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From the Atrium to the Oculus: 5 Places to Look Up in Lower Manhattan

Look up.

This stroll in Lower Manhattan involves stopping to look up at soaring places way up high, something visitors in New York City are often told to never do. In less than two hours, you will see vestiges of old New York and emblems of the new New York and how contemporary New York interprets the past.
 
South arcade, the Municipal Building

Municipal Building. The walk begins at the governmental center of New York City, the David N. Dinkins Manhattan Municipal Building. The Municipal Building (1909-1914) was the first skyscraper designed by the famous firm of McKim, Mead & White, and it was designed to inspire civic pride.

If arriving by subway, locate the signs for the Municipal Hall exit. On street level, take a look at the central Roman arch, inspired by the Arch of Constantine in Rome, and the Guastavino ceiling tiles in the south arcade of the landmark building.

Walk over to the corner of Beekman and Nassau Streets and look for the new Beekman Hotel. Along the way, be sure to take in views of City Hall and City Hall Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Woolworth Building, and several other buildings of distinction.

exterior, The Beekman
The Beekman. Originally known as the Kelly Building, the Temple Court (1883, with annex constructed 1889-1890) at the corner of Beekman and Nassau Streets was once a busy hub of activity on the city's Newspaper Row. Around the nine-story skylighted atrium, a host of real estate agents, lawyers, detectives, press agents, publishers, accounts, and others hustled for new business. The building's exterior was constructed of granite at the base and red Philadelphia brick and tan stone, with a bit of terra cotta here and there, in the upper floors. 

Like so many office buildings of the period, the Temple Court fell into decline during the middle and latter part of the 20th century. Following the attacks of 9/11, the last tenants drifted out, and the once glorious space sat empty and forlorn. Yet, the building was too much of a treasure to bring down.

Various developers looked at restoring the Temple Court, but they passed on the formidable restoration challenges and securing adequate revenue streams. In 2012, GFI Development hired Gerner Kronick + Valcarcel Architects (GKV) to figure it out. They came up with a plan to convert the atrium building into a hotel and place the heavy machinery inside an adjacent condominium tower. This way they didn’t have to compromise the pretty stuff. (See the article on  "The Beekman" from Architectural Record for more on the design and restoration.)

The Beekman, a Thompson Hotel, is currently a must-see stop in Lower Manhattan, and with good reason. The hotel is unabashedly romantic, and the soaring atrium is a dream. The faux and vintage treatments of the walls, in dusty sage and tan, work well in composition with the dark wood paneling and ornate railings of the atrium. The atmosphere feels a little mysterious, in a good way, like a place haunted by blithe spirits. If not staying overnight, stop for a beverage at The Bar Room to take in the scene. If one were to choose, a spirited person might enjoy the Champagne Cocktail, a concoction that marries light champagne with the deep notes of an Old Fashioned. 

St. Paul's Chapel
St. Paul's Chapel. Back out on the street, walk to Broadway and Vesey Street and stop at St. Paul's Chapel. The historic church is celebrating its 250th anniversary. Along the fence, informative banners commemorate important moments in the life of the church. George Washington and Lafayette were here, Elisabeth Seton attended church here before converting to Roman Catholicism, and in the days of 9/11, the church served many first responders in a time of great need.     

Continue walking west on Vesey Street. Cross Church Street and then follow signs to enter the World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

World Trade Center Transportation Hub. Designed by Santiago Calatrava and built at great expense, the World Trade Center Transportation Hub and its awe-inspiring center, the Oculus, have opened in stages over the past two years.* Part train station (to New Jersey), part shopping mall, part civic cathedral, the Hub is one of the great centers of contemporary New York. Scores of high-end retail shops have opened in and around the center. Of course, an Apple store has taken up residence.

The Oculus, World Trade Center Transportation Hub

It’s quite the impressive spectacle, this great belly of the winged bird.

staircase, World Trade Center Transportation Hub

Winter Garden, Brookfield Place. From the Oculus, continue walking west indoors to the Winter Garden of Brookfield Place. Again, more stores surround the interior spaces, along with many more places to eat.

Winter Garden, Brookfield Place, with Luminaries light installation

To get a bit of fresh air, walk outside to the outdoor plaza or a few steps more to the shores of the Hudson. Here at last, you can lower your gaze and look down, watching the ripples and waves of water across the big river.

outdoors on the west side of Brookfield Place, at the Hudson River

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from Friday, November 25, 2016.

Additional Walking Directions: Need to make your way back to Broadway from the plaza at Brookfield Place? It's now possible, via connected underground passageways, to walk continuously from the Winter Garden at Brookfield Place all the way to the Fulton Transit Center on Broadway without ever having to go outside. It took me 10 minutes tops. 

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