Under the sweeping shade of the World Trade Center, something miraculous is happening—a neighborhood is coming to life. Once the enclave of intense financiers worried more about the bottom line than where they would hang their hats, Manhattan’s Financial District has become home to thousands of new residents. While the focus in recent years has been toward rental properties, condos and co-op development is beginning to take place. With this renaissance, the birthplace of New York City may soon enjoy a deserved second look as not only a place to work, but a place to live and play as well.
The Birthplace of New York City
New York’s earliest settlers put down stakes on the land that would eventually become the Financial District. Settled in 1623 by the Dutch West India Co., the area soon grew. According to Edward Robb Ellis’ “The Epic of New York City,” the Dutch never moved further north than present-day Wall Street for the entire duration of their stay in New Amsterdam, as it was called.
Wall Street itself earned its name from a 2,340-foot wall built in 1852 under orders of Peter Stuyvesant, who governed New Amsterdam. Erected to protect the Dutch from attack by the United Colonies of New England, the structure never had to serve its purpose. The attack never came, but the the impressive structure lined with nine-foot tall, sharp-ended sticks, stood long enough to give the area its most recognizable street name.
When the British gained control of New Amsterdam, they changed its name to New York City. The area continued to gain importance as a trading center and in 1785, New York City became the capital of the United States. Four years later, George Washington’s inauguration took place at Federal Hall, located near Wall and Broad Streets. Even without the pomp and circumstance of the presidential goings-on, the neighborhood had its prestige residents—Alexander Hamilton watched the inauguration from his home at 33 Wall Street.
On May 17, 1792, the area’s future as the home of finance was secured when 24 merchants and auctioneers gathered under a buttonwood tree at 68 Wall Street to create what would become the New York Stock Exchange.
As the years passed and the business of stocks and bonds skyrocketed, the area grew in prestige and fame. Skyscrapers began to make their mark on the Manhattan skyline at the turn of the 20th century. When it was completed in 1913, the Woolworth Building at 233 Broadway was the tallest building in the world. Eventually, it would become dwarfed by the 110-story World Trade Center, completed in 1973.
The Financial District also serves as the seat of city government. City Hall Park has been home to 57 mayoral administrations and served as the center of city government for close to 190 years. It also presided over the birth of New York’s most famous mode of mass transportation. In March 1900, ground was broken in front of city hall for the first subway line.
Long History, New Future
Given the Financial District’s colorful past, it is no surprise that it has managed to pull off a modern-day real estate miracle. With the stock market crash of 1987, many of the area’s most affluent corporations and financial enterprises either folded or moved uptown. Empty office buildings became a common sight and a serious situation seemed to be brewing. In 1995, however, the city began offering tax incentives to encourage the renovation of Downtown office buildings into residential apartments. Zoning laws were relaxed, allowing for entertainment facilities and smaller residential units. The rush to build could be heard from miles away. According to the Alliance for Downtown New York, a group that promotes growth in the downtown area, more than 3,000 new residential units have been completed or are under construction with 7,000 projected for completion by 2002.