The history of New York City's once bustling Lower East Side is now a button-push away, thanks to cellular technology. In the near future, cell phone users will be able to connect to the rich histories of other famous neighborhoods around the world.
The voice you will hear is New York born-and-bred comedian Jerry Stiller. He is the celebrity narrator tapped to guide cell phone users through the narrow streets of the Lower East Side, once overflowing with new immigrants in search of a better life in America.
The unique cell phone tour company, "Talking Street" will guide visitors as they meander through the Lower East Side at their own pace. Miles Kronby is the entrepreneur behind this high-tech twist on the self-guided tour.
"We chose the Lower East Side because it's a place that is full of great stories, and characters and dramas," he said. "It's a tight geographic area so you can easily walk around. And it's a place that when you look at it now, it doesn't obviously reveal the amazing history, so it's a great place to implement this technology, because when you're walking around now you don't realize all the things that have gone on here, and a cell phone is a useful way to reveal those stories."
Cell phone users will punch in "Talking Street's" toll-free number and find themselves transported back in time, to places like 407 Grand Street. That was the childhood home of American songwriting icon Irving Berlin, a poor Russian immigrant who became a musical legend, creating such household tunes as White Christmas and God Bless America.
Mr. Kronby says cell phone tours are a bridge between old and new, and allow visitors to roam the streets of the Lower East Side at their own pace.
"In terms of the dichotomy between the old world of the Lower East Side and the very contemporary technology of the cell phone, in some ways as this tour discusses, this was an incredibly dynamic place where all sorts of innovations emerged, some positive like the music of Irving Berlin, and some less positive, like organized crime through Meyer Lansky," explained Mr. Kronby.
The first stop of the hour-long cell phone tour is the corner of Broome and Orchard streets, the former hub of the garment industry. Comedian Jerry Stiller, whose own parents arrived from Eastern Europe to the Lower East Side, sets the scene. Between 1880 and 1920, a half-million Jewish immigrants flocked to the area. At the time that made it the most crowded neighborhood on earth.
Talking Street's Miles Kronby says the idea for cell phone tours was born when he visited a busy outdoor bazaar in Istanbul. He says he sensed there was a great deal of history he knew little about.
"The way we think about it is the history is swirling around you when you're walking through the streets, and the cell phone reveals a lot of the history," he said. "Suddenly, it makes it come alive around you. That's the goal of it, to bring the stories and the history to life. It's almost like ghosts coming alive around you."
Other cell phone tours are planned for New York City's Times Square, Ground Zero, Central Park and Wall Street, as well as for Boston, Washington, San Francisco, London and Paris by early 2004.
Visitors can log on to www.Talkingstreet.com to get the phone number.