New York City - From City Hall Park To The Battery
( Originally Published 1940 )
City Hall Park is the real civic center of New York. The CITY HALL itself, at the northern end of the Park, facing south, is not only the finest example of post-colonial architecture in New York, but some good critics have said it is the finest example in the country. It is not large, only 216 feet long by 105 wide, but the purity of its design makes it a monument to the architects McComb and Mangin, who designed it. The cornerstone of the building was laid in 1803, and the building was dedicated almost exactly nine years later in May, 1812
The front and sides of the building were of marble (and still are), but the back was sandstone. The story goes that when City Hall was built, it was so far uptown that "it was never imagined that anybody would ever go around it to look at the back." It is a nice story, and I wish that I could believe it, but I think it is more probable that the city fathers of that day decided to economize a little, for so elaborate a building must have been a strain on the purse of the infant city.
Most of the detail work of running the city's departments is done in the huge MUNICIPAL BUILDING, arched over Chambers Street to a height of 580 feet, and in City Hall itself there is room only for the executive offices of the Mayor, the President of the Council, the Art Commission, and the chambers of the Council and the Board of Estimate.
The GOVERNOR'S ROOM, open to the public, is the most interesting in the structure. It contains not only the chair which Washington used at his inauguration as first President of the United States, but the desk at which he penned his first message to Congress. There are several works of art in the room, with many paintings by early American artists, including Trumbull's portraits of Washington and Hamilton. Unfortunately we do not know the name of the artist who painted the portrait of Petrus (Peter) Stuyvesant, which also hangs in the Governor's Room.
The Mayor's office is on the ground floor, and here hangs one of the most valuable works of art belonging to the city, a portrait of Lafayette painted by Professor S. F. B. Morse, that versatile genius who was later to invent the telegraph. It is interesting to note that this invention led indirectly to the greatest damage which City Hall has so far sustained. When, as a result of Morse's invention of the telegraph, the Atlantic cable was laid, there was a great celebration at the City Hall in August, 1858. The building caught fire from the illuminations, and for a long time afterward the windows were boarded up in the smoke-blackened facade of the structure.
City Hall and City Hall Park have many historical associations. Here in City Hall Park the Declaration of Independence was read on July 9, 1776 to the Continental Army there assembled, and here on August 26, 1824, Lafayette was received after a triumphal procession from the Battery—a tradition which has persisted to the present day, all distinguished visitors to New York following the same classic route.
In City Hall Park are two statues by MacMonnies, his bronze Nathan Hale, which is generally conceded to be one of the finest works of art in New York, and his marble fountain statue Civic Virtue, which has been the center of a storm of controversy ever since it was erected; some saying that it is good, and others that it is bad. Not being an art critic my-self, I will reserve my opinion, merely saying that it must be significant, or quite obviously people wouldn't argue so about it.
Several of the older skyscrapers of New York overlOOk City Hall Park, one of them being of real importance. The WOOLWORTH BUILDING, a Gothic tower 792 feet high, was for eighteen years the highest building in the city, and still is the sixth in rank. But that is not why it is important. It is rather because in his design for this Building Cass Gilbert realized for the first time that the glory of a tower is in its height, and therefore accentuated the vertical lines of the Building. Al-though the step-back buildings of later years have given New York a peculiar architecture of its own, it can still truly be said that the Woolworth Building revolutionized American architecture.
If you have plenty of time, and only then, you might enjoy visiting some of the buildings behind the City Hall before proceeding further down Broadway. Almost behind the City Hall is the HALL OF RECORDS, where in absolutely fireproofs vaults are stored the records of the deeds to all the real estate in Manhattan. While not very large as New York buildings go, it is decidedly in the grand manner. The thirty-two monolithic columns cost $20,000 each, and the various facades are liberally garnished with statues by Bush, Brown, MacMonnies, Mar-tiny, and Weinert.
The COUNTY COURTHOUSE at Centre and Worth Streets is a hexagonal building radiating from a central well. More conspicuous is the tall FEDERAL COURTS BUILDING. The NEW YORK STATE BUILDING houses various state services, such as motor registration offices. Only a little further away is the gloomy old TOMBS PRISON, connected with the almost equally gloomy old CRIMINAL COURTS BUILDING by a covered passageway above Franklin Street called the "Bridge of Sighs." These inadequate and inconvenient old buildings, admittedly a disgrace to the city, are soon to give way to a new structure.
Before proceeding south to the financial district it would be desirable if you could find the time to get a general view of it. This is best done from the Brooklyn Bridge. Although this huge yet delicate span is still the most beautiful of New York's bridges, you would never know it from the entrance that leads from City Hall Park, and which is rendered hideous by a trolley and an "L" terminal of great ugliness. But if you will walk across a flock of trolley tracks, you will find the promenade for foot passengers across the Bridge. Walk to the middle, and you will get a VIEW OF DOWNTOWN NEW YORK which you will never forget.
