As chief experience officer of UntappedCities, Rivers described his work with the popular website, which features the hidden history of New York City buildings, neighborhoods, parks, and subways. In particular, the site offers virtual and in-person tours of sites that aren’t frequently featured on tourist maps, such as the tennis court at Grand Central station, the abandoned hospital at Ellis Island, and the Gilded-Age mansions of Fifth Avenue.
He said that website sprung from a passion for preservation, which is an extension of what he learned here at Fordham.
“I’m very lucky because Fordham trained me to be in service of others,” Rivers said, at the panel event, which capped off a summer course taught by Professor of Psychology Harold Takooshian. The panel also featured Lee Michael Klein, “a noted Gothamist,” Fordham librarian David Vassar, a cycling activist; and TastingNYC impresario Andy Troy, who talked up New York nightlife.
Rivers found his way to the lesser-known New York while writing an off-Broadway play about the old Penn Station that was infamously destroyed to make way for the much-maligned Madison Square Garden building and drab reboot of the former train concourse. The show, “The Eternal Space,” was a critical success and gained traction with the press. In order to drum up even more interest and publicity, Rivers said, he began offering tours at the site of the old station, which, though long gone, still features remnants of the time. In particular, New York’s main Post Office, by architects McKim Mead and White, echoed the old Penn Station and is now the site of the new Moynihan Train Hall, which tries to right the wrongs of the demolition. Though the play closed after four weeks, the tour continues to this day as part of Untapped New York, and has grown to include at least 20 tours given by 21 licensed tour guides. That’s all in addition to the frequently updated website.
“We run daily features on different aspects of New York that don’t normally get written about all the time, like a piece on Economy Candy, which if you haven’t been there you should,” he said of the 85-year-old stuffed-to-the-gills sweets emporium.
The site also explores New York history lesser-known histories, like a recent post on Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Bloomingdale’s in 1976. There’s up-to-date section on film locations, where readers can find out where the latest episode of Russian Doll, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, or The Gilded Age, were filmed. Each section unfolds to the next, bringing the past, even recent past, alive.
“A lot of people say that New York pulverized its history with real estate building, but the history is very much alive—if you know where to dig and where to find it,” he said.