Civic Center, Manhattan
The Civic Center is the area of downtown Manhattan, New York City, that encompasses City Hall, police headquarters, the courthouses in Foley Square and the surrounding area. The area is roughly 10 blocks long and 5 blocks wide, but is far less dense than most of Manhattan, where the average number of residents for an area that size is 35,000; the Civic Center has approximately 20,000 residents. The district is bound on the west by Broadway, on the north by Chinatown, on the east by the East River and the Brooklyn Bridge, and on the south by the Financial District. Although government-related activities are predominant, other pursuits also occur within the district, including industrial activity, entertainment and warehousing.
Originally, the Lenape American Indians occupied the Civic Center due to its rich pastoral fields and its proximity to the East River and Hudson River. There was a series of marshes in the area and a big pond in what is now Foley Square that the early settlers called “The Collect” or “Collect Pond.” In fact, the area was so low lying that during the spring floods, the Indians could paddle from the East River to the Hudson River through the Collect Pond Then in 1609, Henry Hudson, an English explorer working for the Dutch, came and claimed the land for the Dutch. The colony there grew and farms began to expand, so the demand for workers increased. The Dutch West Indies Company decided to import slaves in 1625 to the new colony. The Civic Center was known as the commons and the first recorded building was a windmill built by Jan de Wit and Denys Hartogveldt in 1663. The next year, the colony was renamed New York and the state seal was created the following year. Farms continued to grow and slavery expanded rapidly. The slaves built a burial ground in the north area of the Civic Center. The slaves would bury people at night even though it was illegal, to ensure their brethren had a proper burial service. Because of the slaves’ sneaking out and racism, the Trinity Church banned African burial ceremonies in 1697. This rule was then overturned in 1773.
The city continued expanding and the government system became increasingly powerful. The local government decided to finance their first public works building through public funding. In 1735, the Almshouse was built as a center to house the ill and impoverished, a jail, a workhouse and infirmary. A score later another jail was built called New Goal, which was a debtor prison. Soldier barracks were built on the western border of the commons.
City Hall Park
During the pre-Revolution and Revolution era, City Hall Park was the site of many rallies and movements. In 1765, New Yorkers protested the Stamp Act at the site, and years later rejoiced when it was revoked. The Sons of Liberty erected the first “Liberty Pole,” a commemorative mast topped by a vane featuring the word “liberty,” the next year outside the Soldiers’ Barracks. It was chopped down by the British soldiers and replaced five times; a replica dating to 1921 now stands near its original location between City Hall and Broadway. During the same year, St Paul's Chapel was completed as a chapel of the Trinity Church. It stood in a field some distance from the growing port city to the south, and was built as a "chapel-of-ease" for parishioners who lived far from the Mother Church. On July 9, 1776, people gathered in the commons to hear the Declaration of Independence read by George Washington. Two months later, the British recaptured the area. The British kept the American prisoners in New Gaol, and built another prison called Bridewell. The head of the prison, Provost Marshall William Cunningham, confessed to starving 2,000 prisoners and hanging 250 of them on gallows located behind the Soldiers’ Barracks. Finally on November 9, 1783, the American forces recaptured the Civic Center and George Washington raised the flag in the park. Six years later, he was named the president and immediately after his inauguration, President Washington went to the renowned St Paul’s Chapel, the oldest surviving church in Manhattan.
Since the original city hall of New York City was built in 1700, it was getting old and could not accommodate the growing municipal government. In 1802, the city decided to hold a contest for who could design the best new city hall. Aaron Burr promised Philadelphia’s Benjamin Latrobe that he would win the design competition for New York’s new City Hall. When he lost, Latrobe bitterly denounced the winners, “bricklayer” John McComb, Jr. and French exile Joseph Francois Mangin, and their “vile invention.” In fact, McComb and Mangin were each accomplished architects and their design, largely by Mangin, was superior to Latrobe’s, but City Hall was their only collaboration and it was brief. The building was competed in 1812 and designed in a Federal style with French influence. McComb alone was chosen to oversee construction and Mangin’s career never recovered. Decades later, a McComb descendant erased Mangin’s name from the original drawings, a conspiracy that fooled the New York Times and others. Not until 2003 was Mangin officially recognized as the principal designer of New York’s iconic City Hall. Some critics complained that the New City Hall was too far north of the heart of the city, but others liked the remote location and beautiful landscape of the building.
