New York - Around Town : Civic Center and South Street Seaport (part 1)

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Some of New York’s finest architecture is found at its Civic Center, the headquarters for city government. Buildings here span the centuries, from the 18th-century St. Paul’s Chapel to the pioneering 20th-century Woolworth Building. Nearby is the famous Brooklyn Bridge, and the old maritime center of the city, South Street Seaport, its piers and buildings now restored as a lively hub of cafés, restaurants, and museums.

The “Boss Tweed” Courthouse

The first New York County Courthouse at

52 Chambers Street
(completed in 1881) was built by Boss Tweed, a corrupt politician who spent fortunes on this grand marble monument to himself. The elaborate interior and octagonal rotunda are being restored, though its future use is uncertain.

  1. South Street Seaport

    The cobbled streets, buildings, and piers that were the center of New York’s 19th-century seafaring activity (known as “the street of sails”) have been restored as a tourist center. There are shops, food stalls, restaurants, a museum with many seafaring exhibits, a fleet of tall ships for boarding, and plenty of outdoor entertainment.

    South Street Seaport
  2. Brooklyn Bridge

    When it was completed in 1883 linking Manhattan and Brooklyn, this was the largest suspension bridge in the world and the first to be built of steel. It took 600 workmen and 16 years to build, and claimed 20 lives, including that of the designing engineer, John A. Roebling. Now a symbol of New York, those who walk the 1-mile (1.8-km) span are rewarded with fabulous views of city towers seen through the artistic cablework.

    • (Manhattan side) Park Row near Municipal Building

    • Free

    Brooklyn Bridge
  3. Woolworth Building

    Built in 1913, this has one of New York’s great interiors; marble walls, bronze filigree, a mosaic ceiling, and stained glass combine to magical effect. Architect Cass Gilbert also had a sense of humor – sculptures include Five and Dime mogul Woolworth counting nickels and Gilbert himself cradling a model of the building. It set the standard for the skyscrapers that followed in the 1920s and 1930s.

    • Broadway, between Park Pl & Barclay St

    Woolworth Building
  4. Former AT&T Building

    Built in 1922, this is a monument to excess but fun to see nevertheless. In its day, the façade was said to have more columns than any other building in the world; the vast lobby is a forest of marble pillars. Close by at 120 Broadway, the former Equitable Building, built in 1915, is of note for another excess: its immense bulk was responsible for the nation’s first skyscraper zoning regulations.

    • 195 Broadway

    • Open office hours

    • Free

  5. St. Paul’s Chapel

    Manhattan’s oldest church was built in 1766 as an “uptown” chapel for Trinity Church and took on added importance while Trinity was being rebuilt after the great fire of 1776. The chapel was modeled after London’s St. Martin-in-the-Fields. One block from Ground Zero, the church has an interactive 9/11 exhibit.

    • 209 Broadway, between Fulton & Vesey Sts

    • Episcopal service 8am, 10am Sun, 12:30pm Wed

    • Concerts 1pm Mon

    • $2 donation


    Interior, St. Paul’s Chapel
  6. City Hall

    The seat of city government since 1812, City Hall is considered one of the most beautiful early 19th-century public buildings in the U.S. The design, by architects Mangin and McComb, Jr., won a competition held in 1802. A statue of Justice crowns the structure. The rear of the building, facing north, was not clad in marble until 1954, since the architects never expected the city to develop further north.

    • Broadway and Park Row

    • Open for pre-arranged tours only

    • call 212 788 2656

    • Free

    City Hall
  7. Municipal Building

    This building dominating the Civic Center area, straddling Chambers Street, was the first “skyscraper” by McKim, Mead, and White, a 25-story structure completed in 1914. The top is a veritable wedding-cake fantasy of towers and spires topped by Adulph Wienman’s famous statue, Civic Fame. The intricate terracotta vaulting above the street is modeled on the entrance of the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, and the subway entrance at the south end, an arcaded plaza, is a dramatic vault of Guastavino tiles.

    • 1 Center St at Chambers St

    Municipal Building
  8. New York County Courthouse

    Ascend the wide staircase of the 1926 New York County Courthouse (adjacent to the 31-story, pyramid-topped U.S. Courthouse dating from 1933) and enter to admire the marble columned rotunda with Tiffany lighting fixtures. Note, too, the ceiling murals depicting Law and Justice. The hexagonal building has a courtroom in each of its six wings.

    • 60 Center St

    • Open 9am–5pm Mon–Fri

    • Free

    New York County Courthouse
  9. Surrogate’s Court/Hall of Records

    With an interior inspired by the Paris Opéra, this 1907 Beaux Arts beauty boasts a magnificent central hall with marble stairways and ceiling mosaics. The façade features statues representing justice, the seasons, commerce, and notable New Yorkers, as well as figures depicting the various stages of life.

    • 31 Chambers St

    • Lobby open 9am–5pm Mon–Fri

    • Free

    Surrogate’s Court
  10. Police Plaza

    Constructed in 1973, the city’s police headquarters can be found on a spacious pedestrian plaza, a welcome area in a district with very few public spaces. The Tony Rosenthal abstract sculpture, Five in One, made of five sloping interlocked discs, symbolizes the city’s five boroughs.

    • Park Row at Pearl St

    Police Plaza
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