Wall Street – a tiny street with a big history

The name Wall Street stands for high finance and is often used interchangeably with the Financial District. However, before it came to symbolize the American financial might, it was a location of an actual wall making its name – Wall Street – not a figure of speech but a reflection of reality. In 1625, the…

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…

Prometheus – giving mortals “a Means to Mighty Ends”

The Aeschylus quote, carved in the granite wall behind the massive gilded statue of Prometheus in the heart of the Rockefeller Center, says: “Prometheus, Teacher in Every Art, Brought the Fire That Hath Proved to Mortals a Means to Mighty Ends.”  But who was Prometheus? And why is he the focal point of the Rockefeller…

Rockefeller Center Atlas or how to locate the North Star in New York City

Standing on Fifth Avenue, right across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, is not a Christian deity, but a mythological titan named Atlas. A part of the overall artistic plan for the Rockefeller Center with sculpture and artworks integrated into its design, the seven tons Atlas is the largest and one of the most prominent. According to…

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….

Merchant House–a home saved by a love story

There is a lonely 19th-century house on East 4th Street. The only relic from the by-gone era, it owes its survival to a women’s broken heart. The house was bought in 1835 by Seabury Tredwell, a wealthy New York merchant. Mr. and Mrs. Tredwell oversaw a lively household consisting of their eight children, many relatives,…