One World Trade Observatory

As a New Yorker, it was thrilling to watch One World Trade rise for about a decade before its official opening in 2015. I have written before about this revitalized area of the city, now including the Oculus, Westfield and Brookfield shopping areas, and One World Trade, in addition to the reflecting pools on the footprints of the original towers of One World Trade and Two World Trade and the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.


On a recent cold and clear January day, I visited the One World Trade Observatory and found that it really does provide an enjoyable perspective on the city for those who live here or know it well, in addition to the traditional role of being an attraction for tourists. The entrance to the Observatory is well signed, and can be found either by entering the building from street level on the West Street side or by coming through the Oculus and traveling underground through the Westfield Mall, coming from the east. Tickets can be purchased in advance (which I recommend to save time) or at the ticket office. Tickets are scanned, and then you go through airport-level security. Not only is this not surprising, but it is what we should want security to be, entering such an iconic building. If they find something they don’t allow in the Observatory (my companion had a bottle opener/corkscrew) it is kept until you return, at which time you produce the claim ticket and get it back. As you enter the queue for the elevators, they have done a wonderful job of immersing you in the process of building One World Trade with video interviews from those who helped design and build it. You walk through an example of the Manhattan schist that forms the foundation of this and other skyscrapers in the city. Finally, it is time to enter an elevator.


In the elevator, the walls are full length video screens, which start out showing Manhattan island around the time of the first Dutch settlement, and proceed forward in time as you ascend the building. The elevators are fast – 102 floors in 47 seconds! – and my ears popped both going up and coming back down later. When you exit the elevator, you are in a room with a long horizontal video screen. When everyone is in the room, it plays a short film about everyday life in New York. The real drama, though, occurs at the end when the screen rolls up to reveal the actual view from the top of the building – it was truly thrilling and a great way to present the panoramic view.

The view to the west


So how high up are you? One World Trade is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, standing 1776 feet tall (that height was no coincidence!) but counting the spire, so your height is a little over 1300 feet from the ground. When you are in the Observatory, you are let out on the 102nd floor, which primarily serves as a place to offer iPad guides for rent. Walking down one flight to the 101st floor, there is a restaurant, bar, cafe, and of course the obligatory photo session (you don’t have to participate, and don’t have to buy any photos even if you do).


The 100th floor is the main viewing area. There is also a gift shop – of course – and a presentation geared mainly toward helping visitors to the city figure it out, called City Pulse.

There is also an area that makes it seem as if you are standing on glass looking all the way down to the ground, but it’s simulated.


The real joy of being on the observation level for those who already know and love New York City is to experience an entirely new perspective on the city. If you have ever flown into LaGuardia passing by Manhattan, you get an idea of what the views look like, but unlike peering from a plane, you can spend as much time as you like figuring out all the details of the view in each direction.


Because of the location of One World Trade all the way at the southern tip of Manhattan, some of the most spectacular views are looking north. That is what they show you when the screen is initially lifted on the 102nd floor to reveal the view.



Looking due north, you can see many iconic buildings – the Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, 432 Park – but also can witness the topography of Manhattan Island. Due to how far below the surface the Manhattan schist gets from a little north of the financial district until midtown, you can see the shorter buildings covering SoHo, Greenwich Village, and Chelsea before taller buildings blossom again. It was fun to see Broadway angling across all the street grids, and to find the Washington Square arch and Times Square. To the east you can see Long Island City in Queens.


North and to the west you see the Hudson River, the piers along the river, and then the massive construction at Hudson Yards in Midtown West. The impact of this development on the city once it is completed can’t be overstated. Across the river to the west, you can see New Jersey.


Looking east, you can see over other tall buildings in lower Manhattan to view the Brooklyn Bridge, and then north of that, the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, and much of Brooklyn.



The Southern exposure leads to a lovely view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York harbor, with more of New Jersey stretching out behind them to the west.

I spent about an hour enjoying the views on the 100th floor. I would recommend going around once slowly, orienting yourself to the different views, and the circling back again even more slowly to look for details. I think many times we who call New York City home only experience certain attractions if we have visitors from out of town to show around. This experience, however, I found to be much more than a tourist attraction, deepening my understanding and enjoyment of the multifaceted architecture and topography of this magnificent city.


Calatrava’s Oculus and the revitalized World Trade area

For over a decade after the events of 9/11/01, I avoided the area where the World Trade Center had once stood. The enormous gap in the lower Manhattan skyline, achingly obvious from any vantage point, was almost unbearably immediate when felt from street level while negotiating barriers set up for the clean up and eventual rebuilding of this area. Over time New Yorkers began to see One World Trade rise, just off to the side of that empty skyline space, and witness the completion of the 9/11 museum and memorial reflecting pools. In 2016, the area has blossomed fully into the revitalized part of the city that everyone had hoped it could become. As a person who loves to take an unplanned walk in an urban environment (see my initial blog post about the process here), I recently took the subway down to Fulton Street and began to wander.


Almost any subway line can get you to Fulton (2 3 4 5 A C J Z N R W). The Fulton Center transit hub is gorgeous, with the Sky-Reflector Net as its focal point. Hundreds of mirrors reflect sunlight from a massive skylight down four stories to retail shopping areas below.


