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New York Cheat Sheet: Financial District

July 14th, 2009 by admin
Financial District
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If City Hall is the nerve center of New York, then Financial District is the heart.  Dating all the way back to its beginnings as a Dutch trade post up to it present place as the world center of economic power, New York has been a city doggedly focused on accumulation of wealth.  While this undoubtedly has its drawbacks, this drive has also proved a democratizing force, enabling people of vastly different backgrounds to coexist with the common dreams of success and betterment.

A brief example from early New York History: September 1664, the British sail into the New York harbor, warships primed to strike the city.  Dutch governor Peter Stuyvesant is ready to defend the city to his death when he’s approached with a petition signed by 80 of the town’s prominent merchants, including his son.  They wish to cede the city to the British so that life and business can remain uninterrupted.  By this point, the Dutch were a minority in their own colony; few cared what flag flew over City Hall.  Thus the British took Manhattan without a fight and life continued three days later as though nothing had happened.  The British offered free passage back to the Netherlands for any Dutch citizens interested.  No one took them up on the offer.

Ten Points of Interest

St. Paul’s Chapel
located on Broadway between Fulton and Vesey, St. Paul’s is the oldest continuously used place of worship and public meeting place in the city.  Built in 1766, it is an extension of Trinity Church down the street, and was once George Washington’s house of worship.  The building has miraculously survived countless calamity’s, including most recently 9/11, though it sits but 50 feet away from the W.T.C site.  The building’s interior is beautiful.

