( Originally Published 1940 )
For sightseeing purposes New York can be divided into various districts, each more or less complete in itself. As by far the greater number of visitors will arrive in the MIDTOWN NEIGHBORHOOD, and as the majority of the larger hotels are there, it seems to be a good point of beginning.
TIMES SQUARE is truly the crossroads of New York. Here is where New Yorkers gather to read the election returns or to celebrate New Year's Eve. Practically a solid mass of great advertising signs, it may be a disappointment to you in the daytime, but it is a marvel at night. The big sign "with the fishes," stretching along an entire block, is claimed to be the largest electric sign in the world, and to use nightly enough current to light a fair-sized city. The sidewalks are jammed late into the night, for Times Square never seems to go to bed. Looking west along 42nd Street, you will see the curious, green MCGRAW-HILL BUILDING, designed by Raymond Hood.
The walls will seem to you to lean out slightly, and do in fact, so don't think that there is anything the matter with your eyes. Unless you have a lot of time and energy, don't bother to go over to the building itself, for right in Times Square, near the conventional TIMES BUILDING that closes the south end of the Square, you have another building of peculiar design, the PARAMOUNT BUILDING, easily recognizable by the clock in the tower and the great globe atop.
Although the Times Building, with its moving bulletin perpetually grinding out items of the world's news, is at the south end of the Square, the paper is actually produced at a newer building at 229 West 43rd Street. It is only half a block or so to the west of Times Square, and here are free guided tours at 9 and 11 A.M. and 2 and 4 P.M. for the benefit of those who wish to see how the paper is produced. Ask the elevator starter how to find the starting point. The tours are offered daily except Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays.
A short walk of a block to the east along 42nd Street brings you to Sixth Avenue and BRYANT PARK. This charming little well-landscaped breathing place was once the Potter's Field of the city, then the site of America's first World's Fair, and later the site of a great walled reservoir, gone over forty years.
The AMERICAN RADIATOR BUILDING, built of black brick with contrasting gilt decorations around the roof, towers over the park from the 40th Street side, while from 42nd Street the 500 FIFTH AVENUE BUILDING looms 697 feet over the Park, the Public Library, and the streets below.
The NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY stretches from 40th to 42nd Streets along Fifth Avenue, Bryant Park being to the rear of the building. This monumental marble structure is visited daily by some o,000 people, who come either to read or to see the various exhibits. In this building alone, some 2,500,000 books are available for lending or for reference, and many more are scattered among the half a hundred branches. Before entering from Fifth Avenue, first notice the somewhat snobbish expression of the great stone lions that guard the stairs and then take the elevator inside the building to the third (top) floor.
Here is the great reading room of the library. This immense room, stretching almost from end to end of the building, is somewhat dwarfed by the necessary technical services housed behind the carved wooden screen that bisects it. To get a good view of the superb CEILING (now badly in need of touching up), you will have to go to one end or the other of the room.
The PICTURE GALLERIES are also on the top floor. They contain many pictures of value and even more that were considered the height of modern art in their day, but are now somewhat outmoded by changing taste. You will be surprised at the number of paintings here that you have seen reproduced (usually for the decoration of calendars), such as "Blind Milton Dictating to His Daughters." It is like meeting old friends away from home.
More interesting to me are the priceless old MAPS in the corridor outside the gallery, and the marvelous COLLECTIONS OF OLD BOOKS AND MANUSCRIPTS.
On the way out of the building descend the monumental staircase, one of the finest in the city. The building is said to have cost $9,000,000, exclusive of the land, and it was opened to the public in 1911.
The GRAND CENTRAL TERMINAL fronts on 42nd Street, two blocks east of Fifth Avenue, with the great statuary group over the main entrance, representing "Progress" and "Mental and Physical Force," looking southward down PARK AVENUE. This great street, symbol of riches to all America, is literally "over the railroad tracks" for most of its length, for the four-track tunnel taking trains into the station runs under Park Avenue until the tracks emerge north of 96th Street, when Park Avenue abruptly ceases to be a fashionable residential street and becomes the center of one of New York's worst slum districts.
