Friday, December 23, 2016

The Irregular Guide to New York City Entry #14: The Rockefeller Escape Route

740 Park Avenue has long been considered one of the most prestigious addresses on the island of Manhattan. Built seventy-five years ago, it has been home to Vanderbilts, Bouviers, Rockefellers, and royalty. To purchase an apartment in the building, you must be more than just wealthy—you must be among the world’s super-rich.

For decades, 740 Park Avenue has also been at the center of one of Manhattan’s most beloved “urban myths.” According to rumor, shortly after the building opened, John D. Rockefeller Jr. built an underground “escape route” beneath it. The tunnel is said to have led from the basement to nearby subterranean train tracks where the Rockefeller private train could carry John Jr. away from the city.

Most people, including the Rockefeller family, claim that the story is pure fantasy. Now, however, it seems that there may be more truth to the tale than previously thought. In 2006, members of the NYC Water Works were working fifteen feet beneath the street outside 740 Park Avenue when they happened upon an old vault. Inside, the plumbers discovered a series of hidden chambers connected to the building’s basement. Each had an arched ceiling roughly ten feet in height and walls composed of old bricks. No one seems to know what purpose the forgotten chambers may have served, but some have suggested that they are part of a lost tunnel built not by the Rockefellers, but by their neighbors, the Vanderbilts.

(Of course this underground discovery wasn’t the first for the NYC Water Works. They say they’ve found everything from abandoned pools to forgotten barber shops deep beneath Manhattan.)