You can get the same view without so much walking by crossing City Hall Park to the Park Place Station of the I.R.T. Subway, and taking any Brooklyn-bound train to Clark Street. Here you emerge through the building of the St. George Hotel, and either from the roof of the hotel, or by walking only a block or so to the end of Clark Street, you will be able to obtain a view of downtown Manhattan that is breathtaking.
At the south end of City Hall Park is ST. PAUL'S CHAPEL, the oldest church 'building in the city, having been built in 1756. It is the rear which is seen from Broadway, for the building faces the Hudson River, and once enjoyed a view of the stream, a vista which is now blocked by the new FEDERAL OFFICE BUILDING, among others. Washington worshipped in St. Paul's, and during the British occupation of the city, so did Lord Howe. The interior is of delicate beauty. The pew used by General Washington is marked.
A short walk south along Broadway, which here is a veritable canyon between cliff-like buildings, will bring you to TRINITY CHURCH and CHURCHYARD. Long before Manhattan Island became an English possession, this land was the West India Company's farm. Then, after the English took over the rule, it became the King's -Farm, and in 1705 this immense tract, embracing all the land along the Hudson, from Vesey to Christopher Streets, was granted to the colonial church of which the present Trinity is the descendant. Although much of the land has been disposed of, enough remains to give the parish an estimated income of $500,000 ,per year. The affairs of the parish are administered from the Gothic-style office building to the north of the churchyard. The present church building was finished in 1846, and is 'famous for the purity of its Gothic style, its bronze doors, and the altar and reredos. In the church-yard sleep, among others of New York's illustrious dead, Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton, and John Jay (first Chief Justice). The most conspicuous monument is that erected to the memory of the men who died in British prisons during the Revolutionary War, and the oldest grave is that of Richard Churcher, who died in 1681.
WALL STREET, an even narrower canyon than Broadway, runs from Trinity Church .to the East River. (Its location has given rise to a rather bitter local jest to the effect that Wall Street is ideally situated for speculative purposes, having a river at one end and a graveyard at the other.) Walk one block down Wall Street, and you will be at about the most important corner in New York.
Your eye will first be caught by a heroic statue of Washington, which stands on a broad flight of steps leading to a low Doric building. This was long the SUBTREASURY of the United States, and the building marks the site of Federal Hall, where Washington took the oath of office as President. The stone on which he stood is still preserved in the building. Even without the added sentimental interest of the stone, you should enter the building to see the beautiful rotunda, one of the most exquisite examples of post-colonial architecture in New York.
Across the street from the Subtreasury, at No. 23, is a low, two-story building housing the powerful firm of J. P. Morgan & Co., and diagonally across the street, facing Broad Street, is the classic facade of the NEW YORK STOCK EXCHANGE. Long closed to the public, the visitors gallery has been recently re-opened, and you may enter if you wish to watch the trading.
The ASSAY OFFICE is well worth visiting, for here is carried on every operation of a mint, except the actual stamping of currency. The Assay Office is next to the Subtreasury, and is open to visitors on weekdays from 2 to 4 P.M.
Wall Street got its name in an interesting way. Petrus Stuyvesant was the first to erect a palisade from side to side of Manhattan Island, to protect the little City of Nieuw Amsterdam from attacks from the dreaded Indians, and the equally dreaded colonists of New England! Then in English days this wall was strengthened, and houses began to be built facing the cleared land inside the wall. The street connecting these houses naturally became known as Wall Street. Although the popular impression seems to be that Wall Street marks the site of the wall itself, I am more inclined to believe that the actual wall was a little to the north of the present street.
Third and fourth in height among the buildings of New York are the 6o Wall Street Tower (950 feet) and the Bank of the Manhattan Company, at 40 Wall Street (927 feet).
While you are in the Wall Street region, and if your time will possibly permit, you should see the FULTON FISH MARKET. It is on the East River, only a little north of Wall Street, and is the receiving center for about a million pounds of fish a day. It is more than a little smelly, but it is a great sight. So is the WASHINGTON MARKET, almost across Manhattan at the corner of Washington and Vesey Streets, where in the booths and in the stalls you will find food from all over the world. The neighborhood around Washington Market is a center of the wholesale trade in fruits and vegetables.
Wall Street is not only a street but a district as well. Most people think that the CURB EXCHANGE, so called because its members once traded on the sidewalk outside the Stock Ex-change, is on Wall Street. Actually it is housed in a building of its own at 86 Trinity Place.
