New York City Sightseeing
( Originally Published 1940 )
As I have said in several books before, I honestly believe that a ticket on a sightseeing bus gives greater return for the money than almost any other expenditure the traveler can make. It will save him limitless time, and while of necessity the bus will hurry him past many things he will want to examine at greater leisure, it will also show him many other things he would never have found for himself. A carefully arranged series of bus trips will give the visitor an idea of the geography of the city, and while he may only glimpse the principal sights, he will at least be able to make an intelligent choice of the ones to which he wishes to return for a further view.
There are many good sightseeing systems in New York, but for purposes of illustration as to what a bus will show you, I have selected four trips of an old-established service.
The "Seeing Lower New York" tour leaves the Gray Line Terminal, 59 West 36th Street, every half hour between 9 A.M. and 5 P.M. In one and a half to one and three-quarters hours, this tour will drive you past the highlights of New York, sightseeing downtown from the starting point. It will take you through lower Fifth Avenue, past Washington Square and Greenwich Village, to the Civic Center and City Hall Park, lower Broadway, Wall Street and the skyscrapers of the financial district, Battery Park (the only stop of the tour here is made at the Aquarium), the Fulton Fish Market, the lower East Side tenement district, past Chinatown and along the Bowery, and so back to the point of beginning. It costs $2.00.
The "Upper New York" tour leaves the same terminal at the same hours, takes about the same length of time, and includes the Fifth Avenue shopping district, Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Columbia University, a stop at Grant's Tomb, and then goes downtown along Riverside Drive and past the berths of the great trans-atlantic liners. It is also $2.00.
For someone who has limited time and wishes to see some of the outstanding sights of New York as rapidly as possible, the so-called "Banner Tour," costing $3.50 and consuming an-afternoon from 2 until 6 P.M., is really well arranged. It consists largely of guided visits to some of the outstanding sights of New York, beginning with the Empire State Building. Then Radio City is inspected thoroughly, a visit to the broadcasting studios being included, and after this another visit is made under guidance to the American Museum of Natural History. The visit to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine concludes the tour.
No trip to New York is complete without a visit to China-town or Harlem, or both, and to see them at their best it is necessary to go at night. There is a Gray Line four-hour tour starting at frequent intervals all evening long in the summer and every night at 8:30 P.M. in the winter, which costs $3.00 and includes both—with other interesting things thrown in for good measure. The tour shows you Times Square at night, the city illuminated from the roof of the R.C.A. Building, Chinatown, with a visit to a joss house, and Harlem, with a visit to a Negro dance hall. This tour is a real boon to ladies traveling alone who might well be uncomfortable wandering around Chinatown or Harlem by themselves.
These tours are given only as samples. There are many good sightseeing companies, all offering more or less the same itineraries. As most of the sightseeing buses will come to your hotel on request to pick you up, I advise you to make your arrangements through the hotel.
The next best quick view of the city can be secured by taking a trip on a Fifth Avenue bus. It will show you a surprising amount, particularly if you ride on top. You can leave the bus anywhere along the route, stop to see something that may interest you, and then continue by another bus—paying another 10-cent fare, of course. But naturally there will be no lecturer, and no explanation of the things you are seeing along the way.
For the best general view of the city by bus I would begin at Washington Square, even if I were uptown and had to pay an extra fare to get there. Washington Square is where the buses start, and this is where you stand your best chance of getting a top-side seat.
At Washington Square take a No. 19 bus, and ask for a transfer when paying your fare. This bus will take you up Fifth Avenue through the publishing district, past the Flatiron Building and Madison Square, past the Empire State Building, the Public Library, the shopping district, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, and give you a distant glimpse of the entrance to Central Park as it turns west into 57th Street.
Fifty-seventh Street is followed past Carnegie Hall and the Art Students' League to Eighth Avenue. Here the bus turns north again, and passing through Columbus Circle, with an-other nearer glimpse of the Park, enters that section of upper Broadway which is devoted to the selling of automobiles, new and old—but mostly old, for the bulk of automobile row de-voted to the selling of new cars is on Broadway below 57th Street.
At 72nd Street the bus turns west again to Riverside Drive. The best views will be to the left from here on. Not only will you have superb views of the Hudson and of Riverside Park, but you will pass in quick order the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, the statue of Joan of Arc, Riverside Church, Grant's Tomb, and the great viaduct carrying Riverside Drive over 125th Street, 75 feet below.