Not only the terminal, but many of the buildings surrounding it are built right over' the tracks of its 79-acre train yard. Look closely at the ground line of many a hotel and apartment house along Park Avenue as far north as 50th Street, and you will find what seems to be a separation between the building and the surrounding sidewalk. This little crack in the wall is there for a purpose. To avoid vibration the steel frames of all the buildings constructed over the tracks are carried down through the terminal to bedrock itself, and do not touch the terminal structure at any point. The station building proper, while huge, gives you no idea of the enormous underground extent of the terminal. To get an idea of its size and complexity, before you begin your visit, step into the Station Master's office (any Red Cap will direct you), and there on the wall by the door you will find a very clear and simple blueprint of the various levels of this vast piece of engineering, which will not only give you a better idea of it than words possibly can, but will make the rest of your visit infinitely more worth while to you.
The architect of the station was Whitney Warren, and the Main Concourse is his masterpiece. This noble room, 275 feet long, 120 feet wide, and 125 feet high, is a model of symmetry. The immense windows at either end of the room are double, and passageways with floors of glass connect the two ends of the building through the windows themselves. If you look long enough you will probably see someone walk casually across. The effect is peculiarly spidery.
The ceiling is painted with the signs of the zodiac, the stars' being represented by tiny lights. In addition to train service from 42 express tracks on the upper level, and 25 local tracks on the lower level, the station provides the various restaurants, shops, theater, and so on, that the American has learned to expect to find in a place of this kind.
The station straddles the line of Park Avenue, which is carried around the structure on a ramp, to emerge through the 560-foot tower of the NEW YORK CENTRAL BUILDING, a structure of somewhat wedding-cakey architecture which closes the vista of Park Avenue at 46th Street.
At the south end of the station, under this ramp itself, and facing the main entrance, is an INFORMATION CENTER maintained by the City of New York for the benefit of visitors. I heartily recommend it. The attendants are courteous and willing, and on the numerous occasions when I have made use of it, I have been unable to stick them with a single question.
Just east of the Grand Central Terminal at the corner of 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue stands the 68o-foot tower of the CHANIN BUILDING, and almost across from the station is the 673-foot-high LINCOLN BUILDING. These are, respectively, the tenth and eleventh in height of the skyscrapers of New York. They are overshadowed by the 1,046 feet of the CHRYSLER BUILDING the second highest in the city), at the northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. If you do not go to the top of the Chrysler Building, you should at least enter it to see the decorations of the lobby, with its gigantic ceiling painting by Trumbull.
The NEWS BUILDING (50o feet), while not so high as the others I have mentioned, is the architectural triumph of Raymond Hood, and in the simplicity of its purely functional architecture is considered one of the outstanding buildings of the city. The lobby with its revolving globe and its compass floor is fascinating. There are hourly guided tours of the plant, which manufactures the newspaper with the largest circulation over 3,500,000 on Sundays—of any in the world.
Another notable high building in the neighborhood is the WALDORF-ASTORIA on Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. The 625 feet of this building are built entirely above the tracks of the Grand Central Terminal, and in consequence the hotel has no cellar at all. Only a few feet lower in height than the Waldorf-Astoria is the GENERAL ELECTRIC BUILDING at Lexington Avenue and 51st Street, its very ornate tower illuminated with changing colored lights at night.
ROCKEFELLER CENTER, that amazing group of buildings between 48th and 51st Streets and Fifth and Sixth Avenues, is estimated to have a daytime population of some 125,000., It is one of the sights of New York that absolutely must not be missed. The best first view of the Center is from Fifth Avenue, looking between the British Empire Building and La Maison Francaise toward the 850-foot-high facade of the R.C.A. BUILDING. This is the most unique architectural view in New York. Walk down the Plaza between the buildings to see Paul Manship's "Prometheus Fountain"—a work which gave rise to great controversy, and which irreverent New Yorkers promptly dubbed "the daring young man on the flying trapeze." There are numerous modern works of art in the Rockefeller Center, most of them strange to New Yorkers on account of their modernity, and most of them, like the fountain, promptly receiving nicknames. Thus the bas relief over the door of the R.C.A. Building was soon said to be a portrait of George Bernard Shaw, and the great Atlas Statue, standing in the forecourt of the International Building opposite St. Patrick's Cathedral, is affectionately called "King-Kong."
