Exploring Manhattan, New York City – 2

By Timothy Tye

This is part 2 of Tim’s journey on Manhattan:

Manhattan is bound by the Hudson River to the west, and the East River to the east. The island can be split into three main sections namely Lower Manhattan, Midtown and Upper Manhattan.

Lower Manhattan, New York City, photo by William Piccard

The southernmost section is Lower Manhattan, and at the southernmost part of Lower Manhattan is the Financial District. This is where you find one of the densest concentration of skyscrapers. Facing the sea is Battery Park, a 21-acre park that got its name from the artillery battery placed there by the Dutch and later the British. The Dutch built a fort here called Fort Amsterdam. It is no longer standing. The Americans demolished it when they took over Manhattan from the British. In its place today is the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House, a National Historic Landmark.

When the American realized they needed a fort to defend Manhattan, they built one which is today called Castle Clinton. It was named after, not Bill Clinton, but Dewitt Clinton, the Mayor of New York City in 1815.

Going north from Battery Park, you pass another smaller park, called Bowling Green. The most famous item here is the Charging Bull Statue, an icon representative of New York City’s role as America’s financial capital. The statue was not commissioned: the artist created it using his own money, and had it placed in front of the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE, just a stone’s throw away, as a Christmas gift to the people of New York. The authorities seized
it, but the ensuing outcry from the public led to the Parks and Recreation department putting it in Bowling Green, “on loan” from the artist.

A short distance north of here is Wall Street, home to NYSE. The site of Ground Zero, where the famous World Trade Center towers used to be, is slightly to the west, and further on, are the towers of World Financial Center, built on reclaimed land using landfill from the World Trade Center site. Closed to Ground Zero is St Paul’s Chapel, which amazingly escaped damage during the September 11 attack, thanks to a sycamore tree on its northwest corner. Some of the oldest skyscrapers of New York City dot this part of Manhattan. Among them is the Woolworth Building, a 57-storey skyscraper completed in 1913, at that time the tallest building in New York City.

TriBeCa, home to trendy restaurants

The main artery that runs right through Manhattan from the south all the way to the north, is Broadway. An institution in itself, it passes through many of the most important sights of the city. Going north, we enter TriBeCa, home to trendy restaurants. The name is a contraction of Triangle Below Canal Street. The habit of naming places in this manner repeats itself a little north of here, at SoHo, which is said to be derived from Soho in London, except that here, it stands for South of Houston Street.

You will notice that the roads in Manhattan follow a grid system devised by the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811, created to ensure an orderly development of the island. As a result of the plan, there are 12 avenues running parallel to Hudson River, and 155 streets crossing them. The avenues were numbered 1 to 12, with an additional A to D Avenues on the section of town now known as Alphabet City. Over time, as Manhattan developed, some of the avenues were given names. Fourth Avenue was renamed Park Avenue. Madison Avenue and Lexington Avenue were added later.

Going north of SoHo, we enter Greenwich Village, often simply called The Village. Once a hamlet, the Village is home to the New York University’s main campus, and has a popular public space in the middle called the Washington Square Garden. The streets in the Village do not follow with the formal grid of the 1811 Plan, nor does Broadway, which often cuts diagonally across the grid. As a result, there is an odd shaped skyscraper erected to conform to its odd-shaped plot. Due to its shape, the building was called the Flatiron Building.

As we approach Midtown Manhattan, we come upon a high concentration of tourist attractions. Madison Square Garden is here. It was named after Madison Square, which in turn was named after James Madison, the fourth President of the United States. Madison Square Garden, however, is no longer located on Madison Square. Although it retains its name, it is neither a square nor a garden, but rather a sports and concert arena. For shoppers, there’s Macy’s Department Store, one of the largest department stores in the world. Also within the neighbourhood is the Empire State Building, once again the tallest building in New York City.

Chrysler Building – finest Art Deco skyscraper

Following Broadway northwards, we reach Times Square, one of the most famous intersections in the world. Many of New York City’s theatres are concentrated here. Eastwards on 42nd Street are other landmarks including the Grand Central Terminal and the Chrysler Building, and towards the banks of the East River, the United Nations Headquarters. Chrysler Building, regarded as one of the finest examples of Art Deco skyscraper, was built at a time when there was an intense race to build the tallest buildings in New York City. Today it still holds the title of the second tallest building in the city, after the Empire State, which was completed less than a year after Chrysler.

Going north along Fifth Avenue, we arrive at Rockefeller Center, one of the biggest private commercial complexes in the world. Built by John D Rockefeller Jr, the richest man in the world during his time, it comprises 19 skyscrapers, the biggest of which is GE Building. The observation deck at the top of GE Building offers one of the best views of New York City along with the Empire State Building in the middle. Within Rockefeller Center is Radio City Music Hall, and across the street from it is St Patrick’s Cathedral, the largest Neo-Gothic style Catholic Cathedral in North America. A short distance north is MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, founded by Abby Alrich Rockefeller, wife of John D Rockefeller Jr, and her two friends. To the east side of town is another architectural wonder, the Citigroup Center, a 59-storey skyscraper that stands on four massive legs. Also within the vicinity are two of New York City’s most luxurious hotels, the Waldorf-Astoria on Fifth Avenue and the Plaza on Grand Army Plaza, facing Central Park.

Central Park – most important park & home to the MET, New York’s largest museum

Central Park is the most important park in New York City, so much so that any apartments with view of it fetches a higher price than those without. Created in the mid 19th century, it is home to the biggest museum in New York City, the Met, or Metropolitan Museum of Art. Along the roads bordering Central Park are a few more museums, the most important includes the American Museum of Natural History, with the Hayden Planetarium within it, and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum.

As we continue north, we pass through Columbia University, a renowned Ivy-League institution. On the east side is the neighborhood of Harlem, with its substantial population of African Americans. The main road going north is Broadway. On the northern tip of Manhattan is Inwood Hill Park, one of several parks lining the Hudson River side of Manhattan.

What we have covered so far is just a quick run through of the tourist attractions of Manhattan. To visit each of these sights, one would need a few days, if not weeks. There is much to see and discover. Much of what has been written is documented more thoroughly on the New York City section of my website, EarthDocumentary, http://www.earthdocumentary.com/new_york_city_usa.htm, where there’s also a point-and-click map, to show you the location of each sight.
Visit it and explore Manhattan from the comfort of your desktop.

About the Author

Timothy Tye is a travel enthusiast who has documented many of the major cities and sights in the world for his websites, EarthDocumentary, http://www.earthdocumentary.com, AsiaExplorers http://www.asiaexplorers.com, and WorldGreatestSites http://www.worldgreatestsites.com

He is passionate in sharing the beauty and wonders of the world with fellow travel enthusiasts.

Written by J. Lee

A seasoned world traveller, J. Lee writes about his weekend trips away, travel for work, and his many Europe vacations.

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