It is difficult not to run into traces of Alexander Hamilton or George Washington when you are in the extreme southern tip of Manhattan. Right at the beginning of Broadway I saw the Standard Oil building (featured image). The beautiful detail over the archway of 26 Broadway attracted my attention. A dragon clutching a globe featuring Asia squared off against an eagle with a globe turned to show the Americas. What did this premonition of the 21st century have to do with Alexander Hamilton? I found later that this address was Hamilton’s home until he died in 1804. In less than a century this plot was owned by John D. Rockefeller, who built a series of buildings here from 1885 on. The one which I saw had been built between 1921 and 1928 by and architect named Thomas Hastings.
Broadway curves around Bowling Green here, and the facade designed by Hastings curves with the street. You see this by its reflection in the windows of 25 Broadway, another building designed by Hastings. This is the Cunard Lines building where one could buy tickets for trans-Atlantic voyages from 1921 to 1968. Interestingly, the famous Delmonico’s restaurant ran out of this address from 1846 to 1918. I would have liked to walk in to see the famous ticketing lobby, reputedly modeled after Roman baths. But the venue is now rented out for events, and inaccessible.
This detail on 25 Broadway is a bit of fiction, since Cunard lines always ran steamships. Samuel Cunard and the engineer Robert Napier started operating trans-Atlantic cruises in 1839. They reorganized in 1879 to make it into the Cunard Steamship Company. For many years the company’s ships made the fastest time across the Atlantic. I had done as much of street-level gawking I could do here. It was time for me to move on.
I walked down Wall Street towards the Gothic Revival church I could see across Broadway. An ice cream truck blocked my way. I stopped, finished my ice cream, and walked on. I knew this was perhaps the oldest church in New York, having been first built in 1697. It burnt down twice, and the present grand structure was designed by Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846.
I walked in past an elaborate door. Later I would realize that this is the east door, and was designed by Karl Bitter. I stopped to admire it. Its not very often that I see a door donated by William Astor. Bitter completed the door in 1891, so it must have been one of his early commissions. I took a photo of the right hand door (above).
I’d arrived late. One of the things I wanted to do here was to walk through the cemetery and spot the graves of Alexander Hamilton and Robert Fulton. It was close to 6 in the evening, and the doors were being shut. I would have to come back another day to finish this. I walked around the main nave and apse and headed back out. On the way out I took a photo of the other door (below).
I was quite surprised to learn that this building was the tallest in New York until 1890. The era of skyscrapers began about then, and left this more traditional architecture far behind, in terms of height. I walked out and peered at the cemetery. In the middle of the bustle of the crowd at day’s end, it looked green and peaceful.
The tree-shaded Zucotti Park is special in many ways, and one of these is the combined visual effect of art and architecture around it. The oldest of these is the Red Cube, a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi. The 7.3 meter tall piece was installed in 1964. I stood at the corner of the open plaza on Broadway, where it sits, and tried to frame it in my camera. The photo above seemed to be the best way to take it (the man in the red shirt was a welcome coincidence). Later I read that Noguchi planned this piece to draw your eyes up towards the vertical architecture surrounding it.
Noguchi is often quoted as saying “The spaces around buildings should be treated in such a way as to dramatize and make the space meaningful.” From a student of Brancusi, this does not sound pompous. Even less so when you stand near this painted block of steel and see how effectively it manages to fulfil this manifesto. The cylindrical hole in the middle of the piece is a widely used visual trope in such monumental sculpture which is meant to make it lighter, both visually and in actual fact.
At the other end of the park is a usable sculpture which is 298 meters tall. This is the building called Four World Trade Center, designed by Fumihiko Maki following an overall redevelopment plan for the area by Daniel Libeskind. The building was completed in 2013. It seemed to shimmer and disappear into the sky as I looked at it. I later discovered that this is part of the design, accomplished by tapering the facades gently. The use of optically thin glass sheets also floods the interior with light. I walked around it: the building covers a whole block on each side. There are many interesting things built into the design, including rainwater harvesting, and partial use of clean energy. The 69th floor was initially opened to street artists, eventually giving rise to a controversy. Forbes and one of the artists, Hyperallergic, give two sides of the story. There could be others.
My youngest niece asked me, "Which is the longest road in New York?" Having crossed paths with it from Bowling Green to Columbus Circle, I knew the answer. It starts from the little park where, the story goes, the island of Manhattan was purchased from native Americans by the Dutch. I don’t know whether the story is true, but the Avenue starts from Bowling Green, which you can see behind the bull mobbed by tourists here.
A little further north, the iconic Flatiron Building stands at a corner on this road. Built in 1902, it was then one of the tallest buildings in the city, and the only 22 story building north of 14th Street. Interestingly, this steel-framed, limestone and terra-cotta clad building was an incursion of the Chicago style into New York. As I stood and admired the building, I was joined by a succession of people who had come there specially to photograph one of the icons of New York City.
Perhaps one of the most well-known landmarks on the longest road in New York is Times Square. I’ve known locals who give it a wide berth, but every visitor needs to walk through this place. Why not? Where else would you have photo-ops with Spiderman, or both Batman and the Joker, or Captain America? This square has all the oddities that you would love New York for.
About the furthest uptown that I crossed this road was on 57th street. You can see the iconic Hearst Tower reflected in the mirrorshades of the building just across the crossing. Randolph Hearst spent 2 million 1928 dollars to build the bottom 6 stories. The weirdly shaped tower atop it was completed in 2006, and was the first green building in New York. I walked up to it specifically to see the water sculpture in the lobby which humidifies the building.
Broadway, the longest street in New York, continues well beyond this. By not following it to Lincoln Center I missed out on the dancing Hippo sculpture that friends recommended. It continues past that into parts of New York I know little about.