Undiscovered New York: An interview with Scouting NY

When Gadling first started the Undiscovered New York series, our goal was to bring New York visitors a totally different perspective on this famous city. To show you the amazing forgotten places and stories that lie just below the surface, waiting to be explored.

Our passion for uncovering these forgotten spaces is exactly how we stumbled upon Scouting NY, the blog of a New York City film scout who spends his days scoping out potential NYC locations for use in feature films. We recently had a chance to speak with the creator of Scouting NY, the writer known mostly as “Scout,” to talk about New York’s undiscovered spaces, urban exploring and some of NYC’s most unique spots. Take a look:

Tell our Gadling readers what you do here in New York.
I work in New York City as a film location scout. Basically, I get hired by film productions to help find and secure locations for shooting in the New York area.

In the early stages, this means searching for any location mentioned in the screenplay: a back alley, a luxury penthouse apartment, a subway station, etc. Sometimes we turn to locations we know of from experience, other times we literally walk street by street. We try to provide the director with as many options as possible. Sometimes, we find the perfect place immediately. Other times, it’s more of a grind, often in part because the director does not know what he or she wants. I was on a job where we scouted about 200 different apartments to find the perfect one, for a scene that was no longer than 30 seconds in the final film.

What was your reason for starting your blog, Scouting NY?

My job is basically to stare at New York, and when you really take the time to stop and look around, you start to notice things you NEVER see on your daily commute. I kept a mental list going for a while, and would point places out to friends, often generating the reaction: “I’ve walked by that a zillion times and never noticed that!” Almost a year ago, I decided to start documenting my finds on a blog, in part to draw attention to things that have a bad tendency of disappearing forever.

How did you get interested in exploring the “forgotten” places of New York?

I have a natural curiosity for trying to find the hidden places and gems of a city. I’m not sure where it stems from, but I always seem to find my gaze landing on some unusual stuff. Everyone else will be staring at the Empire State Building, and I’m looking across the street at an ancient Bloomingdale’s building ad. Maybe it’s just a short attention span?

What is it about undiscovered areas of New York that makes them worthy of a visit?

New York is a city that is shared by millions, and yet, in finding these hidden treasures, you can sort of claim a piece of it for yourself in spirit. Also, New York has more history crammed into it than nearly anywhere else in the US, in part because Manhattan is an island. Because the city couldn’t sprawl, it had to constantly tear down and rebuild. Luckily, remnants of older times have a way of sticking around, and I find it to be very interesting to know that your apartment building might have a history of being, say, both an old age home AND a brothel.

You’re a big advocate of the preservation of historic buildings and places. Why is it important we preserve these spaces instead of redeveloping them for new uses?

It is important because they’re one of a kind works of art, testaments to an older generation which valued quality and craftsmanship far higher than we do today. Once historic buildings and places are torn down, they’re gone forever. You cannot rebuild them. It looks like the amazing Admiral’s Row mansions in Brooklyn will soon be torn down in favor of a supermarket parking lot, and it saddens me that the only reason this is allowed to happen is because they’re not in a particularly wealthy community.

I don’t believe that any historical structure should simply exist as a museum piece – it should function with the community, and there is always a way to do this without tearing anything down. You can always build another supermarket parking lot. You will NEVER see a mansion built in the style of Admiral’s Row.

Imagine you visit New York for the first time and want to “get off the beaten path.” Where should you go?

Before doing your requisite Times Square/Chinatown/Wall Street tours, pick a neighborhood off of your map and just go walking around without a guide book. Though I’m a travel guide addict, when I go to ANY new city, I always spend the first day walking around without a guidebook, getting a natural feel for the city. It’s only on day 2 or 3 that I pick up the guide book and start delving into what I might have missed. Personal favorites for visitors in Manhattan are: Morningside Heights, the West 70s/80s near Central Park, and the West Village.

You’ve been all over visiting unique New York locations. Do you have any favorites?

I’ve put together a list of my favorites which you can find here.

Manhattan is probably the most heavily visited Borough by out-of-town visitors. Tell us about one unexpected spot in Manhattan that’s “hidden in plain view.”

At 1st Street and 1st Ave, perched on the roof of a four-story brick apartment building is a Cape Cod beach house. No joke.

Do you have any tips for readers on how to find “unexpected” places of their own as they visit New York? What has helped you make some of your discoveries?

Stop worrying about how quickly you can get from Point A to Point B, and try looking up for a change. It’s all hidden in plain sight – all it takes is the desire to pay attention.

A special thanks to Scouting NY for the interview and for granting permission to use a few photos. Make sure to check out all the amazing places and photos at www.scoutingny.com.