Emerging from Fulton onto Broadway, be sure to look down. This is the “Canyon of Heroes” where ticker tape parades have been held throughout the centuries, from celebration of the finishing of the Brooklyn Bridge to the safe return from the moon of the Apollo astronauts. Markers along the sidewalk note the various achievements celebrated in this way.


Almost immediately I came across St. Paul’s Chapel, built in 1766 and the oldest surviving church building in the United States. This gorgeous Georgian building was designed after London’s St-Martin-in-the-Fields, and is a National Historic Landmark. George Washington worshipped here on his Inauguration Day, and the church has survived not only the great fire of 1776 when a quarter of the city was destroyed by the British, but also was unscathed by the events of 9/11, becoming instead a place for recovery workers to rest and receive counseling.

Turning west on Vesey Street, it is impossible to miss Santiago Calatrava’s World Trade Center Transportation Hub, now often just referred to as the Oculus. As a transportation center, it primarily serves New Jersey PATH commuter trains, and is filled with retail including an Apple Store. The striking architectural style is apparent both outside and within. The exposed bleached bones of the building seem to echo to me the vertical exterior girders of the original World Trade Center. From the strip of skylight running along the roof, you can catch glimpses of One World Trade, and on clear days, puffy clouds. In my opinion, it’s thrilling, and also spiritually uplifting, befitting its location.

From the lower levels of the Oculus, you can walk underground to reach the Winter Garden Atrium as well as all the shops at Brookfield Place, a major new shopping area (dare I say “mall”?). The Winter Garden holds various free public concerts and other art events throughout the year.

One of my favorite areas in this part of Brookfield Place is Le District, kind of a French version of Eataly (a second location of which is in the Oculus shopping area, by the way).


Continuing west out of Le District, the Hudson River awaits. During the warmer months there are areas to eat outside while watching boats go by (I highly recommend the  P.J. Clarke’s there for that purpose).


Heading east again, I stayed above ground. The area, of course, is dominated by One World Trade (once dubbed the Freedom Tower). Now bustling with business, and with an observatory in the top, it is the iconic symbol of this reborn area. This neighborhood is bursting with new real estate developments as well – I have recently viewed 100 Barclay and Thirty Park Place, for instance, both of which have direct close-up views of One World Trade. With all the new shopping and dining opportunities in the area, someone purchasing here no longer has to feel isolated from the bustle of the city.

Of course, One World Trade lies just to the north of where the World Trade Center once stood. The footprints of the giant towers are now reflecting pools surrounded by the names of those who lost their lives there. The National 9/11 Museum is next to the reflecting pools, and it is a worthy if sobering place to visit if you have not been (I went about two years ago with my father). If you see a flower stuck into one of the carved names, know that it is that person’s birthday – the site keeps track of birthdays and memorializes each person each year on that day.


To the east of the reflecting pools, Calatrava’s Oculus soars. It is said that it was meant to symbolize a dove of peace being released from a child’s hand. To me, it seems as if it is a great prehistoric bird, perhaps just landed or just taking off, guarding this most sacred space. Like a phoenix reborn from the ashes, this part of New York City suggests our tremendous resilience and our unbounded hope for the future.

Financial District

Financial district 7

Recently I was fortunate enough to see the new musical “Hamilton” at the Public Theater (arriving on Broadway this summer), leading me to my last  blog  post – a walk through Hamilton Heights, the neighborhood in upper Manhattan where Alexander Hamilton had farmland and lived in his final two years. However, much of Alexander Hamilton’s time in the city was spent in the area now known as the Financial District. Roughly occupying the same space as the original settlement of New Amsterdam, it lies at the very southernmost point of Manhattan, below City Hall Park, excluding the areas of Battery Park and Battery Park City. This neighborhood is a unique mixture of very old (the colonial remnants of New Amsterdam) and very new (it’s only recently become a popular choice as a residential neighborhood and new development buildings abound). With these thoughts in mind, I decided to take my next unplanned walk in an urban environment (a dérive) in the Financial District.

I emerged from the subway at Bowling Green, the traditional starting point of ticket tape parades up Broadway. This tradition with a spontaneous parade associated with the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, and since has continued with celebrants as diverse as Theodore Roosevelt (upon his return from safari in Africa in 1910), Albert Einstein in the 1920’s, Charles Lindbergh as well as Amelia Earhart following their successful solo trans-Atlantic  flights, Jesse Owens after winning four Olympic gold medals in 1936, the pianist Van Cliburn in 1958, the Apollo 11 astronauts, and the New York Yankees (nine times).

Financial district 1

Wandering from Battery Park to State Street and on to Pearl Street, I came across what is possibly Manhattan’s oldest building (from 1719), Fraunces Tavern. This building is now a museum and restaurant as well as a National Historic Landmark. Once the meeting place of the secret society the Sons of Liberty, it became the headquarters for General George Washington at one point during the Revolution, and is where he gave his famous farewell address to his officers.

