all of whom think we’d be perfect subjects for starring in a reality TV show.

Except for one thing; a prominent TV producer, complete with cigar, LA tan and $300 haircut put it this way. (Monologue that follows is excerpted from my memory.) “Boys, I’ve been in this business for 30 years and there are just five elements that make for great reality TV.

#1:  BIG PERSONALITIES. Ya got that.
#2: A world that you inhabit that people CARE ABOUT, ya got New York, that’s good.
#3: A  STAKE in the outcome of the episode, IE, something important has to happen as a result of the plot. Don’t worry, our writers can come up with that.
#4: A  REVEAL. Something – either a surprise or an expected outcome, has to happen by the end of the episode; we can work that up too.
#5: CONFLICT. Ya know what? I just don’t see the conflict among you. Could you guys come up with a story arc or plot that cooks up some more conflict?”

So we went home and wrote a script which supposed that I was retiring from the business and my three sons were going to compete with each other to win the favor of the Tourfather; the Lead Levy would then be rewarded with the business. We figured that as each episode progressed & as one son moved ahead, the other two would ally and sabotage the third. This is total fiction: I am years away from retiring and Matt is my business partner and will inherit the business when I do.

So we went back to the hotshot producer and told him what we’ve told every reality TV producer since; we are not interested in inventing conflict, we are not interested in acting or fiction and if reality TV has no place for positive people, IE our functioning, loving family and to show us for who we are, then we’re not interested in being on reality TV. Simple as that.

A Personal Note About Positivity: I’ve always been a positive, optimistic and upbeat kinda guy. Some of that is a result of being blessed as an urban American male who is tall, strong, smart and healthy; some of that is a result of growing up in an loving, functioning, positive family. My parents were married for over 60 years and it is no exaggeration to call it a 60-year love affair.

I had an excellent NYC public education, followed by a series of fascinating and challenging careers. Starting off with cartography, I then moved into community development and managing complex and demanding NYC facilities and at a number of NYC agencies, some of which dealt with the worst urban problems of the 1980s. After my public career slowed, I started a small but vibrant business with my eldest son that allows us to meet interesting people from all over the world and show off the Greatest City in the World.

Our tour guides are the smart, funny and passionate, I am close with my sons, my sister and my Mom. I have loved and been loved by two wonderful women. In June I am marrying the love of my life. I own a 1904 Victorian house in the most beautiful neighborhood in NYC, which allows me to tend my gardens, bike and frisbee in nearby Prospect Park and occasionally travel to faraway lands. What’s not to be positive about?

So when HooplaHa approached us, we agreed that positive is always the way to go.

By Mark Levy

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A Walk with Weegee

The man, the Speed Graphic, the Cigar, it must be Weegee.

“There are 8 million stories in the naked city,” declared New York City – and America’s – premier crime photographer Weegee in his 1945 book, Naked City. And if you hustle over to the International Center of Photography at 6th Avenue and 43rd Street before September, you can see a handful of those stories in the exhibition “Weegee: Murder is My Business,” featuring over 100 original Weegee photographs, drawn from the more than 20,000 prints in the ICP’s Weegee Archive.

Chapter 4: Balcony Seats at a Murder

Weegee’s story is truly one of the 8 million Naked City stories worth getting to know, since it is so intimately tied to both 1930/40s New York, and to the images we all still carry around in our heads of the city’s perennial landscape of fear. Serenaded occasionally by screaming vintage police sirens or Weegee’s wonderfully weird voice, coming from touch screen gizmos (reputed to have been the model for Peter Sellers’ Dr. Strangelove accent,) you stroll through an arcade of Weegee’s wild life.

One case holds his oversize NYPD/NYFD press pass, his gawky Speed Graphic camera, hat, and the manuscript copy of the first few pages of Murder is My Business, the catalogue of the Photo League show that marked Weegee’s graduation from tabloid crime photographer to “artist.”