The lobby of the R.C.A. Building is decorated with MURALS BY FRANK BRANGWYN, which must be seen. Here I would inquire at the information desk about the conducted tours which, at a very reasonable fee, will show you the wonders of the whole area. They will take you to the eleven landscaped SKY GARDENS (when they are open), another sight that should not be missed, and the guides will describe the construction of the development, the works of art used as decorations, and the system of underground communications between the dozen buildings of the group. In fact, they will show you just about everything except the STUDIOS OF THE NATIONAL BROADCASTING COMPANY, which have a tour of their own. And you should certainly take their guided tour, too.
There is an extended VIEW OF NEW YORK from the roof of the R.C.A. Building. The admission is 40 cents.
In addition to the office buildings, the famous Radio City Music Hall, seating 6,200 people, and the smaller but equally beautiful Center Theater, seating 3,600 people, are part of the Rockefeller Center group. And just within the Sixth Avenue entrance to the R.C.A. Building is the New York Museum of Science and Industry.
Although it is a huge church, ST. PATRICK'S CATHEDRAL does not rank high among the cathedrals of the world from the standpoint of size alone. But in purity of design and harmony of style I doubt if it is surpassed anywhere. The Gothic structure is cruciform, the great nave and choir extending for 332 feet, with a width of 174 feet through the transepts. The twin spires, delicate in their tracery, are now dwarfed by the towering newer structures about the church, but when St. Patrick's was dedicated, their height of 330 feet made them conspicuous landmarks of New York. The church was twenty-one years in building from the laying of the cornerstone in August, 1858, until Cardinal McCloskey declared the building open in 1879.
The Cardinal is now buried under the main altar, which is a sight in itself. Built of pure Italian marble and inlaid with alabaster and precious stones, it would be worthy of a visit on its own account.
The rather gloomy brownstone VANDERBILT MANSION at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 51st Street is one of the few remaining of the old mansions of the ultra-rich which once lined Fifth Avenue. Today most of the very wealthy have left that street for apartments or smaller houses on the side streets. Taxes have been a contributing cause, for it is said that the real estate taxes alone on this old mansion amount to $197 per day!
Two of the richest Episcopal congregations in New York worship in ST. THOMAS' CHURCH at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, and in ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S CHURCH,, at the corner of Park Avenue and 51st Street. Although a passing view of the Romanesque exterior of St. Bartholomew's may content you, you should certainly visit the interior of St. Thomas' to see the exquisite reredos and the glorious stained-glass windows.
And the mention of glass brings to mind that the lover of modern architecture will enjoy walking north on Fifth Avenue to the corner of 56th Street to see the new modern building housing STEUBEN GLASS. It is not large, but is a model of its kind, and appropriately enough much glass is used in its construction.
Much glass is used also in the walls of the ultramodern MUSEUM OF MODERN ART on 53rd Street, just behind St. Thomas' Church. Even if you don't go in (which you decidedly should), it is a sight to see.
Although there are many more things in that part of mid-town New York which it is a pity to miss, I believe these to be the most worth while, and certainly far more than any except the most enthusiastic visitor will have time to see. So let us return to Times Square and ,proceed to enjoy other sights of central Manhattan, this time to the south between 42nd and) 34th Streets.
If you will follow Broadway south from Times Square, you will come shortly to another part of the midtown district which is less than half a mile from Times Square, but which is sharply different from it. For at Herald Square, where Broadway, Sixth Avenue, and 34th Street cross each other, is one of the great shopping districts of the city. Here are Macy's, Gimbel's, and Saks 34th Street, the less expensive sister of the very swank Saks Fifth Avenue. Macy's, running through the entire block from Sixth to Seventh Avenues between 34th and 35th Streets, is of course one of the famous stores of the world, and really might be considered a sight in itself.
