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NYC Grid is a photo blog dedicated to exploring New York block-by-block and corner-by-corner. Each post covers a new street or feature with a focus on the mundane and ephemeral.


Entries in City Hall (10)


Before & After - Manhattan Municipal Building


The above photo is interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image. Alternatively, you can simply click anywhere on the image to move the slider automatically.

Built after the unification of New York City, the Manhattan Municipal Building helped address the growing need for office space for city services. Throughout the building you can see symbolism to represent the five boroughs, most notably its five cupolas. Despite many imitators it's still one of the largest government buildings in the world still serving its original purpose.

Photo source: Tom Riggle, Flickr


Before & After - City Hall


The above photos are interactive. Drag the yellow handle in the middle to reveal more or less of the before or after image.

In the early 1800's the majority of New York City still existed solely below Chambers Street, so it made sense to build the new City Hall on the northern edge of that boundry facing south. Unfortunately for those early planners, the City just kept growing. Now we find ourselves with a City Hall whose back is turned to the majority of its population. (There's a political cartoon in there just waiting to happen.) To make matters worse they didn't even treat the rear of the building with the same respect as the front. The most visible parts at the time were clad in ornate white marble while the back was just simple brownstone. It wasn't until a renovation in the 1950's that the entire building was covered in the limestone that we see today. As a result, the old 1919 photo above is a completely different exterior than what you see in the 1984 and 2013 photos.

Photo source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division 1, 2


Park Row Between Ann St and Spruce St

Ah Park Row – where government and commerce meet. City Hall, and the far-more-important J&R stores sit directly across from each other with only the triangular park as a buffer. I remember as a kid listening to Yankee radio broadcasts and hearing commercials for "J&R Music and Computer World" which would proudly end with "Located on Park Row, across from City Hall". At the time I didn't know where that was, how the street  was configured, or why City Hall would be in such a lame part of town that its neighbor would be an electronics retailer.

Years later I'm now well aware of Park Row's location in Manhattan, and have actually become quite a fan of the area. With the maze of streets that sprawl out behind J&R, the Brooklyn Bridge to the north, and of course City Hall and City Hall Park to the west, there's a lot of variety here. Taking up what appears to be 75 small storefronts, J&R is a megacomplex that occupies the majority of the block between Ann Street and Beekman St – only halting for a moment for Wienstein and Holtzman Hardware to peek its face through. Each instance of J&R sells a different category of products, so lord help you if you enter the wrong entrance.

Park Row itself is rather short with a myriad of twists and turns at its beginning and end. Down at the base, by St.Paul Chapel a series of turns and lights make it difficult for pedestrians to find their way without getting run over by bridge or FDR traffic.

Historically this used to be the place for the city's newspapers. It's also home to one of the very first "skyscrapers" (15 Park Row). Of course the presence of City Hall alone lends plenty of historical significance to the neighborhood. What often strikes visitors as strange is the fact that the City Hall building itself faces south – towards the Battery, and not much else. Meanwhile several miles of major New Yorkness sits behind it. What one needs to consider is that when it was built (in the early 19th Century – making it the oldest City Hall in the country) there wasn't much more than farmland north of Canal Street; the majority of the city was contained in what is now known as the Financial District, so that's the way it faced.


Ann St Between Nassau St and Park Row

I must admit, I didn't really know this street was even here. The whole maze that makes up this neighborhood makes it very easy to overlook entire areas. When you're standing on Park Row, this block seems to disappear into the background; and why wouldn't it? You have so many prominent landmarks surrounding you, what use is it to notice Ann Street? 

The block itself was a lot of fun to walk down. Full of incredibly narrow, yet tall buildings that cast uneven shadows on the ground. One third of the way down the street is Theater Alley, which Scouting NY had a great little write-up on recently.

Really, the key to this block is to keep your gaze skyward. Every rooftop and wall seems to have something unique to present. The street-level, by comparison, isn't all that much to look at.


Murray St Between Broadway and Church St

Steps away from City Hall, the grandeur of the financial district begins to fade into memory. There's a certain amount of staidness which is associated with the area it leaves behind. Though still rather uptight and uncomfortable, this block begins to loosen up a bit and feel more like a neighborhood. A mix-and-match selection of buildings and businesses line the block, which is cast in a permanent shadow.

There's a total lack of trees here, which makes it feel much more like midtown and downtown. The overall gray feeling is augmented by the canyon effect you get along the street. A construction site in the middle of the block looks like it's been in limbo for quite some time – strangely appropriate for the street.


Elk St Between Chambers St and Duane St

Elk is a really short street – so short that half of it is blockaded to traffic along with Duane Street. With hardly a marked crosswalk to help pedestrians access it from City Hall, its only real characteristic is a massive parking lot with an equally massive Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank mural painted high above (they own the building). 

As I mentioned, walking past Reade Street, there's no more vehicular access (for now – it's just barricaded), which is liberating but a tad uninviting. The tall buildings open up a little towards Duane Street when you encounter the African Burial Ground National Monument, which is particularly beautiful amongst all the boring stuff surrounding it. The corner of Elk and Duane is one of those comically over-named ones as Elk St, Duane St, Paul O'Dwyer Way, and African Burial Ground Way signs all share the same post.