Weegee’s studio @ ICP – courtesy International Center of Photography

There’s a reconstruction of his lower East Side apartment/studio that looks as if Weegee had just run out the door to cover a fire or murder. Photos and texts tell of Weegee’s self-invention and self-promotion; born Usher Fellig in the Polish Ukraine in 1899, he took “Weegee” as his nickname to suggest that he was clairvoyant, like the popular Ouija Board. That supposed clairvoyance was mostly simple photographic sleight-of-hand.

The day that I visited the exhibition, I ran into a Londoner named Sean whom I had met the day before on Gideon’s Little Italy Gangster Tour. Sean motioned me over to a photograph of a dead man face down on a sidewalk – the February 2, 1942 murder of gangster Andrew Izzo outside the Spring Arrow Social and Athletic Club at 344 Broome Street. In that photo, a gun lay close to Izzo’s outstretched arm and hand, but Sean then pointed out a second, earlier photo, from when Weegee first arrived at the scene; the gun lay a couple of yards away.

The former Police Headquarters

Living directly across the street from Police Headquarters, where he kept a police radio on at all times, and knowing full well that an occasional small bribe won him special favors from the cops, Weegee had unparalleled access to his subjects – both dead and alive. After you take in the ICP exhibition, head down to Little Italy, and to the magnificent old Police Headquarters building at 240 Center Street. Once you’ve ogled the gorgeous gilt statue of Manhattan at the top of the cupola, and caught a nasty look from the doorman (now home to dozens of multi-million dollar apartments, as well as Calvin Klein, Stefi Graff and Leonardo DiCaprio), stroll around the back to # 6 Centre Market Place.

Weegee w/ camera above Frank Lava’s shop – courtesy ICP

Think back to that photo in the exhibition of Weegee perched with his camera on the narrow ledge of the bay window at the front of Frank Lava’s gun shop, the giant police revolver hanging at Weegee’s feet. Directly across the street is the back entrance to Police Headquarters, where cops would conduct their “perp walks” that allowed the press to get their photos and the cops to get their credits in the captions. Like #5 next door – once home both to Weegee’s apartment , the John Jovino Gun Shop (now around the corner on Grand Street), and a basement firing range – these and the other tenements of Centre Market Place have recently had gentrifying facelifts. But if you squint just right, you can see the paddy wagons pulling up and hear the cops barking orders at the handcuffed suspects.

Same shop, different gun.

There are dozens of locations of famous Weegee crime photos from this neighborhood, but the most iconic of all lies just a few blocks north, at 10 Prince Street. There, on a balmy night in November, 1939, Angelo Greco was shot down while standing in the doorway of his candy store. While other photographers snapped their “ten-foot shots” – close-ups – Weegee stepped across the street and caught the wider view, of the upstairs neighbors leaning out windows and gawking from fire escapes. There are even a few kids reading the funny papers, oblivious to the carnage below.

Not only can you place yourself in Weegee’s shoes there on Prince Street; you can hear him tell the story himself:

http://tedbarron.com/BWF-June-2009/22-Weegee.mp3

Once you’ve heard Weegee pronounce “moi-duh” and stood below that fire escape, (and taken a Gangster Tour!) Little Italy will never again seem like just a place to get good cannoli.

The same balcony today, as seen in "Balcony Seats at a Murder"

By Dr. Kevin Dann

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Irish Heritage in NYC: GANGSTER STYLE!

We Levys are many things. Animated, energetic, colorful, vocal, tall, the list goes on and on. But one thing we are definitely not… is Irish. Nope, not one bit. Can’t even fake it.

Irish Pride! With a name like "Levy" how could you tell?

Which means that when St. Patty’s Day comes, we just knock back a few whiskeys and tag along for the ride. The Irish community, from poor starving immigrants of the 1840’s to the proud citizens of today, represents an intrinsic element in our city’s history. The Irish were the first massive wave of foreigners to land on our city’s shores. They suffered sneers, jeers and rocks thrown at them from America’s first anti-immigrant cabals.

Americans never did wear their politics lightly.

After more than a generation of this discrimination, NYC’s Irish community made a foothold in the political classes and the police force from which they never strayed, making it clear that New York was their home and they would never abdicate their pride nor place; setting a wondrous example in a city that has welcomed wave after wave of newcomer ever since.

