The Pierre – pick a story

Elegant and understated, The Pierre hotel bears the name of its original owner, Charles Pierre Casalasco. His story deviates from the expected New York rug-to-riches story into an “haute cuisine”-to-riches one. Except, the story has more than one version. The first one is prosaic. In this version, Charles Pierre Casalesco worked as a busboy in…

Brooklyn Bridge for sale — a true story

When Sinatra sang: “I’ve been tryin’ to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge,” he meant it metaphorically. The Bridge, however, had been a commodity on the swindlers marked ever since it opened in 1883. Other sale items included the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grant’s Tomb, and the Statue of Liberty, but nothing sold as well as…

Statue of Liberty – what was the Lady doing in the park?

The journey of Lady Liberty from its native France to the teeming shores of Manhattan was long and arduous, and her first appearance here was limited to just one body part: her torch-holding arm. The Statue’s creator, Auguste Bartholdi, started working on the colossus in 1876 in Paris. The arm holding the touch was complete…

Of sycamore, coffee, and high finance — the Stock Exchange story

New York, situated in a large, natural harbor, was always a port city. Since the 17th century, the trade routes between Europe and the American continent went through the city’s bustling port. The goods such as wheat, tobacco, coffee, sugar, molasses, cotton, and rum traveled in one direction while fine furniture, tea, cloth, and, sadly,…

The tale of two Cathedrals

Even three-fifths complete, St. John the Divine is the largest cathedral in the nation and one of the largest in the world.  Estimating the cathedral’s size is not an easy task: is it the length, height, or volume? Often, people say (correctly!) that Rome’s St. Peter’s is indisputably larger. However. . . St. Peter’s is…

Lions, books, and philanthropy

One of the most significant national treasures, the New York Public Library, was not created by the government but was a product of philanthropy. Hard to imagine, but there was a time when New York City did not have a library. By the second part of the 19th century, New York was emerging as one…

The first American World Fair — elevators and pianos in Bryant Park

A charming little park behind the New York Public Library boasts quite an unusual history. Like many other parks in the city, it started as a potter’s field. Yet, unlike other parks, it was once the site of the biggest tourist attraction of its day. A location for America’s first World’s Fair — the Crystal…

St John the Divine – the Cathedral that was never finished

St. John the Divine, a striking presence of mammoth size and old-world-inspired beauty, was destined for a strange journey. One of the largest in the world, it started in 1892 and still stands unfinished. . . An Episcopalian Cathedral, St. John the Divine, was conceived to outshine the recently built Catholic St Patrick’s on Fifth…

F.A.O. Schwarz – New York Toy Story

Out of a great many fortunes made by immigrants who came to America in the 19th century, this one stood out. It was made … in toys! In 1856, 20-year-old Frederick August Otto Schwarz came from Germany to America to join his brothers working at a stationery and fancy goods store in Baltimore. It so…

Santa Claus – yet another famous New Yorker

A kindly, jolly older gentleman with loads of presents for well-behaved kids stands as one of the most recognizable images in the world. As if the good citizen of the Big Apple needed another reason to brag, but this image originated in 19th century New York. The current familiar depiction of Santa Claus, as it…

Many lives of Castle Clinton

A chameleon of function, Castle Clinton had many reincarnations, and it’s not finished changing yet. Built as a fortification, the masonry circular structure has functioned as an exhibition hall, theater, immigration station, public aquarium, and national monument. 1811-1822 Military Fort Along with other forts on Bedloe (Liberty) Island, Ellis Island, and Governor’s Island built to…

Jefferson Market Library – details that tell a story

Elaborate buildings’ details are often more than mere decorations–they convey meaning and tell a story. One of the most beautiful structures in New York’s architectural landscape is the spectacular Jefferson Market Library. Built a part of a multifunctional complex that included a jail, a market, and a fire tower, it used to house a courthouse….