New York Stories and Tips

Downtown Manhattan - a tale of two churches and the site of the WTC disaster

The Fraunces Tavern Photo, New York, New York

What you never think of when you think of New York is history..

The angular tip of Manhattan is it''s oldest and most interesting part and stretches back 400 years. This was where the metropolis started and contains the most historic sights on the island. It was also the site of the most horrifying atrocity to hit the city in its history and the ruins of the World Trade Center will draw you in when you visit this part of New York. But I think the area is worth a mornings wander - rare old Georgian buildings barely survive amongst the glass and steel of the skyscrapers, two fascinating historic churches line Broadway and in the spring sunshine City Hall Park is one of the loveliest places in the city.

The best walk is between Battery Park and City Hall Park along Broadway. This area is the focal point of the United States wealth and contains such capitalist icons such as Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. From Monday to Friday the area is the abode of rushing, harassed stockbrokers, bond dealers and financial workers while at the weekend it is exceptionally quiet and just populated by tourists. The twisting non-angular streets of this district date from the time when this was the first part of Manhattan to be settled. Wall Street gets it''s name because it was built along the site of a wall when the city was a Dutch colony and the streets between this and here and Whitehall Street and are twisting turning enjoyable maze.To get to this part of town take the red line to Wall Street subway station, the green line to Bowling Green or the Yellow Line to Whitehall Street. Buses go to Battery Park and the #1 travels all the way up to Central Park along Broadway.

The best place to start is at the tip of Manhattan and work northwards. Battery Park is at the very southern apex of the island and has stunning views across New York harbour. It is also where the ferries land and disgorge their hundreds of workers that run the financial district. The Staten Island ferry (free) stands on the western tip of Battery Park and amidst the greenery the squat shape of Castle Clinton is where you buy your tickets to visit the Statue of Liberty. Not really a castle this is more of a fort built to protect New York from the British in 1805. But most people stand and stare at one of the most famous icons of America - the Statue of Liberty. The ''Green Lady'' looked small and fragile on her own out there. And at the moment, due to security, no tourists are allowed to alight on Liberty Island. The boat tours bypass the gigantic statue on their way to nearby Ellis Island. The tourists didn''t seem to mind - most people were happy to sit, eat hotdogs, buy pictures of New York, and stare out across the water to Brooklyn and Ellis Island.

Battery Park has it''s own charms with rippening cherry blossoum trees and the skyscrapers of corporate America. And the East Coast Memorial was impressive carved with the names of those lost at sea in WWII on ten enormous megaliths and a giant bronze bald eagle statue watching over them. Then it is north into the financial district. This area, created by the British and Dutch, has the winding streets of Europe but it''s buildings have mainly been replaced by glass and steel skyscrapers. Not much of the old New York remains, but there is one survivor hanging on by it''s fingertips - the Fraunces Tavern.

This redbrick townhouse was built in 1764 and its old architecture really stood out against the glass and chrome around it (see photo). Nowadays, it is a museum and a restaurant, and although the structure dates from the 18th Century most of the building is a Victorian renovation. Once through the doors, it is up creaky wooden stairs to the museum ($3) which consisted of three rooms left as they were in 1783. This was where they hosted George Washington’s farewell retirement dinner. The main dining room consisted of a bar, oil portraits of the great man and rows of dining tables. Francis Fraunces was a superb chef and big-wig''s from all over the new US used to come and taste his syllabub according to the information sheet provided. Unfortunately the information sheet didn''t explain what a syllabub was....

North of here is the famous Wall Street. Around the world this tiny street epitomises the capitalist worship of Mammon. At its western end are the spires of Trinity Church. But before that is the marble portico of Federal Hall. From the steps you can see the New York Stock Exchange, where after 9-11 a 50ft high American flag is draped (see photo). But at the western end of Wall Street is the mighty Broadway. Get used to this street as it runs from Battery Park up the length of Manhattan to Morningside heights at the tip of Harlem. For a long time it is New York’s entertainment strip showcasing theatres, bars, music halls and hotels. Now it is the cities main artery and houses some of the cities churches including the superb Trinity Church. Surrounded by skyscapers it is in it''s own little green lawned oasis which is also a colonial graveyard. There has been a church here since 1694 and it is not baroque or medieval but Victorian gothic and the current version dates from 1836. Inside is gorgeous - it has colourful stained-glass windows, a carved altar and a fan-vaulted ceiling.

But further on along Broadway a slow chill settles on you. You are aware that the streets to the west are getting more tourist traffic then normal. At Liberty Street you can walk to the ruins of the World Trade Center - the site of the horror of two years ago. There is nothing left but a colossal hole in the ground protected by fencing. You move towards it as if you are hypnotised and the thought crossed my mind that I was travelling the same streets that on that day people fled for their lives. The crowds are very silent as they stand on the viewing platform. And it is not a conventional sight - there is nothing really to see except a Christian cross made out of blackened burnt girders. The viewing platform put up by Mayor Bloomberg was covered in pictures of the Twin Towers. People had written messages of support and some of anger "Never forgive or forget..." said one. But the overall atmosphere was one of respect.

Just as powerful is the nearby St Paul’s Church. How this 18th-century Palladian gem survived the collapse of the WTC is a miracle. And if it is familiar to Londoners then it is based on our very own St-Martins-in-the Fields in Trafalgar Square. What shocked me was the proximity of the disaster to the church. A photo showed glowing red embers only inches away from its ancient graveyard and looking like a vast lava flow. The interior provided rest, food and peace for the emergency services. And the white balconies of the church were hung with tapestries and flags from the fire crews (see photo) and candy, sleeping bags and firefighting gear were on show - it was like we had stepped back two years. These houses of god are created to provide shelter, peace and support for those who visit them. On that terrible day St Paul’s provided exactly this to the people involved in that terrible tragedy.

A few steps on Broadway opens up into a magnificent Square - City Hall Park. Looking gorgeous on a sunny spring day the Greek Revival City Hall towers into the air. The park itself was a gem with a gushing fountain, Victorian lamposts and pink cherry blossoms giving the place colour. This is one of the oldest parts of New York and was completed in 1812 and has more of an air of being in a city centre then any of the grand mid-town boulevards and the people were more natural. Office workers sit on park benches discussing colleagues and tuck into bagels and cokes, people walk dogs, and everyone had a smile on their face for the first day of spring.

Finally, there is one final sight you must see in this area. The northwest corner of the square takes Broadway northwards and a walk through Tribeca and into trendy SoHo takes you to 530 Broadway. What is so important about this address?

Why, it''s the IGOUGO offices of course. How can you come to New York and not visit them?

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