The Financial District

We spent today on the south end of Manhattan Island – the Wall Street area. Here’s the checklist, to get things started:

  • Wall Street
  • World Trade Center site
  • New York Stock Exchange
  • South Street Seaport
  • Fulton Street Market
  • Brooklyn Bridge
  • City Hall Park

We started off by sleeping in ’til around 9:00, and having breakfast in the hotel (which we’ve done every day – it’s reasonably priced, good food, and easy to find.) We then hopped a subway to the Wall Street area. We have the subway system more-or-less figured out now, and probably would have taken them more often if we had bothered to figure it out eariler.

Taking the trains versus taking a cab is an interesting decision. The trains have fairly limited routes, and even if a train goes in approximately the right direction, you probably have to walk a few blocks. Our hotel is just a couple blocks from the 28 St station for the 1-2-3 trains, which means we have pretty easy access to Times Square, Central Park, and the Wall Street area. The next thing that factors in is price: two people taking a train costs $4.50. A short cab ride in off-peak hours costs $5-$8, depending on how far you’re going. During rush hour, it costs $1 more. So the cab is more convenient, but a little cheaper. In this case, the subway stops were close by, the cab ride would have been long, and it was rush hour, so we probably saved about $8 or so by taking the train.

Our first destination was the WTC site. I had no idea what to expect, and yet somehow it wasn’t what I had expected. There’s no real “ground zero” site right now – the entire WTC area is under construction right now, as they build the new tower and the memorial grounds. But, after spending some time in Manhattan, one thing is obvious: there’s a hole in the skyline.

I’d heard people say this before, and I always interpreted it as “The WTC was very visible, and now it’s gone – there’s something missing”. But even if you don’t know about the WTC, you can’t help but notice that Manhattan is packed with tall buildings, one after the other. Other than Central Park and a couple of other small parks, everything is built up at least ten stories tall. The WTC site was pretty big, and now there’s a big gap where there are no buildings. It sticks out a bit.

The area was a bit crazy to navigate, actually. First, there’s construction going on, so some sidewalks are closed, there are fences, etc. Second, it’s a big tourist destination, so you have all the tourists, and you have all the people who show up wherever tourists are to sell them stuff. Third, it was September 10, and they were getting ready for some memorial services tomorrow, which means that there were extra police, and roads and sidewalks closed, and stages being set up, that sort of thing. All in all, a little chaotic.

Construction on the new WTC site. You can see the first several floors of the new tower.

Right next to the site is the “memorial preview” site. There’s a sort of mini-museum there – free admission, just wander in – where they have displays set up talking about the things that happened on 9/11, showing a model of the new site, and selling memorabilia (mostly NYPD/NYFD-branded stuff and books). It was packed almost shoulder-to-shoulder, but very worth visiting. It was also one of the quietest places I’ve been in Manhattan: everyone was pretty sombre.

Before this trip, I didn’t really realize how big the WTC towers were. New York is full of tall buildings, but these were tall even by the standards of Manhattan. They must really have been something to see.

Spending time in Manhattan also gives you some understanding of the impact of the collapse of the towers. This city is full of people. It sounds obvious to say it, but you really need to walk a few blocks in a busy part of Manhattan to understand that anything that affects a significant area of land is going to affect a huge number of people. Evacuating the area, like they did nine years ago, is almost inconceivable. After looking around the area, and thinking about what happened when the towers burned and fell, what’s almost more surprising is that there wasn’t more damage and death.

As an example, there’s a small, old church – with graveyard – right across the street from the WTC site. It’s been there for well over two hundred years. Apparently it suffered a little damage, but it’s still standing and looks pretty good. The headstones in front of it, with nothing between them and the WTC site, are still standing.

St. Paul’s Chapel, across the street from the WTC.

The model of the new site looks pretty nice. I couldn’t figure out if the new building is going to be taller or shorter than the old towers. Butt he memorial itself looks beautiful: the main design feature is two “pools” – huge square holes dug into the ground marking exactly where the bases of the two towers were. The edges are waterfalls, all the way around. In effect, they’re the footprints marking where the towers used to be. No new building will go on top of that land.

The pools themselves are being surrounded by trees, with the intent of making a quiet area “set apart from the sights and sounds of the city”. It would be nice to come back when it’s done, and see the new building next to the site that remembers the old buildings and the people that were killed – it seems to give the sense that the city is remembering the past, yet moving forward.

Model of the WTC memorial site.

After all that, we went for a walk down Wall Street. There are a couple of interesting sites here: Federal Hall, where Washington was inaugurated, and the New York Stock Exchange. Mostly, it’s a bunch of fancy imposing buildings.

Wall Street.

We ended up in an area that I didn’t know even existed until doing some internet research last night: South Street Seaport. It’s a habourfront area, of the sort that seems to spring up in every city that has a harbour area. They’re all more or less the same, which means they always remind me of The Forks.

South Street Seaport.

The interesting thing about this area is that it’s got these old tall ships, and the piers and whatnot, with this big old buildings in the background. It’s one of the only times that I’ve been in Manhattan and really remembered that I’m on an island.

One building, labeled “Pier 17” on the side, but referred to as the “tin building” on maps, contains a three-level mall with various shops and restaurants. Behind the seaport area is something called the Fulton Street Market It’s actually mostly restaurants, with a bit of a seafood emphasis, and not a lot of shops.

Fulton Street Market.

The main reason we came to this area was to check out the Brooklyn Bridge. I wasn’t really impressed with it when we saw it in the distance yesterday, but up close it’s really something. It’s a suspension bridge, with huge stone towers and lots and lots of steel cable.

The Brooklyn Bridge.

It’s also very high off the ground. We were hoping to go for a walk on the bridge, but we actually had to backtrack several blocks inland just to get to the bottom of the bridge. We didn’t really feel like then walking those several blocks back to get to the shoreline, then even farther to get above the East River, and then all the way balk again, so we just headed for the subway station and called it a day.

Along the way, though, we encountered City Hall Park. There’s a historical timeline thing engraved into a circular stone design in the ground, and it traces the park all the way back to New Amsterdam, when the area was called The Commons (well, probably something Dutch) and hosted sheep and a couple windmills.

City Hall Park with the Municipal Building in the background.

Just a couple of tall buildings. The fancy one is the Woolworth Building.

And…that was our last full day in New York. We’re getting tired, and our days our getting shorter, but we actually saw more today than we expected. We’re back in the hotel room now (watching Ocean’s Eleven on TV), and tomorrow we’re hoping to visit the Metropolitan Museum Of Art before catching our plane back home.

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Posted on September 10, 2010, in travel. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Interesting to read similar accounts in both Pamela’s and your blog yet you each have your own unique style and point of view.

    I wondered whether the site of the WTC would be overwhelming or underwhelming… sounds like it was a little bit of both. It’s hard to believe that 9 years have already passed since that fateful day. I remember moments of that day like it was yesterday.

  2. As a person living in New York, yes there is a big hole. I remember a week before the attacks going up to the roof deck with my sister who was visiting from Atlanta. You could see the whole city. Then to actually see the building fall was powerful/sad, but I think it’s even more powerful to see how Lower Manhattan and New York is rebuilding through it’s strength. And America for that matter. Funny or maybe a better work, ironic, I’m writing this on the eve of September 11th.

    Paul
    http://www.PaulByronDowns.com

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