The mystery of something hidden always brings curiosity to us. In the movies, we can surely reminisce about hidden rooms and passageways behind bookshelf walls or behind a classic Impressionist masterpiece. During the 16th century in England, Roman Catholic priests were feared of persecution due to state restrictions. “Priest holes” were built in wealthy homes for hiding and allowed a passageway to exit, if needed. Several still exist today, behind bathrooms and inside chimneys, as mysterious tourist attractions.
Another mysterious destination on travelers’ bucket lists, is Chicago’s speakeasies of the 1920s Prohibition era. Hidden taverns and basement bars were the scene for gangsters and bootleggers gracing with flair and dancing with illegal alcohol.
As we shift from 16th century England to 1920s Chicago, next, we look into the mysterious history of New York City’s buildings. Buildings built prior to World War II have a longer timespan and a stronger foundation than modern, post-war towers. However, this does not imply that stronger materials may be fully compliant with city codes and accessibility regulations.
As a frequent diner of eclectic restaurants in the city, I remember descending a very dark staircase with uneven tread and risers and no handrail, leading towards the rest rooms. These uneven, stone slabs were built during pre-war, then grandfathered with an overlap of code-compliant, prefabricated, structurally sound materials. Turns out this building was built as split-level from two extremely different time periods!
Another New York story. A young female New York City renter, Samantha Hartsoe, noticed a cold draft of air seeping behind her bathroom mirror. As curious she was, she grabbed her safety gear and crawled into the unknown space, while filming every step along the way.
This story captured millions of inquisitive viewers as a news headline, as a 4-part video on TikTok, and as a Zoom guest appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show. Samantha discovered that a vacant apartment was sharing the same flooring, the same walls, and the same structural framing of her bathroom mirror.
As an overnight internet sensation, her story as a foundation base is building as a more developing story. Whether her landlord takes action or social media will rise concerns on safety factors of living in historical buildings, this will be something for history books. Perhaps, this could be new brainstorming for architects on housing inspections of different time period styles.
Solving mystery can be a good learning lesson, rather than having “history repeat itself”.