Downtown

WALKING TOURS

1. DOWNTOWN — THE WALL STREET CANYONS: Walking the Byways of The First New York

From the spectacular skyline up in the air, to archeological relics down underground — from the large new Museum of the American Indian in the old Custom House to the tiny Museum of American Financial History in the old Standard Oil Building — Downtown is one of the world’s great urban treasures. Its reputation was tarnished in the ’80s (symbol of greed and corruption) and the ’90s (the stock market crash and empty skyscrapers), but it’s making a strong come-back. The tour begins at the Custom House and covers the well-known highlights and the unexpected delights of Downtown. Colonial-era relics and narrow Dutch streets. Private banks and public squares. 18th-century church steeples and 20th-century skyscraper towers. Public art from Dubuffet at Chase Manhattan, to Louise Nevelson on Maiden Lane, to Arturo diModica’s giant bull (to cheer up the stockbrokers after the ‘87 crash) at Bowling Green. The waterfront from Steamship Row on lower Broadway (where Cunard’s cavernous ticket office suggests St. Peter’s in Rome) to Castle Clinton. The Equitable Building at 120 Broadway, which helped usher in zoning to American cities. And famous institutions like Delmonico’s, first American restaurant to popularize “continental cuisine,” whose last (and very handsome) surviving building stands on William Street.

2. THE PORT AND THE STREET

Three centuries of Downtown’s business and commercial history, from South Street shipping days through the development of Wall Street banking. Admire eighteenth-century counting-houses and twentieth-century banking headquarters, walk colonial street patterns, visit archeological sites, and learn about the continuing transformation of the financial district.

3. THE LEGACY OF CASS GILBERT

Half-a-dozen early 20th-century monuments by one of America’s great masters, including the former U.S. Custom House, the United States Courthouse on Foley Square, the New York County Lawyers’ Association, and the trio of tall office buildings (Broadway-Chambers, West Street, and Woolworth) which helped transform the American skyscraper from a gawky 19th century hybrid into a lush romantic tower, the pinnacle of 20th-century American architecture.

4. ART DECO METROPOLIS: WALL STREET

(see “Art Deco Metropolis” itineraries)

5. THE STREETS OF SoHo: The World’s Cast-iron Capital

A walk through SoHo, to marvel at the world’s greatest trove of cast-iron buildings. Cast- iron began as a mid-19th century cheap imitation of stone, in which the glories of the world’s past could be offered in modern times to American merchants through that most modern of marketing tools, the sales catalog — in mass-produced, ready-to-build versions. But cast-iron soon developed into a remarkable technology expressive of the industrial revolution and modern America, capable of entirely new architectural effects. Highlights include cast-iron recreations of Venetian palaces on Broadway, French style Mansard roofs on Greene Street, and the audaciously original metallic creations of New York’s Victorian commercial architects. Also considered are SoHo’s more recent history, including the impact of the proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, designation as a New York City Historic District, the changing economics of light industry, and the fashions of the art world.

6. GREENWICH VILLAGE

Once an 18th-century English town just north of the colony of New York, today Greenwich Village is one of the city’s most vibrant and quirky neighborhoods. Its very name is magical, conjuring up images of university town, jazz clubs, Bohemian cafes, radical politics, narrow streets, odd intersections (the corner of 4th and 10th Streets). On this walk we explore the West Village area, its quiet streets and hidden treasures, and take in its vast and varied architecture — from Federal-era row houses to elegant Fifth Avenue brownstones, from Greek Revival merchant homes to Victorian public buildings, from hidden mews to public squares and parks.

7. GANSEVOORT MARKET

New York has long been a city of markets — better, New York functions as marketplace to the world. But while today the city’s best-known markets are financial (stock markets, commodity markets), half a century ago and more guidebooks to the city described the chaotic charms of the Washington Market, the Greenwich Market, the Weehawken Market, and a dozen other collections of carts and wagons and sellers and buyers. Today’s Gansevoort Market area is actually the site of three distinct markets that have existed here at various times during the past century and a quarter: the original Gansevoort produce market, the West Washington meat market, and today’s Gansevoort Meat Center and Market. Gansevoort Market survives as Manhattan’s last food market (Fulton Fish market is moving to the Bronx), but its future is very much up for grabs. The art market and the co-op market have now staked their claims here. Galleries and boutiques operate cheek by jowl with meat packing companies and late-night clubs, housed in the lofts and market buildings typical of the district. Neighborhood residents are pushing for designation as an official City historic district. We will consider the district’s past and present, and speculate about its future.

8. ETHNIC NEW YORK: Lower East Side, Little Italy, Chinatown

In the mid-1600s, a European visitor counted 18 languages spoken in the streets in the tiny Dutch Colony of Nieuw Amsterdam, at the tip of Manhattan Island. Today, more than 118 languages can be heard throughout the metropolis. New York is a city of immigrants, with representatives from practically every country in the world. In this tour, we walk through the changing landscape of the traditional immigrant neighborhoods of the Lower East Side, Little Italy and Chinatown. The Lower East Side, once home to millions of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, including the city’s largest Jewish population, still houses remnants of the past, even as its tenements are renovated to accommodate an influx of hip young professionals. Little Italy’s Italian-American population has plummeted, while Chinatown’s expanding Chinese immigrant population continues to push across the border at Canal Street. On the Lower East Side we visit the tenements of Houston Street, and the Bowery, once New York’s entertainment capital, later the country’s most infamous skid-row. In Little Italy we walk past the restaurants and cafes of Mulberry Street, and visit Old St. Patrick’s, New York’s first cathedral. In Chinatown we pass the restaurants and shops of Mott Street, and visit the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas. And everywhere, we watch the endless drama of immigrant groups maintaining their distinct cultures while assimilating into their new country.

9. DOWNTOWN BLOW-OUT: From early morning till late evening

An all-day and -evening extravaganza in Manhattan’s lower regions. We cover the Wall Street financial district, the South Street Seaport, Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo and Greenwich Village. We stop for a snack at the Seaport, lunch in Chinatown, coffee and pastry in Little Italy, and dinner in SoHo, and end with drinks in a former Village speakeasy.