There are over 114 National Historic Landmarks in New York City and uncountable other sites of fabulous architecture to gaze at in wonder. On my latest layover in the “City that never Sleeps” I decided to check out seven of some of the Big Apple´s most beautiful public buildings and spaces. Their interiors will absolutely blow you away and the best: The entrance is absolutely for free! Join me on a very special sightseeing tour.
Originally opened in 1909 as Hudson Terminal, the initial building was replaced by a newer construction called World Trade Center station in 1971. The station had always been a transfer terminal between the New Jersey PATH metro system and the New York subway right underneath the two towers of the WTC. After the 9/11 terror attacks, the entire area was completely destroyed and a temporary station was set up. Sixteen years later and after Ground Zero had step by step been re-designed, the new World Trade Centers station was officially opened to the public in March 2017. I had been to New York many times during the construction period and was very excited to see it finally in operation. And it truly is a masterpiece! While some people think that the exteriors do not quite fit into the surrounding area, I personally see the extraordinary design as a great way to underline the tragic importance of the location and the faith, belief and trust to look ahead into the future.
As you all know, I am a huge fan of cruise ships and ocean liners of the old days. So a visit to the amazing Cunard Building was more or less self-evident. Only a few blocks away from WTC station, the complex which is also known as Standard & Poors Building towers 22 floors above Broadway right across from the Charging Bull statue. It was completed in May 1921 and served as the home to the British transatlantic shipping companies Cunard Line and Anchor Lines. The space of the beautiful 20 metres high lobby was used for ticketing purposes for transatlantic passages and served for this matter until late 1968. The imposing architecture was designed in a modified Italian Renaissance style and surely made the one or the other traveler stare with enlightenment back then. Today, the space is rented by the Cipriani Group for events and is therefore not so easy to tour. There is an entrance on Broadway, but when I arrived at the building around 9 am, the doors were locked. I checked with the security desk inside to the left if it was possible to visit the lobby at all. They informed me that it generally was possible whenever the supervisor was around. Luckily, I just ran into him when I exited. And there we go, I was blessed with a personal tour! What a wonderful opportunity!
Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House
Serving as something unglamorous like the establishment for collecting the federal duties for the Port of New York, the U.S. Customs House surprises with the most opulent interiors. It was built in Beaux-Arts style between 1902 and 1907 and was erected almost on the spot where the ancient Fort Amsterdam, the original center of the settlement of New Amsterdam (New York´s precedessor) stood. Most of the duty transactions took place under the marvelous Roman dome. The beautiful murals circling around were painted in 1937 by Reginald Marsh and display maritime situations. There are also two museums inside the building. Access to the rotunda and the public areas is over the giant staircase outside, right across from the Bowling Green Park. Do not show up before 10 am as you will find closed doors. Photography is permitted inside, but do spare out any security personnel and do not use a flash.
Federal Hall National Memorial
Settled across the street from the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Hall National Memorial seems just like any other government building in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan. Yet there is so much more to it! The original Federal Hall was built in 1700 to serve as New York´s City Hall. Under the Constitution it was actually used as the first Capitol of the Nation. Not only George Washington´s inauguration as the first President of the United States was held here, it was also the site where the first Bill of Rights was introduced in the First Congress. Pretty impressive, I would say. And I definitely did not have this on the monitor when walking inside. The current building was erected in 1842 and was foremost used as U.S. Custom House, then later on as a sub-treasury building. The building also survived the collapse of the two World Trade Center towers after the September 11 attacks in 2001. Today, Federal Hall National Memorial serves as a public museum with a cute little gift shop selling Colonial and early American style souvenirs.
If you check on the official website of the Surrogate´s Court for the building´s purposes, the description may not sound as exciting as the interiors may surprise you: “The Surrogate’s Court hears cases involving the affairs of descendents, including the probate of wills and the administration of estates. It also handles adoptions.” Period. That it feels like walking through the ancient halls of Harry Potter´s Hogwarts School of Wizards or the latest set for a horror movie like “The Haunting” is not mentioned anywhere. The building, which was completed in 1907, was designed in Beaux-Arts style and is also known under the name Hall of Records. The dark yet lavish interiors are made completely of marble. Highlights are by far the three-story interior courtyard with its marble double staircase leading to colonnaded balconies on the upper levels (the design was inspired by the Paris Opera) and the extremely detailed mosaic murals enthroning above the main entrance. Unfortunately, the interior courtyard is being renovated at the moment (as of February 2017). As I have been told, it will take around two years until it will be open to the public again, so apart from the hallways and sneak peaks into some of the building´s court rooms, you may only view a few photos hung outside the construction area that reveal the beauty hiding behind the barriers.
New York Public Library
She is probably one of the city´s most popular and well-known buildings ever after: The good ole Public Library main branch, aka the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building right on Fifth Avenue. Apart from the two other major libraries in New York City, the New York Public Library is with 52 Million items the second largest library in the United States and the fourth largest worldwide. Its cornerstone was laid in 1902 and the last book was sorted and classified in 1911 when it opened to the public. Many of the reading and research rooms are open to be toured and it was exciting to see how many people actually make use of the enormous media offerings. The interiors are formidably decorated with lots of beautiful wood carved ceilings and murals, particularly in the Rose Main Reading Room which you may know from many movies like Sex and the City: The Movie, Spider Man 3, The Day after Tomorrow or The Thomas Crown Affair. By far one of the finest public buildings that New York has on offer.
Grand Central Station
Just two blocks away from the library lies another epic monument of the Manhattan skyline: The Grand Central Terminal. The busiest train station in the U.S. features 44 platforms altogether. That is more than any other railway station in the world. In 2013, over 21.9 million visitors came to see the beautiful main concourse on top of the daily commuters and train passengers. That makes Grand Central probably one of the most visited sights in the entire world. I could stand there forever and watch the busy crowds taking selfies, rushing for their trains or simply using the gigantic hall as a meeting place. Once in a while you can also witness photo shoots for fashion magazines. The whole complex also features quite an offer on shopping. One of my favourite spots is the Grand Central Market, a fabulous delicacies supermarket with lots of artesian and local offerings!
And here we are already at the end of the tour. I hope, I was able to inspire you to try out something quite different when visiting New York apart from the regular stuff like shopping or museum hopping! I am sparked to check out some more buildings on my next trip to the Big Apple. I hope, you are excited as well :). Safe travels, folks!