On your way south to the heart of' oldest Nieuw Amster-dam, walk down Broad Street past the Stock Exchange, and at the corner of Pearl Street you will find FRAUNCES TAVERN. Here on December 4, 1783, Washington bade farewell to his officers, and here, one hundred years later, the society of the Sons of the American Revolution, to which organization the building now belongs, was organized. Although the building has undergone a much-needed restoration, the work was lovingly done, and the architect recaptured not only the design but the essential spirit of the original. In accordance with the Tavern tradition, the building is still open as a restaurant, and a good one too, although only luncheons are served. The second and third floors are maintained as a museum of Revolutionary times. The building is open daily except Sunday from 9 A.M. to 4 P.M.
Now let us walk east again to BOWLING GREEN, where Broad-way begins. This is the heart of the oldest section of the city. It was the market place and bowling green in the Dutch days, a park in English days, and the heart of the fashionable residential district in early colonial days.
Today the site where old Fort Amsterdam was built in 1626, and where Government House was erected for President Washington in 1790, is occupied by the huge classic structure of the u. s. CUSTOMHOUSE. The four great statuary groups on either side of the main entrance and at the corners of the building represent America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and are the work of Daniel C. French.
Facing Bowling Green is the CUNARD BUILDING, not particularly distinguished in outer appearance, but marvelous within. The gorgeously decorated rotunda of this building is one of the finest, if not the finest, interiors in all New York. No formalities are necessary for admission during business hours. Just go in and look around:
Although the front of the Customhouse faces Bowling Green, the side overlooks BATTERY PARK, one of the best-loved breathing spaces of the whole metropolis. Here the workers from the near-by office buildings gather at lunch time; here sailors temporarily "on the beach" sit talking things over and exchanging reminiscences of experiences in far corners of the earth; and here is the best place from which to view that great spectacle of New York, an ocean liner making her dignified progress out to sea.
The best-known and best-loved sight in Battery Park is the AQUARIUM. This old, round building has had a varied history. It once stood offshore on the rocks which surrounded lower Manhattan, and was known as Fort Clinton. It remained such from 1805 until 1822, when it was deeded to the city. Then it became a popular resort, and in 1897, after extensive interior remodeling, it became a famous amusement place. Here Barnum brought the "Swedish Nightingale," Jenny Lind, for her first performance in America.
But the city grew away from it; its usefulness as an amusement center passed; and in 1855 it became the state immigrant bureau, which it remained until the United States took charge of immigration in 1891, and moved the station to Ellis Island.
Finally, in 1896, the building was reopened as an aquarium under the management of the New York Zoological Society. It is the oldest aquarium in the United States, and one of the largest in the world. The total number of specimens varies from 10,000 to 12,000. This fascinating place, really to be considered an obligatory sight for every visitor, is open free every day in the year from 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. in the summer and 9 A.M. to 4 P.M. in the winter.
From Battery Park you can get a good view of EIlis Island, the U. S. Immigrant Station (it is not so spectacular since immigration has been restricted), and of the STATUE OF LIBERTY. If you wish a nearer view of the statue, take. one of the boats that leave the Battery at frequent intervals (fare 35 cents) from 9 A.M. to 6:30 P.M. daily.
The statue stands on Bedloe's Island, facing the entrance to the harbor, and was a gift of the French Republic to the United States. It is the work of the great Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, and was completed in sections. It was unveiled on its present site in 1886.
In addition to being one of the largest statues of modern times, it is a work of art, and therefore I dislike to interfere with your enjoyment of it by quoting statistics. So if you don't like statistics, please skip the next paragraph!
The statue is 305 feet 6 inches high from the foundation of the pedestal to the torch. It is 111 feet 6 inches from the heel of the goddess to the top of her head, and 151 feet to the top of the torch. She has a 35 waist—but that is the thickness of her waist in feet, and not its. circumference in inches! Her index finger is 8 feet long, her nose is 4 feet 6 inches long; and it is 2 feet 6 inches across her eye.
You may ascend the statue by an elevator for a 10-cent charge.
The most spectacular view of downtown New York is that enjoyed by the incoming traveler from the open sea. You may approximate this view, and in fact get all of its best features, by taking a ride on a STATEN ISLAND FERRYBOAT. It takes about twenty minutes to make the run; the boats leave the Battery every fifteen minutes; the fare is 5 cents in either direction; and you never got such value for your money! The ferry will take you past GOVERNOR'S ISLAND, the army post just south of Manhattan Island, where CASTLE WILLIAM, built as a fort in 1812, is a conspicuous landmark. You will also get a fairly close view of the Statue of Liberty.
If you wish to get the same view, but to go a little further afield, there are boats from the Battery to Sandy Hook, and to Atlantic Highlands, on the New Jersey coast. These will take you through the NARROWS, as the entrance to the harbor is called, past the quarantine station, often with ships at anchor awaiting inspection, and past Forts Wadsworth on Staten Is-land and Hamilton on Long Island, both very much out of date as harbor defenses.
From the Battery boats also leave for trips up the Sound to Rye Beach or Bridgeport, and up the Hudson to Hook Mountain and Bear Mountain. And from a pier almost in Battery Park boats leave for Coney Island.