At HERALD SQUARE you are just between two of the greatest pieces of architecture in New York, totally dissimilar, and neither to be missed. For one block to the west, at Fifth Avenue from 34th to 33rd Streets, is the Empire State Building, and to the east on Seventh Avenue, between 33rd and 31st Streets, is .the Pennsylvania Station.
The EMPIRE STATE BUILDING 1S the tallest structure yet erected by man. It is 102 stories high from the street to the top of the so-called mooring mast, 1,250 feet above the street level. Although this added tower was erected as a mast to which dirigibles might be moored, I have been told that the updrafts caused by the winds pressing against the Building would make such use a practical impossibility, and now the mast is crowned by the instruments of the weather 'bureau.
The Building is not only the highest in the city, but bears the greatest assessment of any in New York, its taxes being figured on a value of $42,000,000. Seven hundred fifty people are employed in the various services of the Building, and 25,000 could work in its offices.
There are two observation galleries, one with an open terrace on the 86th floor, and another completely glass enclosed on the 102nd floor, at the top of the mooring mast. A visit to them costs $1.10 for adults, and 25 cents for children, and if you go up on a clear day, you will find that it is a bargain. The number of miles which normal visibility permits you to see from the top is posted on a sign outside the ticket office in the lobby, and anything over 15 miles will give you a VIEW OF NEW YORK that you will never forget.
By far the best time to go is at sunset, when you can first see the city by daylight. Then have a, snack in the restaurant on the 86th floor, watch the sun go down from the comfortable lounge on the west side of the Building, and as night draws in, ascend to the top of the mooring mast for the view of New York at night. The brilliantly lighted streets will stretch as far as the eye can reach, and the electric signs, so garish when seen at short range, are softened by distance into glowing jewels bedecking the metropolis. In my considered opinion the view of New York at night from the top of the Empire State Building is the sight of New York.
For some reason the PENNSYLVANIA STATION has never had quite the appeal of the Grand Central Terminal to the New Yorker. In fact, if you tell the average citizen of the city that in the course of a day more people use the Pennsylvania Station than use its rival to the north, he probably will not believe you. Somehow, while he admires the Pennsylvania, the New Yorker loves the Grand Central—which is quite unfair to the Pennsylvania.
This monumental building occupies the space of two city blocks between Seventh and Eighth Avenues, and 31st and 33rd Streets, and more than four city blocks below ground, as the train yards and platforms extend far beyond Ninth Avenue. There are two tubes leading under the Hudson from New Jersey, and four from the station under the East River to Long Island, connecting with the Long Island Railroad and with the Pennsylvania train yards there.
The main waiting room, where the ticket offices are located, is 227 feet long, 103 feet wide, and 150 feet high. Its mellow, columned walls, decorated with soft-colored mural maps, make it one of the noblest rooms in New York, if not in the entire United States.
The Main Concourse, roofed with steel and glass, is even larger in floor area, measuring 340 by 210 feet. From this room the stairways lead to the tracks below. The general design of the building is said to have been inspired by the ruins of the baths of Caracalla in Rome. I think it is probably true, because when I saw the ruins of the baths of Caracalla, they reminded me of the Pennsylvania Station!
Behind the Pennsylvania Station, and built over the train yard, is the classic structure of the GENERAL POST OFFICE, its facade, decorated with Corinthian columns, stretching along Eighth Avenue from 31St to 33rd Streets. This immense building goes all the way back to Ninth Avenue, and covers two full city blocks.
Just south of the Pennsylvania Station and the Post Office is the center of the women's garment industry. The actual manufacturing is concealed behind the walls of hundreds of towering loft buildings, but at noon, when the members of the I.L.G.W.U. take possession of Seventh Avenue and the side streets, you can see one of the most colorful spectacles on earth. Eating seems to be secondary, for during the entire noon hour the streets are jammed with groups, strolling, talking, and gesticulating. They tell me that each branch of the trade has its own pet street, and that at noon time one street is the favorite haunt of the basters, another of the cutters, while the stitchers have a third pet street of their own. I can't conscientiously advise you to make a special trip to see this at noon, but if you happen to be along Seventh Avenue just south of the Pennsylvania Station at that time, don't miss it.
