Grand Central Terminal

Only in New York would mere commuters arrive in the most stately of train stations.  Grand Central Terminal has welcomed travelers into the city since 1913.  Although Penn Station has the title for the busiest train station in the country (and even that is far from the busiest in the world),  it has 44 platforms and 67 tracks, the largest in the world.  Grand Central also has a cachet that is richly deserved among train station enthusiasts and visitors to the city.

The current terminal, once property of the New York Central Railroad, was built to replace the former Grand Central Depot and Grand Central Station that once graced the site.  Completed in 1913, it was designed by Warren and Wetmore.  The terminal was New York Central’s answer to the recently completed Penn Station, built by the rival Pennsylvania Railroad.  Grand Central and Penn Station would be in competition until the rivals united as Penn Central in 1968.  The Pennsylvania Railroad had already demolished Penn Station’s overground sections to get money to the struggling company.  Penn Central sought to reduce the costs to the company by repurposing the Grand Central Terminal site as a skyscraper with the station underground.  The station became the center of a preservation battle until the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of New York City’s historic preservation laws.  The terminal would gradually be restored and come under the management of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.  A massive project to connect the terminal to the Long Island Railroad and alleviate commuter pressure on Penn Station is currently underway.

Grand Central Terminal contains the most well-known meeting place in the city… the clock over the information booth in the central concourse.  The clock is valued at over one million dollars.  The star of the terminal, however, is the mural painted by Paul Cesar Helleu, which shows the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere.  The perspective, however, is flipped so that it is the view from heaven instead of the one we mere mortals see.  A shopping arcade and market remain popular among the thousands using the station daily.  Of interest to tourists are the Grand Central Oyster Bar on the dining concourse (known for its whispering galleries made of Guastavino tiling).

Grand Central Terminal remains a nerve center of Midtown Manhattan.  Its development helped to make Midtown the preeminent business center of the city.  Additionally, a space as utilitarian as a train station is elevated to a high art form here.  Consider seeing Grand Central as part of a Sights by Sam tour of Midtown Manhattan.

Manhattan Chinatown

Situated between the Civic Center and the Lower East Side is Chinatown, one of the defining neighborhoods of Manhattan.  Up to 100,000 people, including recent immigrants and families that have lived in this part of Manhattan for over a century, all crowd into this area.  Chinatown remains one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in terms of sights, smells, and tastes (some of the best restaurants in town are located here).

It is believed that Chinese arrived in New York right before the Civil War and settled in the immediate area around Pell and Doyers Street.  As more Chinese (soldiers and laborers) came to New York, discrimination against them increased.  Chinese men (it was mostly men who immigrated) often joined secret societies (tongs) that often warred against each other.  It is believed that conflict between tongs using hatchet men (hatchets were the weapon of choice) led to Doyers Street in Chinatown becoming the scene of the most murders of any spot in the city.  After immigration reform in 1965, the population of Chinatown exploded and the neighborhood expanded its boundaries.  Owing to the original arrivals and more recent arrivals from Hong Kong, Cantonese is the dominant language in Chinatown—but this is slowly changing as the most recent immigrants arrive speaking Mandarin.  The Chinese population in New York now numbers close to one million and counts Flushing in Queens and a Brooklyn Chinatown with Manhattan Chinatown (all linked together by bus companies serving the three locations).

One of the favorite pastimes of Chinatown for visitors is the food.  There are many opportunities to get snacks such as candy, Chinese baked goods, bubble tea, dim sum, or a full-course Peking duck meal.  In terms of more historic sites, Columbus Park (the last surviving part of the old Five Points), numerous temples, and the Museum of the Chinese in America are all available.

Chinatown, for its vibrancy, history, and great food, should be on the must-see list for any visitor to New York.  You are able to see Chinatown on most Sights by Sam tours of Lower Manhattan.


Bowling Green: First in New York

New York has hundreds of public parks ranging from the massive Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to small “parklets” that are scarcely larger than a parking space. At the foot of Manhattan sits Bowling Green, the oldest public park in the city—established in 1733.

The area where Bowling Green is located was used as a “commons” where residents of New Amsterdam and later New York fed their animals. In 1733, the council of the city designated the area as a park for the enjoyment of all its residents.

In 1770, the British government erected a two-ton lead equestrian statue of King George III in the park. Due to poor relations between the mother country and the colony in the lead up to the American Revolution, the city passed one of its first anti-graffiti laws to counter the growing wave of vandalism toward the statue. On July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read out loud in the city. The Sons of Liberty, immediately after the reading, ran to the statue and toppled it, melting the lead into musket balls. Some alleged pieces of the statue and the original fence reside at the New-York Historical Society today.

In a more contemporary era, the statue Charging Bull by Arturo di Modica was placed here after it had been removed from in front of the New York Stock Exchange. The statue was placed in front of the exchange in 1989 as a symbol of the perseverance of the American spirit after the stock market crash of 1987. It was moved to its present place on Bowling Green after the public clamored for it to be publicly displayed. The bull weighs a little over three tons.

Bowling Green is one of the main parks in the area of Wall Street, close to other attractions such as the New York Stock Exchange, the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, and Trinity Church, to name but a few. Bowling Green can be viewed on a Sights by Sam tour of Lower Manhattan.