Thursday, 21 May 2015

New York: Lower Manhattan

Manhattan from Ellis Island

We have just returned from a very informative outing to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where 12 million immigrants to the USA were processed between 1892 and 1954. We noticed that our Guidebook offers a walk around Lower Manhattan, starting from Castle Clinton where the ferry boat docks. It has been rather a grey and cold day, but we are always up for a walk.

Castle Clinton was originally built in 1811 as part of the defences of the port of New York. It then became an entertainment centre, New York's immigrant processing station (before the role was taken over by the Federal government and transferred to Ellis Island) and then an aquarium (!).  It now houses the ticket office for boat trips to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The fort is situated in what is now Battery Park. We talked across this small green space to find the staggering grand former Customs House. It now houses archives and the Museum of the American Indian. Inside are the impressive Great Hall and the simply staggering, but visually confusing, Rotonda.

This is slightly misnamed as it is oval and its top is flat rather than dome shaped. The Museum looked to be very interesting, but we did not feel we had time to explore and instead continued up Broadway - this is where it starts.

Outside number 25 is the fantastic Charging Bull statue. It was apparently cast (by Arturo DiModica) and put here without permission. The City has occasionally tried to remove it, but superstitious brokers have raised an outcry and the City has always backed off. What a wonderful story! It is certainly very popular.

Trinity Church (1846) stands out in the same way that some churches in the City of London do - its tower perfectly fills the mouth of Wall St. 

Wall St is inevitably perhaps rather dull architecturally, but there was at least a nice statue of George Washington.

We turned left into William Street and found another, more modern, sculpture in the Chase Manhattan plaza: Group of Trees by Jean Dubuffet. I really liked this one.

We walked past the Federal Reserve Bank with noticeably alert police outside who immediately challenged a taxi driver who stayed too long after dropping off his passenger. In nearby John St was another tiny church dwarfed by skyscrapers. We learned from a helpful plaque that it was the first Methodist church in America and was originally constructed 1768 and rebuilt 1817. It was looking rather the worse for wear.

At this point we abandoned the official route and headed back to, and across, Broadway to reach the World Trade Centre site. We couldn't face the 9/11 memorial, but we took hope from the scale of the rebuilding effort, especially Norman Foster's 1 World Trade Centre building which is now the tallest in the city. The foreground structure will be a new subway station. 

We turned into St Paul's churchyard and were staggered by this wonderful art nouveau building on the left - one of very few in the US. It turns out to be the former Evening Post building, built in 1906-7 and designed by Robert D Kohn.

Our final calling point was the F W Woolworth building, New York's only gothic skyscraper, which is positively dripping with tracery.

We just couldn't take it seriously. It remained only to return to the subway on Broadway and head back to our hotel.

Conditions: grey, rather cool.

Distance: perhaps 2 miles.

Rating: four stars.

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