A typical anti-Irish employment advertisement.

And then… there were the Irish New Yorkers who didn’t do their people proud. The ones who never rose with the tide. The ones who watched John Fitzgerald Kennedy take the oath of office as our first Irish American president in-between rounds of beating, shooting, stabbing, and threatening their way through life. They were the most ruthless Irish Gang the city had ever seen: The Westies.

This was the Hell’s Kitchen gang that made The Mafia look like a Boy Scout Troop.

Slick lookin' kid . . . but dangerous as hell.

The first Irish gang boss of Hell’s Kitchen was Owney “The Killer” Madden. A man as skilled at murder as he was at charming the ladies. He got sent off to prison for killing a romantic rival and missed out on the opening years of prohibition, He came out of jail behind the bootlegging curve and never quite caught up.

Starting in the 1960’s Hell’s Kitchen was run by gentleman gangster Mickey Spillane (no relation to the pulp novelist of the same name,) who ran the gambling and loansharking rackets as well as the Longshoreman Union. Well dressed and sophisticated, Spillane wasn’t above the occasional kidnap-and-ransom scam, otherwise known as a “snatch-job.”

Spillane’s biggest mistake was in 1963 when he pulled a snatch-job on an innocent, law-abiding accountant named John Coonan, whose 17-year-old son Jimmy never forgot it. Jimmy Coonan ended up as Spillane’s biggest rival for control of “The Kitchen” and through Coonan’s Mafia connections, Spillane met his end on the wrong end of a gun in 1977.

Jimmy Coonan: Boss of Hell's Kitchen

Coonan ended up well-connected to the Mafia Families of New York and in turn, started to dress and act like an Italian Mafioso (an “Al Cologne” as some of his associates called them.) This didn’t sit well with some of his subordinates in the Hell’s Kitchen Irish syndicate. Eventually things soured with Coonan’s bodyguard and underboss Mickey Featherstone and after Featherstone was framed for murder, he turned rat and told the Feds everything they needed to know to put Coonan and the rest of the Westies away for life.

That was in 1988. Now, in 2012: Coonan is still behind bars, Featherstone is living under an assumed name in Witness Protection and “The Kitchen?” It’s filled with fancy bars and restaurants and overpriced condos like everywhere else in this damn city!

Wanna learn more about The Westies and their rotten deeds in NYC? Come on NYC Gangster Tour’s Hells Kitchen Pub Crawl, this Friday at 5pm or Saturday at 11am! (email info@nycgangstertours.com for tickets)

By Wise-Guy Gideon Levy

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5 Brooklyn Museums You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

I hope it doesn't land on shin...or my car

1) We bet you know about the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan’s Museum Mile. Maybe you know about the Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, which was the first of it’s kind in America. What happens when you put em together? The Jewish Children’s Museum, also in Crown Heights!  This five-story, multi-media based museum is on Eastern Parkway, aka Brooklyn’s Museum Mile, directly across from the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic World Headquarters.  This Orthodox movement is the largest Jewish organization in the world and they sponsor the Museum as part of their spirited  outreach to Jews and gentiles alike.

That is one big challah!

Over 180,000 visitors of all ages and faiths have made the pilgrimage since it opened in 2005. Exhibits include the 6 days of creation, the “Spiel of Fortune” and a giant (inedible) challah. An interactive crafts workshop allows the opportunity to make your own tzedakah (charity) boxes; a 180-degree theater offers an inside look at the central themes of Jewish thought and a rooftop mini golf course goes through the six major events of Jewish Life. Betcha I can make my Bar Mitzvah a hole-in-one! Come in April for the grand opening of their new exhibit, a Voyage Through Jewish History! The Jewish Children’s Museum is located at 792 Eastern Parkway at the corner of Kingston Avenue.

