Field Trip: Spotting Downtown Manhattan’s Historic Landmarks

A large share of New York’s historic landmarks live downtown below Houston Street. This section of Manhattan was one of the earliest to be developed given its proximity to favorable harbors and mooring spots for the booming mercantile trade. Much of the earliest architecture was demolished to make way for soaring condominiums, offices and hotels, but thanks to preservation efforts, there are still amazing examples that illustrate how the city began and grew. Here we curate some of the most fascinating remnants of old New York found scattered throughout Lower Manhattan.

The Woolworth Building is one of the earliest New York and U.S. skyscrapers, built downtown on Broadway by architect Cass Gilbert between 1910 and 1912. One of the more remarkable attributes of this neo-Gothic style building is its elaborate cruciform lobby clad in Skyros veined marble, mosaics and murals, vaulted ceilings and stained glass ceiling lights and bronze fittings. It’s over the top, and often referred to as “The Cathedral of Commerce” because of its resemblance to European Gothic cathedrals.

233 Broadway, New York, NY; www.woolworthtours.com

Down where Broadway and Wall Street begin to converge is New York’s iconic Trinity Church. The 300 year old Parish is part of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and sits on a Lower Manhattan plot purchased in 1696 by the Church of England. Trinity’s story is long and checkered. It was rebuilt twice. The original structure burned to the ground, and its next incarnation was weakened by the weight of heavy snows and ultimately torn down. The church we see today was completed in 1846 by the architect, Richard Upjohn. It’s a magnificent example of Gothic Revival architecture, with a soaring Neo-Gothic tower that open completion could be seen from a distance by sailors pulling into New York Harbor.

75 Broadway, New York, NY; www.trinitywallstreet.org

If you find yourself down near the corner of Pearl and Broad Streets, look for Fraunces Tavern and go in for a drink. It was the headquarters of George Washington during the American Revolution, and later in 1785 became offices for the departments of  Foreign Affairs, Finance and War. It is reputed to be the oldest surviving building in Manhattan. Today it is a museum and tavern popular tourists sighting seeing along the American Whisky Trails and New York Freedom Trail.

54 Pearl Street, New York, NY; www.frauncestavern.com

Adjacent to the Financial District where Fulton Street meets the East River is Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. Featuring some of the oldest architecture in Lower Manhattan—19th century mercantile buildings, the Fulton Fish Market and renovated shipping vessels—it is one of the most popular and visually stunning tourist destinations in the city. Today the area is going through a period of urban renewal, with high end boutiques, restaurants and bars populating this historic New York port.

19 Fulton Street, New York, NY;  www.southstreetseaportmuseum.org

Completed in 1907 to house the duty collection for the Port of New York, the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, like the Woolrich Building, was designed by architect Cass Gilbert. It is considered by many architecture buff to be the city’s finest example of Beaux-Arts architecture. The building’s architecture is complimented by beautiful sculptures and paintings by well known artists of the early 19th century. These works decorate the main hall, facade, portico and rotunda. Today the building is home to the National Museum of the American Indian, the George Gustav Heye Center, and the National Archives at New York City.

1 Bowling Green, New York, NY; www.nmai.si.edu/visit/newyork/architecture-history

 

Words by Rocky Casale