New York’s cultural identity was growing, and in 1818 the Rotunda was built as New York City’s first art museum. Slavery was abolished in New York on July 4, 1827, Emancipation Day, and there was a huge two-day celebration in the park and a big parade. 3 In 1830, the old debtor prison, New Gaol, was transformed into the city’s hall of records. When the building was torn down in 1903 it was New York’s oldest municipal building. New York City’s lavish architecture and growing economy made it a great city to visit. In 1836, the first New York City luxury hotel was built. Isaiah Rogers, with a reputation for building America’s first luxury hotel, designed the six-story Park Hotel, which was commonly known as the Astor House. The Croton Fountain was placed in the center of City Hall Park to celebrate the Croton Aqueduct, New York City’s first dependable supply of pure water. The aqueduct drew water from the Croton Dam more than forty miles north of the city, and was considered one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century.
During the Civil War, the old British soldiers’ barracks were used as temporary barracks. In 1870, a new post office was erected, which angered a lot of people. The new building obstructed the view of City Hall and demolished the Croton Fountain. The Tweed Courthouse, consisting of 30 courthouses within, was also built then and completed in 1881. Though the building began construction in 1861, work on the building stopped in 1872 because Boss Tweed was being tried there.
By the 1880s, the city of New York was rapidly growing in leaps and bounds. The population had increased to more than a million residents and the government was outgrowing its offices. The mayor, Franklin Edson, recognized the need for more space for government offices and was reluctant to add onto the original City Hall building. Instead, between the years of 1888 and 1907, the city organized a series of competitions to choose designs for several new structures. On December 3, 1897, people rejoiced by City Hall because of the consolidation of the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan. The new New York City numbered more than 4.5 million and there was a need for a mass transit system and a stately building. City Hall’s subway station was completed in 1903, which later would become the largest mass transit system in the world. The massive 40 stories tall Municipal Building was completed in 1915 and has the statue of Civic Fame resting on top of the tower. In 1906, the Pace brothers founded the firm of Pace & Pace to operate their schools of accountancy and business. Taking a loan of $600, the Pace brothers rented a classroom on one of the floors of the New York Tribune Building. The city continued to innovate, and in 1908, City Hall Park was renovated and the old gaslights were replaced with electric ones.
The Civic Center’s financial power and economy were growing in the early 1900s. The Emigrant Savings Bank was established in 1850 to provide financial services for New York City's rising Irish Catholic immigrant population, and to enable easy transfer of funds between New York and Emigrant's branch offices in Dublin. In 1908, they decided to relocate their headquarters to the Civic Center and to create the largest bank building in the United States. Frank Winfield Woolworth, the owner of the 'five and dime' Woolworth retail chain needed a new office building for the headquarters of his company, and asked Cass Gilbert to build a gothic tower with plenty of windows. The Woolworth Building was constructed in 1913 and was the tallest building in the world until 1930 when New York’s Chrysler Building claimed the title. The building became an instant landmark, due both to the then very impressive height, and because of its gothic ornamentation. This gave it the nickname 'Cathedral of Commerce'. The interior of the building is one of the most sumptuous in New York. Woolworth's private office was modeled and furnished after Napoleon's Palace in Compiègne. As early as 1915, Mekeel's Weekly Stamp News contained many advertisements for stamp dealers in Nassau Street. In the 1930s, stamp collecting became very popular and Nassau Street was the center of New York City's "Stamp District", called its "Street of Stamps", with dozens of stamp and coin dealers along its short length. The Stamp Center Building was located at 116 Nassau Street, and the Subway Stamp Shop was located at 87 Nassau Street
During the Great Depression, masses gathered and protested in City Hall Park as a place to protest the government. Under Mayor Laguardia, Robert Moses unveiled an ambitious plan to renovate the park. The plan called for the Federal Post Office to be torn down, but this plan was stopped due to opposition from city officials and community groups.
In 1978, the Surrogate’s Courthouse was built and the Delacorte family donated the Shew Fountain. 21 year later, Mayor Rudy Gouliani rededicated the park for 7.5 million dollars and removed the Shew Fountain. The Tweed Courthouse was also renovated and redesigned to be home to the department of education and a public school kindergarten.