Perhaps after visiting the Pennsylvania Station or the Empire State Building, so symbolic of the practical world of today, you might be in the mood to step back some five hundred years, at least in spirit. If so, go down Fifth Avenue to 28th Street. Turn east, and opposite the Prince George Hotel you will find a tiny church, St. Leo's. This is the Church of the Perpetual Adoration, and night and day, year in and year out, two nuns or more kneel in prayer before the altar. It is not a big church, and perhaps not an important one, but no one will have to tell you to preserve silence once you are within, and when you come out again into the bustle of the city; you will feel a definite shock at finding yourself again in the world of today.
One block to the north, on 29th Street, just east of Fifth Avenue, is the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, better known as "THE LITTLE CHURCH AROUND THE CORNER." It is the actor's favorite church, and has long been famous for the liberality of its views. It is a peaceful spot, possessing the rarest things that Manhattan can give—a plot of grass and some trees.
MADISON SQUARE, where Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and 23rd Street cross, and where Madison Avenue begins its northward march, is the center of the life insurance district of the city. On the south of the Square is the ugly FLATIRON BUILDING, one of the first real skyscrapers to be erected in the city, and the source of many a ribald jest in my youth because the swirling winds around its sharp prow sometimes lifted a lady's skirt above her ankles. The Building derives its name from the triangular plot between Broadway, 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue, and 22nd Street on which the building stands.
The great structures of the life insurance companies are on the east side of the Square. The Metropolitan Life Building, with its 700-foot-high clock tower is the tallest, but the 610 foot height of the New York Life Building would make it notable anywhere except in New York. Although, according to the invaluable World Almanac, it is only the seventeenth in height in New York, the same authority shows only two buildings higher outside of New York in the whole United States. The tower of the Metropolitan Life Building is from a design inspired by the Campanile in Venice. The clock is three stories high.
Although it is not very large, many people call the APPELLATE COURTHOUSE, at the corner of Madison Avenue and 25th Street, the most beautiful building in New York. You should really take time to step inside to see the rich beauty of the interior.
There are several statues in the Square, but my art-loving friends assure me that the less said about them the better. So I will content myself by mentioning that they are there. The Eternal Light Memorial to the dead of the last war also stands in the Square. Atop a 125-foot shaft of Oregon pine is a five-pointed star, perpetually lighted by electricity.
A short distance from Madison Square between 20th and 21st Streets, and at the southern end of Lexington Avenue, is GRAMERCY PARK. It is not at all spectacular, but is one of the few private parks in America, surrounded by a fence with locked gates only to be opened by keys in the possession of dwellers in the surrounding buildings. A statue of Edwin Booth stands in the Park, and his erstwhile residence, now the Players Club, faces the Park from the south. Unfortunately, unless you are invited by a member, you will not be permitted to enter the Club to see one of the art treasures of the city—the exquisite fireplace designed by Stanford White.
Probably you will be more interested in UNION SQUARE than you will in Gramercy Park. Here is the great outdoor forum of New York. Generally considered to be exclusively the haunt of "Reds," in actuality you will hear every "ism" imaginable, and some that aren't, expounded by the orators in Union Square. ,
The statues in Union Square certainly deserve mention. General Washington was received here by the city in 1783, and here appropriately stands his heroic equestrian statue by H. K. Browne. The same artist is responsible for the statue of Lincoln that also decorates the Square. The statue of Lafayette is by Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty. And if you will get up .early enough on a summer morning to reach Union Square between five and six o'clock, you will see some-thing hard to believe in New York's masses of steel and stone—a flower market!
FOURTEENTH STREET, which bounds Union Square on the south, might well be called the "poor, man's Fifth Avenue." Here are no luxury shops, but stores appealing frankly on a price basis—and usually offering startlingly good values for the money. It is amazing how many women look and feel smart in dresses from Klein's . The stores range in quality from the quasi-luxury of Hearn's between Fifth and Sixth Avenues down to the pushcart market on First Avenue , just south of 14th Street. And if you happen to be in Union Square, note the fur shop one flight up on the corner of 14th Street and-Broadway, where all day long, winter and summer, living models of incredible blondness parade endlessly before the plate-glass windows displaying fur coats.