At 157th Street, you will leave the drive for upper Broadway again, to the end of this run at the Medical Center. Here you can use the transfer you asked for so long ago, and take a No. 4 bus north to Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. After a short visit to the Park for the extended view of the Hudson, the George Washington Bridge, which you will have passed on your way up, and the Palisades, reboard a No. 4 bus, again making sure that you ask for a transfer. Continue on this bus to the Medical Center again, changing there for a No. 3 bus downtown. This will take you through part of Harlem, past the College of the City of New York, give you a glance at the apse of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, and then take you across 110th Street and the north end of Central Park to Fifth Avenue again.
South from 110th Street along Fifth Avenue the bus will have the Park on the right and the most fashionable apartment houses in New York on the left. You will pass several hospitals, the Museum of the City of New York, the Central Park Botanical Gardens, the great Carnegie Mansion and the Church of the Heavenly Rest at East 90th Street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Frick Museum at East 70th Street, the Temple Emanu-El, the Central Park Menagerie, and the St. Gaudens statue of General Sherman at 60th Street, before you rejoin your original northbound route along Fifth Avenue at 57th Street. Even though you may have paid an-extra fare to get to Washington Square and a seat on top, your total expenditure will have been 30 cents. You never got better value for your money.
Another great summer sightseeing feature is the 32-mile trip around New York by sightseeing yacht. These yachts leave the Battery at 10 A.M. and 2 P.M. Then once more a view of midtown and downtown New York, and so back to the Battery. The excursion takes about two hours, and the fare is $I.50 or $2.00, according to the size of the yacht. It is a bar-gain at either price. There are departures from the foot of West 42nd Street, as well as from the Battery. It is well to get there early so as to get a good seat. They take you first up the East River, with splendid views of the towering buildings of lower Manhattan on the left and of Brooklyn on the right, and will soon bring you to the first of the great bridges spanning the rivers which border Manhattan Island: 'While there are larger suspension bridges than those linking Manhattan with Brooklyn or the New Jersey Shore, I know no city in the world which has so many big ones in a group, and where in a boat trip of 32 miles you will pass under the central spans of four and the approach span of a fifth.
The BROOKLYN BRIDGE is the oldest of the great suspension bridges. It was opened on May 24, 1883, and was the scene of a senseless tragedy on May 30, when someone in the crowd on the bridge shouted that it was falling, and twelve people were killed in the resulting stampede. Its, stone towers still make it the most beautiful of the bridges around Manhattan. The river span is 1,595 feet long from tower to tower.
Just past the Brooklyn Bridge, on your left, you will see the mass of KNICKERBOCKER VILLAGE. It was built in the heart of one of the worst slum districts in New York, and already has done much to improve the neighborhood where it stands. Always full, it provides small apartments at sane rents to selected tenants, young married couples being preferred.
Then comes another bridge, this time the MANHATTAN BRIDGE. This graceful structure was the fourth to be built from New York to Long Island. In a basin to your right, beyond the Bridge, is located the BROOKLYN NAVY YARD, the most important naval station in the country. Five of the nation's super-dreadnaughts were built here, and about 4,000 men are regularly employed in the yard.
The WILLIAMSBURGH BRIDGE was the second to be built across the East River. Its center span is 1600 feet long from tower to tower. Strictly utilitarian, it has neither the beauty of the Brooklyn Bridge nor the. grace of the Manhattan Bridge. It gets its name from the section of Brooklyn which it serves.
The great pile of BELLEVUE HOSPITAL is at 23rd Street and the East River. It is one of the largest and one of the best-known hospitals in America, and is administered by an unpaid board appointed by the Mayor of the city.
North of Bellevue the skyscrapers of the midtown section of New York come into view, and soon after passing the great apartment house group "Tudor City," you will have one of the most fashionable districts in New York—the SUTTON PLACEBEEKMAN PLACE district—on your left, and Welfare Island on your right. Just before you reach the Queensboro Bridge, notice "River House," an apartment house with its own private yacht landing.
WELFARE ISLAND runs up the center of the East River from 50th Street to 86th Street and covers 120 acres. It is the site of many hospitals and public charitable institutions. Direct connection with both New York and Brooklyn is given by elevators which lift cars and trucks to the level of the Queensboro Bridge, which crosses the island.
The QUEENSBORO BRIDGE is one of the principal arteries of travel from Manhattan to Long Island. It is of very different construction from the other East River bridges, being built on the cantilever principle.
The buildings of the ROCKEFELLER INSTITUTE FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH overlook the river from a bluff at 66th Street, and just to the north, at 68th Street, are the buildings of the NEW YORK HOSPITAL, operated in connection with Cornell University Medical College.
