BOOK: Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City

8:00 AM

This is the kind of book I would love to publish if only I could draw. 

It's a huge hardbound book so it's not exactly a light read.

Tenements, Towers, and Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York was created by professional cartoonist Julia Wertz who shows us the New York that’s hardly seen in the movies or television shows. A 
New York Times Notable Book of 2017, this book also tells us some of the Big Apple's little-known tales and gives us a glimpse of its less glamorous side. It provides us access to the New York City that only the natives and the settlers know. (No Empire State Building and only a brief appearance of Ms. Liberty in this book!)

Julia talked about particular NYC’s history like the origins of bottle beach, the Hess Spite Triangle, and the lost history of Kim’s Video; the city’s infamous characters such as Madame Restell, Typhoid Mary, and Lizzie Halliday; and the contributions of NYC to the world like credit card, hot dogs, and toilet paper.

But the best thing about this book – me thinks – is the unapologetic depiction of the ever-changing face of the Big Apple. She rendered streetscapes based on past and present photos in a style that’s hers. They’re not photorealistic – not at all – but instead are rather comic-y, which goes well with the book’s unconventional nature. Julia also set these streetscapes next to each other so no reader could ever miss the contrast. It’s hard to choose a favourite but I would list down my top five in no particular order. 

An Incomplete* Guide to New York City Real Estate

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Can you do micro-living?

Holdout Buildings of New York City

Isn't this a little pretty house?

I should think these buildings remind you of that house in the movie 'Up.' 

Doors of Manhattan 

I wish people still take the time - and money - to create such impressive font doors!
Which Gothic door speaks to you? 

Snack Carts, Delivery Bikes, and Food Trucks of New York City, 1800s to Today 

Clams and oysters were sold from a cart back then!

And of course, the famous Sabrett hotdog cart!

All theThen and Nows
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Here's a bonus: Vanishing Storefronts *sniff sniff
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Julia also shares with us a couple of points in her life when she was still living in the Big Apple. (She had been living in NYC for nine years before she was illegally evicted from her Greenpoint Studio in 2016. After which, She reluctantly moved back to California.) In the book, she talked about her love – hate relationship with the city, showed her 300 sqft Garden Studio as well as the long walks she has taken around the boroughs.

Needless to say, don’t pick up this book if you’re looking for a guide to the city’s hottest restaurants or Broadway tickets because it would hardly show you any.

If you couldn’t stand to see the uglies of NYC, don’t ever ever ever pick up this book! I am not going to be blamed for your complete disillusionment.

But if you’re a true lover of New York City or an intrepid armchair traveller who wants to know the ins and outs of a city – may they be pretty or not – you’re going to immensely enjoy going through this book.

For someone who loves urbanism and history, I found this book such a pleasure to read! The guapo Nikko Viquiera lugged this huge thick book from his adopted home of NYC to Manila just for me! (Well, I might have hinted that I wanted this book by posting it on his facebook wall but hey, he got it!) So Nikko, thank you so much for this book! Love, love, love it! 

You could purchase this book on,, and

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