Offbeat New York

The Rise and Rise of Lower Manhattan

by Neala Schwartzberg

Without a doubt, parts of Manhattan have more cachet. But Lower Manhattan is where New York City started, and it’s reclaiming its place of vitality and importance. There are a dozen museums, the rebuilt Winter Garden hosts special events, Wall Street is lighting up building facades and luring visitors with art and food. The piers of the East River have become South Street Seaport.

Battery Park
Although there’s much to enjoy in Lower Manhattan, one of the unexpected delights is Battery Park City Parks, a 32 acre fringe of greenery with skaters, strollers, and 20 installations of public art. Walk along the Hudson, and pause to watch the sailboats tacking their way up and down the river. Experience the sculptures and installations from whimsical constructions to the thoughtful and affecting Irish Hunger Memorial.

Battery Park also contains three different museums. The newly opened Skyscraper Museum focuses solely on the past, present and future of these soaring structures. Walk across the street and visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage. This distinctive building of layered concrete focuses on Jewish history and family life as well as current issues. In contrast to the modernism of these two museums is the ornate Beaux Arts U. S. Customs Service building constructed in 1907, located just a few blocks away. It’s now National Museum of the American Indian, part of the Smithsonian museum system.

Revolutionary New York
The Battery Park area is actually not the oldest part. Years of landfills have lengthened and widened the city. The heart of revolutionary New York lies further east. Federal Hall has been home to 18th century New York City's City Hall, the first Congress of the thirteen United States, and was the site of George Washington's inauguration as the nation's first president. Although little can top that for historical punch, you can also re-experience history, while you eat, at Fraunces Tavern Restaurant and Museum. There’s not much that truly dates back to 1719, but building still stands, and has an interesting history. When the war ended the tavern was the site of General Washington’s famous farewell to the officers of the Continental army on December 4th, 1783.

South Street Seaport
The South Street Seaport project continues to rejuvenate the east side of Lower Manhattan. This is a 12-square block family-friendly historic zone where 18th– and 19th–century buildings line stone-paved streets. You can take a harbor tour on a historic schooner, eat in a waterside restaurant, take a walking tour of the area, or watch the restoration of an 1885 ship.

Lower East Side
Although further north, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum is a New York’s must-see. Wave after wave of immigrant groups -- Italians, Germans, Jews, Chinese and more -- all went through Ellis Island and landed in the city of new beginnings.

Although in the process of gentrification the past still remains. Houses of worship have become treasured landmarks, and patrons still line up for a knish at Yonah Schimmel. The history of the area can be explored in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, a building dating back to 1863. Several apartments have been renovated backwards to recreate the life and living conditions of various immigrant groups who once lived there. The Museum also provides narrated walks through the neighborhood.

As cultures brush against each other in the arena of history an electrical charge is being created, and the energy is transformative. Lower Manhattan, the original NYC.

For More Information:

Lower Manhattan --
Wall Street Rising --

Fraunces Tavern and Museum
54 Pearl Street (at Broad Street)
Phone:(212) 425-1778

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
90 Orchard Street
Phoone: 212 431-0233

Battery Park City Parks
2 South End Avenue
New York, New York 10280
Phone: 212.267.9700

Federal Hall National Memorial
26 Wall Street
Phone: (212) 825-6888

South Street Seaport
Fulton Street & South Street
The museum is located at: 207 Front Street

Heritage/Museums of Lower Manhattan
One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10006
Phone: (212) 962-2300

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