Just as you pass the north end of Welfare Island you will see Carl Schurz Park on your left. At the north end of this park is the GRACIE MANSION, one of the finer old houses of the city. Built in 1800, it is furnished in the style of the period. It is best reached by the 86th Street crosstown buses. Now a branch of the Museum of the City of New York, the house is open to the public free of charge from 10 A.M. to 5 P.M., except on Sundays and holidays, when it is open only from 1 to 5 P.M., and on Mondays and Thursdays, when it is closed altogether.
Your yacht will turn left here toward the channels leading to the Harlem River, but looking to your right you will see HELL GATE, as the connection between the East River and Long Island Sound is called. It once had a most evil reputation among mariners, and in sailing ship days few dared attempt the perilous passage except at slack tide. Over Hell Gate are two more immense bridges, the TRIBOROUGH BRIDGE and the Hell Gate Bridge. The Triborough Bridge is so called because it connects with the three boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. Strictly a highway bridge, and the only one over the East River with neither streetcars nor elevated or subway trains crossing it, it is the latest of New York's triumphs in bridge construction, having been completed in 1936.
The HELL GATE BRIDGE is of radically different design. This colossal steel arch is a four-track railway bridge reached by a concrete and steel viaduct about 3 miles long. It connects the tracks of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad with those of the Pennsylvania Railroad and the tunnels leading from Long Island to the Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.
Here you will pass on your right WARD'S ISLAND and RANDALL'S ISLAND, separated by the swirling tides of Little Hell Gate. Then, after passing under the Manhattan connection of the Triborough Bridge, you enter the narrow HARLEM RIVER, between Manhattan (left) and the Bronx (right).
Of the many bridges across the Harlem River none are note-worthy until you reach the stone-and-steel arch of HIGH BRIDGE, built to bring an aqueduct into the city, and then the graceful steel arches of WASHINGTON BRIDGE, to the north. Just after passing Washington Bridge there will come into view a group of buildings crowning the hill to the right, the architectural feature being a graceful semicircular colonade. This is the
HALL OF FAME OF NEW YORK UNIVERSITY. This great institution has buildings not only here on University Heights, but also all along the east side of Washington Square. The faculty numbers some 1,900, and there is an enrollment of about 37,000 students. The Hall of Fame itself is intended to honor the names of 150 distinguished Americans, five names being chosen annually from nominations submitted by the public. It is expected that the roster will be completed in the year 2000.
The immense red brick structure beyond the Hall of Fame, on the same side of the Harlem River, is a VETERANS' HOSPITAL.
The HENRY HUDSON BRIDGE, which you will pass just before leaving the Harlem River for the Hudson, is said to be the longest, hingeless single-arch bridge in the world.
Just after passing under the Henry Hudson Bridge, and through the draw span taking the New York Central freight tracks into Manhattan, you will turn south down the Hudson River toward the Battery once more. Here you can get a fine view of the Palisades, those mighty cliffs along the New Jersey Shore. The New York side of the River is largely parks as far south as 72nd Street.
The 3,500-foot span of the GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE is the second longest suspension span in the world, being exceeded only by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. At present the Bridge is single decked, but provision is made for adding another deck to the span as traffic requirements may demand. It is said that on its opening day it was used by over 56,000 vehicles. The roadway is 250 feet above the water, and the towers are 635 feet high. The Bridge was opened in 1931.
Just south of the Bridge are the buildings of the Medical Center (see page 66), and then in reverse order the sites along Riverside Park, described on pages 64 to 66.
South of 72nd Street the water front is given over to the wharves where the great ocean liners are berthed, and you will be very unlucky if you don't see one or more. You can visit the ships when they are in port on payment of a small fee. Since the days when the ships are open vary according to schedule of loading, cleaning, and so on, it is well, before trying to board one, to telephone the steamship company for details.
People who want something a little special will find a some-what out-of-the-ordinary organization in "Courier Service of New York," at 30 Rockefeller Plaza (R.C.A. Building). This concern supplies individual guide service, private automobile service, and conducted tours, emphasizing the cultural, educational, and unusual side of New York.
If you require more detailed information about the sights listed here than a book of this size can possibly give, the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau of the Merchants Association of New York, with offices on the tenth floor of the Woolworth Building, 233 Broadway, will be glad to supply you with literature, maps, information, or almost any other assistance you may need. This is a nonprofit civic organization, and this service to visitors is free.