While we try to go to New York City at least twice a year, we still like to act like tourists sometimes. We couldn’t help ourselves wandering around and snapping some photos.
- Strolling up the High Line took us right to the Chelsea Galleries and a beautiful sunset.
And for one of the first times in dozens of years, we stopped to appreciate some of the monuments of Midtown, such as Rockefeller Center with its ice skating rink (although the Christmas tree was still sheathed in plywood), St Patrick’s Cathedral, Grand Central Station and, of course, the Empire State Building.
Not all, such monuments, however, could be easily viewed. Some of the midtown’s retail monuments the large department stores) had their windows covered pending the upcoming post-Thanksgiving unveiling of their Christmas windows. Lord & Taylor’s however, thoughtfully jumped the gun, not only by opening its windows to the public but by decking its front sidewalk with pine boughs (artificial) and holiday lights.
Our real city tour, however, took the form of a boat ride in which we circled the entire Manhattan Island on a lovely ship (the Manhattan II) with a guide from the American Institute of Architects, New York. The 2.75-hour tour, which began at the Chelsea Piers and followed a counterclockwise route around the island, was filled with knowledgeable commentary about the evolution of many of the neighborhoods, the city’s primary landmarks, and the architectural provenance of some of the city’s most notable buildings. Among the many, many things we saw and learned were:
- How the renovation of the Chelsea Piers and sports complex helped revitalize the neighborhood in the 1990s and led to Chelsea becoming a home to many of the city’s leading art galleries and more recently, the High Line;
- The proliferation of “starchitect” along the line and how it has become the island’s most desirable and expensive residential area;
- The building and a brief history of the French Revival immigration building on Ellis Island;
- How French engineer Gustave Eiffel designed the support structure and American Richard Morrison Hunt the pedestal for Auguste Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty;
- How the 13,700-foot long Verrazano Narrow’s Bridge was the longest (and is now the second-longest suspension bridge in the world).
- The creation of the Billion Oyster Project in which the city is attempting to spur the growth of oysters in the rapidly improving bay, not to eat (the water is still not pure enough for that), but to filter water (50 gallons per day per grown oyster) to further improve its quality;
- How Brooklyn Heights is still home to more than 500 pre-Civil War Buildings;
- How Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood was created from a very speculative bet in the 1970s (when New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy) that involved the buying dozens of blocks of dilapidated buildings and the later development of condos that now sell for about $1,000 per square foot;
- The Lower East Side’s history as an immigrant tenement neighborhood filled with cold-water flats that had little light or air (we once, many years ago, did a couple of tours of the fascinating tenement museum) and how the late 1920’s plan to tear them down in favor of government-built high-rise red brick, low-income departments was defeated and led to the creation of today’s neighborhood;
- The slum clearance programs under which many blocks along the East River were demolished under slum clearance programs through with the Federal government paid 90 percent of the cost of buying and demolishing existing buildings and building middle-income red brick high-rise apartments around open courtyards, many of which still occupied;
- The United Nations complex was just one of the many large complexes created on land that was either donated or developed by the Rockefeller family. (Other such developments included Rockefeller University, the Cloisters Museum, Riverside Church, and of course, Rockefeller Center.
- Roosevelt Island with its cable car, recently completed Four Freedoms monument and the still-under-construction (steel frame for the first building) Cornell-New York City tech campus, the first stage of which is expected to open in 2017;
- A pretty domed Roosevelt Island building, which is now the center of a housing complex, used to be a lunacy asylum that, after an article by a 1920’s journalist who managed to get admitted as a patient, became a center for a more enlightened approach to mental patient care.
- How Robert Moses, an urban planner who was responsible for initiating and arranging to fund (especially from federal coffers) some of the biggest urban developments in the metropolitan area’s history, became one of the most controversial figures in the city—bulldozing entire blocks and displacing thousands of people in pursuit of projects that some felt led the city into near bankruptcy; but that others now believe laid the foundation for the city’s rebirth;
- The Triborough (officially Robert F. Kennedy) Bridge which can be raised (upon four hours’ notice) and how other smaller bridges swing 90 degrees to allow large ships to pass through the Harlem River;
- How the South Bronx, suffering from the loss of tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, became a wasteland in the 1960s and 1970s that many landlords resorted to arson. The area was pocked by virtually nightly fires and entire blocks looked more like war zones than neighborhoods.
- Throughout South Bronx’s disasters, Yankee Stadium remained vital and continued to draw thousands of people.to the neighborhood, the classic “House that Ruth Built” (the venerable old Yankee Stadium), was replaced by a new stadium in 2009.
- Inwood Park, which contains the only remaining first-growth forest on Manhattan
- The city’s iconic wooden water towers, which are mandated by the city (although many are hidden from view) and still play critical roles in providing sufficient water pressure for tenants in buildings over six stories (the maximum that can be efficiently supplied by gravity-fed systems);
- The rapidly growing mid-town Eight Avenue skyline, which now boasts a rapidly expanding collection of designer towers such as the huge Times Warner Center, the diamond-clad (in the shape of its windows, at least) Hearst Tower, and the recently completed, Renzo Piano-designed New York Times Building;
- The rapidly revitalizing (aka, gentrifying) Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood (now named Clinton);
- Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates’ immense Hudson Yard’s redevelopment project that transformed hundreds of acres of rail yards into a mixed-use development (the second-largest development after Rockefeller Center) in the history of the city;
- The site of the Miracle on the Hudson, where Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landed his disabled plane in the middle of the Hudson River, saving the lives of 150 passengers; and
- The Intrepid Air and Space Museum that is suitably housed in a decommissioned aircraft carrier.
Among the buildings that were specifically discussed were:
- The jaggedly irregular Jenga-like Herzog & de Meuron residential tower, at 56 Leonard Street;
- The Freedom Tower, which tops out at a symbolic 1776 feet (including its mast) and plans for additional buildings that will surround the footprint of the original World Trade Center buildings;
- Frank Gehry’s undulating 76 story glass-clad tower 8 Spruce Street;
- Brooklyn’s dilapidated Domino Sugar Building which will soon be renovated into the center of a large mixed-use development (with 20 percent below-market-rate housing) by the same company that pioneered the redevelopment of the borough’s Dumbo neighborhood;
- The Chrysler Building that was briefly, the tallest building in the world and is now home to expensive condos;
- The pencil-thin, 1,396 foot-tall, super-luxury residential tower, which will be the third tallest building in the United States) that is being built at 435 Park Avenue;
- A number of Upper West Side icons include The Cloisters Museum, Grant’s Tomb, and Riverside Church, with its 70 bells, including one that weighs 20 tons.
- Bjarke Ingels’s 450-foot pyramid-like apartment building that is now being built in Hell’s Kitchen; and
- Two unusual elevator buildings, 1930-era Starrett-Lehigh Building, one of the city’s largest, that allows freight cars removed from boats, to be moved to upper floors on 30-foot elevators; and the new luxury residence at 200 11th Avenue that has elevators that allow owners to take cars up to their own en-suite sky garages, right next to their condos.
All this talk about the tour itself, however, is not to pass over the cruise itself. The first alcoholic beverage and all non-alcoholic beverages are free, the snacks (hummus, stuffed grape leaves, potato chips, etc.) are plentiful and the service is friendly and efficient. Overall, this is a wonderful and informative way to see the city from a very different perspective.
How many of these do you recognize?