2) Scott Witter, the curator and sole employee of Brooklyn’s Other Museum of Brooklyn, is highly protective of his collection of artifacts. B.O.M.B. is a museum of found art, comprising relics from Brooklyn’s yester-years, with a sheen of hard-left political activity, decrying “Mayor Moo-Moo” and his “theft of Brooklyn’s heritage,” particularly the historic buildings of Admiral’s Row in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Widder is devoted to getting in the way of the Bloomberg administration’s plan to wipe out the aforementioned 150 year old structures and build a 75,000 sq ft supermarket plus an additional 160,000 sq ft retail development plus industrial development.

The "disgruntled cow" (center) wrote 23 letters to Mayor Mike (aka Mayor Moo Moo aka Pirate Mike)

Scott finds a lot of relics on his walks  to Coney Island and Gravesend Bay with Dashi, his adorable mutt. Sometimes he makes it out to Arthur Kill, the waterway between Staten Island and New Jersey to investigate a scuttled shipwreck. Is it art? Is it junk? Whatever you call it, its a museum that is first and foremost dedicated to the preservation and landmarking of Admiral’s Row. If you want to sign a petition to support this cause visit their website or go to 109 Hall Street between 7 & 9pm on Tuesdays or make an appointment.

The clowns laugh at you as walk past. Spookiest...exhibit...ever

3) The Micro Museum is an esoteric art museum, smack-dab in the middle of a very active stretch of Smith Street for over 25 years. Artists from all over the country have exhibited their work here. They’ve been adding new pieces all the time, and as the colorful & eccentric founder Kathleen Laziza says “People are always coming to find the micro changes.”

On loan from the Met...isn't it great when huge museums help out micro museums?

Multi-media quirkiness is prominently displayed, from furniture that tells stories when touched, to a stair-master that screens video art of people blowing kisses at the user (the most perfect exercise machine in the world!) Interactively overloaded, this museum is definitely for all ages. The founding artists – Kathleen and her husband Will – are present and willing to chat about their collections every Saturday from 5 to 7pm. The Micro Museum is located at 123 Smith Street and is open to the public most Saturdays from noon till 7pm.

4) Okay, you may have heard of the next museum because we promote it so damn often. We even raised $4000 for it at the 5th Annual Panorama Challenge! The City Reliquary is the most civic of organizations and very close to the heart of LUNY! (Matt is the Vice President.) Exhibiting cultural relics of forgotten New York, pieces of famous buildings and community collections of all stripes, they also throw some bangin’ events. From low-key craft nights to magic workshops to cocktail soirees, there’s something goin down every third Thursday of the month.

VERY civic

The most recent exhibit features the work of  Enrique Miguel Thomas whose deep connection to the subway system is displayed on the subway  maps he “improves” with sharpie and watercolor. “New York City Above and Below: Works by Plein Art Artist Enrico Miguel Thomas” is open along with other collections from 12pm to 6pm every Saturday and Sunday. The City Reliquary is located at 370 Metropolitan Avenue.

5) Saving the best for last, Building 92 is a bit under the radar for a simple reason. It’s not hidden inside someone’s house; it’s not self-described as esoteric and it doesn’t play to any religious niche. It’s only 4 months old! Housed partially in a former Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Commandant’s House built in 1801 and partially in a new platinum LEED certified structure, this museum is fully devoted to the past, present and future of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Live! From New York! Can you spot the SNL prop?

This isn’t your staid  history museum. In addition to a maritime history timeline, there is an awesome interactive, time-lapse, birds-eye-view map of the Wallabout Bay Area; it goes through 400 years of history in five minutes!

The anchor from the USS Brooklyn, the 2nd last ship to leave the Navy Yard

From the most important ship building factory in America during WWII to today’s diverse tenants of the Navy Yard as industrial park; from the sets of Saturday Night Live to the Crye Precision factory that produces bulletproof vests to des, today’s Brooklyn Navy Yard is impressively dynamic.

In an alternate universe, the 2nd Avenue line's terminus is at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Building 92 puts a real focus on the community. The building contains an employment center that partners with the Brooklyn Workforce Initiative. They offer workshops, classroom space, bus and even bike tours of the Yard coming up in the summertime. Admission is free at Building 92 between 12pm to 6pm Wednesday through Saturday. It’s at 63 Flushing Avenue. See you at the Museums!

By Jonah Levy

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