Trinity Church – At Wall St. and Broadway, the Episcopal mother church to St. Paul’s Chapel.  This is the third incarnation of the church, dating from 1846.  For forty four years its steeple was the tallest structure in New York until the New York World building came about.  It is one of the first Gothic Revival structures in the nation (Richard Upjohn).  The graveyard is the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton, steamboat visionary Robert Fulton and New York Gazette publisher William Bradford (the Gazette was the city’s first newspaper).  The oldest grave dates to 1681.
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Also in the churchyard is a monument to the Martyrs of the American Revolution, dedicated to Revolutionary War P.O.W’s.  The intentions of the monument, however, are not so virtuous.  At one point in the early days of New York, the city wanted to extend Pine Street from river to river, which would have mean going through Trinity’s churchyard.  The church leaders did not like this, but knew of a rule that no monuments to the Revolutionary War could be destroyed in the name of progress.  And with that loophole, the churchyard was spared.
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South Street Seaport – Starting at the intersection of Fulton and South St. along the East River, the South Street Seaport was once a center for world trade and commercial fishing.  The tamer East River waters were more attractive than the Hudson until the 1880′s, when steamships replaced sailing vessels and deeper waters were needed.  The area declined for nearly a century until 1967, when preservationists stepped in.  The result is a 19th-century seaport almost entirely intact.  Highlights include:
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Schermerhorn Row – at Fulton Street, on the National Historic Registry and constructed in 1811-1812.  This is the only surviving block of Georgian-Federal style commercial structures in the city.  It bears the name of the powerhouse New York family, the Schermerhorn’s.
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Before the Fulton Fish Market moved to the Bronx in 2005, it existed here since 1822 and was the most important fish distributor on the eastern seaboard.
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Bridge Cafe - 279 Water Street, dating from 1794 is the oldest continuous business establishment in the the same building in New York City.
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Pier 17 Pavilion – a food and shopping center with a tremendous view of the Brooklyn Bridge.
The whole area is actually a “museum without walls,” and if you go to the visitor center at 12 Fulton St., you can purchase admission to historic ships, certain exhibits and boat tours.
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Federal Hall National Memorial – This site is one of New York’s most important historical locations, though the historical events predate the building.  It was the site of British City Hall (1699-demolished 1812).  In 1735, John Zenger was tried and acquitted of libeling the royal governor, setting a precedent for freedom of the press seen in the Bill of Rights.  It was the British army’s headquarters during the Revolutionary War.  George Washington took the oath of office on the second story balcony in 1789.  It was renamed Federal Hall in honor of the city’s capital distinction, and served as the capital building for a year until it moved to Philadelphia in 1790.
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The present building served as a US Custom House starting in 1842, designed in grand Greek Revival style.  Outside stands a statue of George Washington (1883) taking the oath of office by John Quincy Adams Ward.  Ward’s other works include Indian Hunter (1866) in Central Park and Henry Ward Beecher in Brooklyn’s Camden Plaza.
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The J.P. Morgan Building, across Wall Street from Federal Hall, is a comparatively demure building to the giants around it.  Morgan, the owner of America’s most powerful private bank, felt no need to compete in New York’s size battle.  The most interesting aspect of this building is its facade, which bears some unusual pits.  On September 16, 1920, it was the site of an alleged anarchist bombing that killed 33 and wounded 400.  The bank never bothered to fix the divots in the building, the largest of which is rumored to be caused by the impact of a human skull.  The circumstances of the bombing were never resolved.
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Bowling Green – located at the moth of Broadway is Bowling Green, New York City’s oldest park.  When the Declaration of Independence was first read to New Yorkers on July 9th, 1776, patriots stormed the park and tore down the newly erected statue of George III.  The head was rescued and sent back to England but the rest of the statue was melted down for shot save the tail, which resides at the New York Historical Society.  The iron fence enclosing the park, dating to 1771, originally had crowns ornamenting each spike, but they were also  vandalized and melted down for shot.  It spawned a lyrical expression “shot with melted majesty.”
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Above the park stands the iconic charging bull statue by Arturo Di Modica.  Di Modica sculpted the bull secretly and at his own cost, then dropped it off in the middle of the night in front of the NYSE.  The Exchange, perhaps superstitious, perhaps ticked, had the statue removed and then the Parks department took control of it.  Di Modica has offered the statue for sale, so long as it remains where it is, but thus far there have been no takers.
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Fraunces Tavern – A landmark of the Revolutionary era, Washington both celebrated the retreat of British soldiers from Manhattan and said farewell to his soldiers here.  Cabinet meetings of the early nation as well as meeting of the Continental Congress were held in its upper room.  Essentially nothing remains of the original structure after various fires, but its reconstruction remains a fine example of 18th century architecture.  Owner Samuel Fraunces, a chef of some renown, also served as George Washington’s chief steward.
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Former United States Custom House, Museum of the American Indian – Another Cass Gilbert structure completed in 1907, it houses one of the most thorough collection of Native American artifacts in the world.  Equally impressive is the building itself.  The four statues up front represent the continents of Asia, America, Europe and Africa.  Above the cornice are 12 statues symbolizing the great merchant powerhouses of history: Greece, Rome, Phoenicia, Genoa, Venice, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Denmark, Germany, England and France.  Inside the second floor rotunda, murals by Reginald Marsh depict nautical scenes and events that took place on the site of the building.  Previously it was the site of Fort Amsterdam and the Governor’s Mansion.  More tragically, slave auctions used to take place at its entrance.
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The New York Stock Exchange – the world’s largest stock exchange in terms of dollar value, the NYSE came to being on May 17, 1792, the result of 24 brokers getting together to form “The Buttonwood Agreement,” made under a Buttonwood tree.  At the time, the government issued $80 million dollars in bonds to cover war debt and a place was needed to trade them.  It wasn’t until 1817 that the exchange was formally organized, and 1865 till it settled in its current location.
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The Classic-Style building was completed in 1903 (George B. Post), with a 22-story addition added in 1923 (Trowbridge & Livingston).  The pediment sculpture is titled Integrity Protecting the Works of Men by John Quincey Adams Ward and Paul W. Bartlett.
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Wall Street SkyscrapersWe start with the former Irving Trust Building and present Bank of New York building, an impressive Art Deco skyscraper by Ralph Walker of Voorhees, Gmelin and Walker (1932).  The Reception Hall inside is perhaps the most famous and striking aspect of the building.
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Its structure is also an example of a 1916 zoning law, known informally as “setback”.  The law was put in place by the city to prevent downtown from being in perpetual darkness.  The result is skyscrapers from the era are tiered, the effect described as “wedding cake” skyscrapers.  The law was amended in 1961, allowing buildings to go straight up so long as no more than 40% of the site was used and parks//plaza areas//avenues for sunlight were accounted in the design.
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40 Wall Street – the former bank of Manhattan building (1929, H. Craig Severance and Yasuo Matsui).  In this time in architectural history, great pains were taken to protect the final building specs, as everyone wanted the tallest building in the world.  When completed, it rose two feet taller than the Chrysler building – until the Chrysler building added its top secret stainless steel spire.  The building is presently owned by Donald Trump.
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14 Wall Street – famous for its pyramidal roof with a smokestack at its top, making it at times resemble a volcano (1912, Trowbridge & Livingston)
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48 Wall Street – former Bank of New York building (1927, Benjamin Morris).  The Bank was founded by Alexander Hamilton and is the oldest commercial bank in the country.  Presently home to the Museum of American Finance.
Other notable Financial District Landmarks:
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within that:
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The Federal Reserve Bank of New York – the largest storage of gold bullion in the word, surpassing even Fort Knox.
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