Since we neglected to post a Manhattan Monday piece last week, we’re doing a double this Monday: this post is about Broadway, and the following (to be posted eventually) is about Times Square. Sorry for missing last week, but I think we’re making up for it, right?
The most famous street in all of New York is pretty obvious. Most widely (see what I did there?) known in reference to the Theatre District parlance of performing “On Broadway,” the main thoroughfare on Manhattan is a major landmark from its origin at Battery Park on the southern tip of the island to its dissolution into the Broadway Bridge as it crosses into the Bronx. Crossing all the major avenues (North-South/Uptown-Downtown roads) and passing through the heart of the Financial District (Wall Street begins across from Trinity Church) Chinatown, Little Italy, SoHo, Greenwich Village, Union Square, Madison Square, Herald Square and Macy’s, Times Square, Columbus Circle, the Upper West Side, Harlem, Morningside Heights and Columbia University, and Inwood, traveling along Broadway provides a spectral view of the City.
Broadway has been in existence for untold centuries, as it was found by the Dutch settlers in the early 17th century as a long-standing hunting trail maintained by the indigenous Lenape, called the Wickquasgeck Trail. The Dutch used the road as well, calling it “Breede weg” – the literal Dutch term for Broadway. The lower portion of the street was more or less maintained throughout the development of the city, though the original trail veered to the east at 23rth Street while the current Broadway veers West. The grid was developed in the early 19th century, but Broadway was exempted as it curves and slants its way down the western side of the island and glides across the central portion of Manhattan to its southernmost point. Today it runs uninterrupted from Battery Park at the Customs House and the Bowling Green to the very northernmost tip of the island.
Broadway has an auspicious origin in the heart of the Financial District. Originating across from Battery Park in front of the Customs House, the road shoots out of the Bowling Green like a giant fountain. The Bowling Green remains almost exactly as it was 400 years ag0 when the small lawn initially served as a military parade ground, and later as a a park of sorts, home to “bowlers.” Starting out walking from the Bowling Green, one first encounters the famous bull and its overly shined and fondled genitalia. Several blocks up from the bull is the beautiful Trinity Church across from Wall Street. A glance to the right down Wall Street from Broadway gives a view of the New York Stock Exchange.
Continuing on a broad, straight path northward, the Woolworth Building rises like a giant, upside down ice cream cone to the left – look past the Woolworth Building and Ground Zero is visible several blocks away. Just across from the Woolworth is City Hall and City Hall Park with its beautiful fountains. Looking past City Hall Park gives a view directly up the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, with its looking towers, crowded walkways, and criss-crossing wires. Keep walking past City Hall, and you’ll pass through Chinatown at Canal Street.
Leaving the downtown area, the next section of Broadway is the revitalized and now-ritzy SoHo. Lined with fashion boutiques and trendy eateries, SoHo is home to quite a few celebrities in the lofts above the shops. SoHo was a run down area until starving artists infiltrated the neighborhood to use the vast, inexpensive spaces for their craft. It first became hip, then trendy, and now is a mainstream shopping and fashion district. Adjacent to SoHo on the north side, Broadway passes through Greenwich Village and the heart of New York University – Washington Square Park is just a block away down 4th and 8th Streets. At 10th Street and Broadway rests one of the prettiest churches in Manhattan, Grace Church – one of our favorite buildings in the City.
Following a gentle curve to the left past Grace Church, directly ahead is Union Square. Named for the planned (but never completed) junction of old New York’s two biggest roads, Broadway and Bowery, Union Square is the site of the largest public gathering in America’s history: a pro-Civil War speech by Abraham Lincoln. At Union Square, Broadway overlaps Park Avenue to the East and crosses 14th and 17th Streets.
The stretch of Broadway between Union Square and Madison Square was previously the heart of the theater district, and was formerly called the “Great White Way” in the early 20th century for the numerous signs decorated with white lights. The next major site is Madison Square, famous for the triangular and beautifully decorated Flatiron Building. Also in Madison Square is the Charles Schwab Tower, the tallest building in the world at its completion.
After a somewhat “dodgy” area in the low 30s, Broadway continues to veer left into Herald Square, home of Macy’s and the famous Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Looking to the right down 34th Street one sees the Empire State Building towering above. The next and most famous section of Broadway is Times Square and the heart of the theater district, to be detailed in the accompanying Manhattan Monday. After passing through Times Square and the Theater District, Broadway takes a decidedly sophisticated turn as it swings its way through Columbus Circle past the Time Warner Center and the southwest corner of Central Park.
With a price tag of over $2 billion, the Time Warner Center was the most expensive building in the world at the time it was completed (since surpassed by the $4 billion Wynn Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas), and is home to high end shops and restaurants, including one of the most exclusive restaurants, Per Se. Extending north from Columbus Circle from 59th Street to 110th Street, Broadway takes a a relatively straight course through the heart of the Upper West Side, paralleling Central Park. Largely residential with numerous high scale apartment buildings, the Upper West Side is relatively devoid of tourist sites until you reach Morningside Heights and Columbia University. Columbia, with its beautiful Neo-classic architecture, is one of the best universities in the world, consistently ranking in the Top 10 universities in the United States.
The section of Broadway between Morningside Heights and Broadway Bridge is relatively drab as it passes through the westernmost section of Harlem (the famous Cotton Club is visible to the left down 125th Street) and the largely Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, home to New York Presbyterian Hospital – one of the world’s best. Broadway eases slightly to the left as it passes under the George Washington Bridge at 180th Street, then turns sharply to the right as it passes The Cloisters and enters the nether regions of Manhattan, also known as Inwood. As Broadway slants northeast through Inwood it eventually melts into the Broadway Bridge as it spans the Harlem River on its way to the Bronx.
Thus New York’s version of Main Street was built before New York was even a thought, and persists today as Manhattan’s most important thoroughfare. Passing many major sites and important locations as well as a host of major tourist destinations, Broadway is important for everyone, tourists and New Yorkers alike…