The Bronx is Up and the Battery’s Down
Peter Minuit Plaza, One New York Plaza and the Battery
Spacesmith is located at One New York Plaza, at the southern tip of Manhattan. As I pass through this neighborhood daily on my way to work, I imagine peeling back the layers of time to expose the history of this area. One New York Plaza is adjacent to South Ferry, Battery Park and Peter Minuit Plaza.
Never heard of Peter Minuit Plaza?
It is a fairly ambiguous plaza named after the man who purchased Manhattan Island from the Native Americans. Peter Minuit joined the Dutch West India Company in the 1620’s and was sent to New Amsterdam (Manhattan) in 1625. He was appointed Director General of the Dutch Colony and is credited for purchasing the island of Manhattan from the Native American Lanape tribe. It was recorded that the amount Manhattan was “purchased” for was 60 Guilders, some tools, trinkets and beads. The equivalent value of 24 dollars has been disputed for many years. There is also confusion regarding where the transaction occurred. One spot was purported to be Inwood, in upper Manhattan, and the other at the southern tip of Manhattan which is much more plausible, hence the location of Peter Minuit Plaza.
So why is Battery Park called the Battery?
Since the founding of New Amsterdam, an artillery battery was located at the southern tip of Manhattan to protect the island from the harbor approach. However, the site of the original Battery was probably north of current Battery Park as State Street was the shoreline and Battery Park is mostly landfill. Castle Clinton, originally known as the Southwest Battery and then Fort Clinton, was built after the war of 1812 to protect New York from British Invasion. The fort was built offshore, but was eventually joined to the island by landfill. It was named after Dewitt Clinton, the Mayor and later Governor of New York in 1817. Castle Clinton is a National Monument.
One New York Plaza, built in 1969 by the Atlas Brothers was designed by William Lescaze & Associates and Kahn & Jacobs. The building was built on land designated in 1959 for the Battery Park Urban Renewal Area by Robert Moses. Under the urban renewal plan, seven small blocks were to be consolidated into super-blocks by eliminating cross streets and redeveloped for modern housing. A plan was proposed by Mies Van Der Rohr for three twenty-four story residential buildings. Later on the plan was amended for the relocation of the New York Stock Exchange to the site. The land was to be acquired through eminent domain, but the firm of Atlas and McGrath, the land owners, sued the city to retain the land under the pretense that urban renewal was not needed because they were more than willing to develop the property privately. The courts dissolved the renewal area under the condition that the landowner develop the site according to the city’s plans. However, the stock exchange backed out of the deal and Atlas and McGrath were free to develop the site as it wished. The subsequent development included four large office buildings, one of which was One New York Plaza. A small vestige of Moore Street, one of the cross streets that was incorporated into the super-block remains just north of One New York Plaza between Water Street and Pearl Street.
As we go about our daily routines we should be aware of the history that surrounds us. The clues to how the city evolved are hiding in plain sight. The city we know today is only the latest iteration of an ever changing, dynamic metropolis that has taken hundreds of years to develop, and will continue to develop in ways we can only imagine. Take a good look, because if you blink you might miss something.
* From -On the town- 1949: “New York, New York it’s a wonderful town…the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down”.
Marc Gordon, Partner