In 1991, while constructing a new building at 290 Broadway, the excavators found thousands of graves. The General Service Administration was planning on ignoring the discovery and continuing with the building of the Foley Square Federal Office Building, until the African community rebelled against the GSA’s cavalier attitude towards the discovery. Scientists believe that this is the largest African cemetery in the world. They estimate that approximately 15,000 to 20,000 people are buried there, but only 419 bodies were found. The conflict was resolved and the building was still erected, but a memorial site was constructed at this location and became a national monument. Rodney Leon’s design was chosen for the memorial site and it was opened in 2007. The visitor center was opened in 2010 and has a video on the discovery of the graves, sculptures of the burial process, and information on the lives of the slaves.
Currently, the Supreme Courthouse and City Hall are being renovated. The magnificent Municipal Building is home to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and the mayor of New York also keeps his office in this building. Additionally, the renowned Frank Gehry is constructing the 8 Spruce Street, a huge steel tower that is contorted in a manifold of directions. The building is “the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere” and is critically acclaimed as, “the first thing built downtown since then that actually deserves to stand beside it [the Woolworth Building].” The Civic Center is a crucial area in New York City with an extensive history and currently houses many important buildings.
A wave of newspaper companies arose in 1835 after the invention of the steam press, which turned out printed sheets mechanically, replacing the old hand-cranked method. The convenience of mass production generated a penny press and mass consumption of sensational news. The Civic Center was always a desirable location for newspapers because it was so close to City Hall and the courts, but the numbers increased exponentially after the invention of the steam press. Park Row became known as “Newspaper Row”, and between the Civil War and World War I, sixty newspapers were published there. 13 The Sun began publication in 1833, as a morning newspaper edited by Benjamin Day with the slogan "It Shines for All". The newspaper's offices, a converted department store at 280 Broadway, between Chambers and Reade Streets in lower Manhattan now known as "The Sun Building" is famous for the clocks that bear the newspaper's masthead and motto.Horace Greeley created the New York Tribune in 1841 with the hopes of providing a straightforward, trustworthy media source in an era when newspapers such as the New York Sun and New York Herald thrived on sensationalism. The Tribunes’ original building was located on 30 Ann Street, but they moved to Park Row in 1875. The New York Times’ first building was located at 113 Nassau Street in New York City. In 1854, it moved to 138 Nassau Street, and in 1858 it moved to 41 Park Row, making it the first newspaper in New York City housed in a building built specifically for its use. Frank Queen bought a small office on Nassau Street and began publishing the New York Clipper in 1853, making it the first American paper devoted entirely to entertainment; the paper eventually shortened its name to The Clipper. The paper was one of the earliest publications in the United States to regularly cover sports, and it played an important role in popularizing baseball in the country. In addition to more popular sporting events, the New York Clipper also wrote about billiards, bowling, even chess. It began covering American football in 1880.
The New York World was formed in 1860, but was a relatively unsuccessful New York newspaper from 1860 to 1883. Joseph Pulitzer purchased it in 1883, and a new, aggressive era of circulation building began. In 1890, Pulitzer built the New York World Building, the tallest office building in the world at the time (it was razed in 1955).
The New York Journal was established in 1868, as a paper published every other day. The paper was barely financially stable and in 1895, William Randolph Hearst purchased the New York Journal. He made major changes to the paper, and using the similar approach adopted by Joseph Pulitzer, he began competing with the New York World. The two would compete by fabricating and embellishing stories more than the other. They increased their title font sizes, and focused more on the title than the actual story. The New York Press was a New York City newspaper that began publication in December 1887 and published notable writers such as Stephen Crane. It also coined the term "yellow journalism" in early 1897, to refer to the work of Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. The newspaper did not define the term, and in 1898 simply elaborated, "We called them Yellow because they are Yellow." The tactics used by the New York Journal and the New York World increased circulation and influenced the content and style of newspapers in most of the America's major cities. Many aspects of yellow journalism, such as banner headlines, sensational stories, an emphasis on illustrations, and colored supplements, became a permanent feature of popular newspapers in the United States and Europe during the 20th century. Some small but noteworthy newspapers were published, such as: Susan B. Anthony’s Working Woman’s Association’s newspaper, Revolution and Daniel De Leon’s Socialist Labor Party’s newspaper, The Daily People.
- White, p.71
- Hall, pp. 397-8
- Hall, Edward Hagaman. "A Brief History of City Hall Park, New York," Fifteenth Annual Report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (Albany, 1910). (Byline erroneously reads "Edward Hagaman", but full name is given in the same document on p. 10.)
- White, Norval & Willensky, Elliot with Leadon, Fran (2010). AIA Guide to New York City (5th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195383867.
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