Financial district 2

Continuing north on Broad Street, as I approached the intersection with Wall Street it was impossible to miss the imposing façade of the New York Stock Exchange. The roots of this center of American finance go back as far as the years immediately following the Revolution, and the earliest securities traded were War Bonds and stock from the First Bank of the United States (established by the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton).

Financial district 3

Nearby, on the corner of Wall Street and Nassau Street, is Federal Hall, the site of the first United States Capitol Building and the location of George Washington’s inaugural. A statue of the first President stands imposingly in front, gesturing as if to say “hold your applause.”

Financial district 4

Nearby at Broadway and Wall Street is Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church, first charted during colonial days (1696) by King William III. The current building on the site dates from 1846, but the cemetery attached to it is much older, and one of the few in Manhattan. It holds several luminaries, including Robert Fulton (inventor of the steamboat) as well as Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza Schuyler Hamilton.

Financial district 5

Walking behind the cemetery along Church Street, it is impossible to miss One World Trade. Adjacent to the original footprints of the World Trade Center (now reflecting pools) and the site of the 9-11 Museum, it dominates the skyline in the area, and is now open for business. The influx of workers to One World Trade is bringing new shops and restaurants to the area.  The new World Trade Center transportation hub is due to open at the intersections of Vesey, West Broadway, and Greenwich Streets at the end of 2015. Designed by famed Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it has been the source of controversy over its cost and overruns. However, seeing it soar in such an emotionally impactful area (Calatrava has said it is supposed to look like a bird being released from a child’s hand) was very pleasing to me.

Financial district 6

Prior to 2001 and the 9-11 attacks, about 15-20,000 residents lived in the Financial District. Nothing could be more revealing of the strong and resilient nature of New Yorkers (and also of the success of some incentives and tax breaks created by the city to spur growth) than the fact that now there are over 60,000 residents of the neighborhood. In 2014, the average price per square foot in the Financial District was higher than the average in Manhattan for the first time, comparable to that of the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village. Simultaneously historic and fresh, this neighborhood is the closest thing New York City has to the center of Rome, where new buildings are interspersed with views of the Forum or Coliseum.

Battery Park City

Battery Park city

A few months ago, I wrote about an unplanned walk through an urban environment (a dérive) I had taken through one of the hottest neighborhoods in Manhattan – Tribeca. Today’s derive starts where Tribeca, the Financial District, and Battery Park City intersect, at Chambers and West Streets. I often like to write about the history of the area I will be walking through, but Battery Park City, the site of today’s journey, is a newborn compared to most of New York City. Battery Park City sits on land created in large part from soil and rock excavated during the building of the original World Trade Center in the early 1970’s. One of the earliest uses of the newly created land was for seating areas to watch the “Operation Sail” flotilla during the celebration of the American Bicentennial in 1976. Construction of residential buildings began in the 1980’s and has continued since then, with 11 buildings constructed in the 2000’s and three new buildings so far in this decade.

Crossing busy West Street over the pedestrian Tribeca Bridge, you realize what spectacular views this neighborhood has of the new One World Trade Center building (recently officially declared the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, besting the Willis Tower in Chicago after a contentious ruling about  antennae versus spires). Stuyvesant High School  lies just over the west side of the bridge. This elite public high school boasts four Nobel laureates among its alumni, and only about 3% of all applicants who take the rigorous standardized admissions test are lucky enough to attend, with no tuition. The high school’s building was erected in the early 1990’s, and marks the northernmost edge of Battery Park City.

Between Stuyvesant and the Hudson River sits the entrance to Nelson Rockefeller Park, a gorgeous spacious park with views of Tribeca and sailboats to the north, and Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty to the south. This park, on the sunny summer weekend day I was there, was filled with bikers, sunbathers, families with strollers, pets walking their humans, and people playing games from basketball to chess – the area was vibrant and welcoming. All along the east side of the park, tall apartment buildings face the Hudson, with occasional views of One World Trade framed in intersections a few more blocks to the east.

Just beyond the residential buildings to the east lies the Goldman Sachs complex, and continuing south, Brookfield Place, which holds several financial companies as well as the Winter Garden, which holds free concerts and other events throughout the year. Near the Winter Garden is a yacht harbor. The businesses in the area contribute to the restaurants and shops that support the area’s residents as well. Continuing south, the bulk of the residential buildings exist in three developments, Gateway Plaza, Rector Place, and Battery Place.

One thing that is important to know is that all the buildings in Battery Park City lease their land from the city rather than knowing it outright, but your broker and attorney can  explain how that affects a particular building you might be interested in. In addition, there is no direct subway service to Battery Park City, but there are bus lines, and the subway and PATH lines servicing the financial district are only a few blocks to the east. The surprising thing about this neighborhood is how quiet and peaceful it seems, just a few blocks from the center of the financial district. Although the real estate value has rebounded in the last few years, there is still a variety of apartments available at many price points. If you are interested in potentially moving to this area, I would recommend visiting it a few times, on a busy weekend afternoon and perhaps also on a weekday evening. I wrote a few months ago about the value of an iconic city view, and if this appeals to you, it is hard to imagine a view more iconic than that of the Statue of Liberty, just one of the advantages to this new and vibrant neighborhood in Manhattan.