Financial District Overview
In many ways, the Financial District is exactly as you would expect it: towering glass buildings with well-dressed business people milling about. In other ways, the Financial District is full of surprises. It has many of the best parks in the City and gorgeous water-front views. As you move towards Battery Park City, it becomes a haven for families with children. It certainly is a center of business first, but is rapidly becoming a lot more friendly for living too.
In the the sections below, you'll get a glimpse into life in the Financial District. But before you go anywhere, make sure you scroll through the photos in the gallery below. Nothing can tell the story of a neighborhood as well as a few good photos.
FINANCIAL DISTRICT History
Before there was a Wall Street, there was a wall.
The first Dutch settlers arrived in modern day Lower Manhattan in the early 1600s. Their settlement, New Amsterdam, was located on a sheltered harbor on the southern tip of Manhattan. In an attempt to protect themselves from attack, the Dutch built a defensive wall on the northern border of their settlement. Although the wall did nothing to prevent the British from taking control of the colony in 1674, the street where it once stood became known as Wall Street.
The British controlled Lower Manhattan until George Washington's Continental Army drove them out during the Revolutionary War. When the war ended in 1783, Washington delivered his farewell address to his troops in Lower Manhattan's Fraunces Tavern - now a Revolutionary War museum. He was later inaugurated as President of the United States at Federal Hall, a building that still stands on Wall Street.
During the 19th century, millions of immigrants entered the United States through the Port of New York in Lower Manhattan. With the wave of immigrants came ethnic tensions, crime, poverty and tenement living. In 1915, thousands of immigrants - mostly from the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe - were living in tenements in what is now the Financial District. A tenement building still stands at 109 Washington Street.
The 19th century was also a time of tremendous financial growth in the city, and the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) was established in 1817. The NYSE and many large brokerage firms and investment banks were located on Wall Street, and Lower Manhattan became known as the Financial District. By the 1840s and 1850s, many residents felt that the area had lost its charm and chose to relocate to uptown neighborhoods. As a result, streets became virtually deserted at night. It was not until the 1990s that residential growth began to occur. Many financial institutions moved out of the Financial District, and tax incentives encouraged developers to convert millions of square feet of empty office space into upscale apartments.
On September 11, 2001, the Financial District was changed forever after the Twin Towers were destroyed in an act of terrorism. The Sphere, a sculpture that stood between the towers, was recovered from the rubble and is now displayed just a short distance away in Battery Park as a memorial to those who lost their lives. In 2014, New York welcomed the opening of a new building on the World Trade Center site: One World Trade Center, which became the tallest building in the United States, a distinction previously held by the Twin Towers. Today, the One World Trade Center Building, and adjacent World Trade Center Memorial and Museum serve as a permanent memorial and reminder of the events of September 11 and those who lost their lives in the tragedy.
FINANCIAL DISTRICT Vibe
In a city that frequently blurs the distinction between residential and commercial, there is little doubt that the Financial District is a commercial district first and residential neighborhood second. A stroll through the neighborhood on a weekday during business hours will reveal a whirlwind of activity with a profile of people that extends well beyond just the typical banker. Take the same trip after dark or on the weekends and you would guess you are in a totally different, and much quieter place. Other than the distinct lack of bustle, the bigger challenge can be the occasional lack of service availability during those off-market hours: grocery stores, bars, restaurants, dry cleaners, etc. It's certainly not devoid of those services - but a lot of them close up when the commuters head home.
As mentioned above, there are some spots in the Financial District that are becoming much more residential, particularly towards Battery Park. Plus an influx of luxury buildings over the past decade has made the rent a little bit more affordable than in other places in the City. Our advice, before moving into the Financial District make sure you spend some time in the area during off-peak hours; you might just love the peace and quiet.
FINANCIAL DISTRICT Transportation
This isn't going to come as much of a surprise, but the Financial District is pretty far from everything in Manhattan. The great news is that there are a bunch of subway lines, so even if the trip will be a little bit longer, it will be convenient with few transfers.
Financial District Subway & Walking Times
Many of New York's ferries and charter boats leave from the piers circling the Financial District. Financial District residents will have easy access to all sorts of boats from the small charter to IKEA to the massive free Staten Island Ferry.
FINANCIAL DISTRICT Guidebook Landmarks
9/11 Memorial & Museum
Undoubtedly, one of the most important and hallowed landmarks in New York City. The Memorial and Museum chronicle and commemorate the events of September 11, 2001 and the people who lost their lives that day.
Built from 1810 to 1812, New York City Hall is the oldest city hall in the country that is still used for those governmental functions, including the mayor's office. Whether you go in (only allowed by tour, of course, although tours are free!) or just gawk from outside the security gates, you can picture De Blasio, Bloomberg, Giuliani, Fiorello LaGuardia, or the lovable cast of Spin City making all their important decisions.
New York Stock Exchange
The New York Stock Exchange was actually born under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street in 1792, when New York's leading stockbrokers signed an agreement formalizing the rules of selling stock. The group later became known as the New York Stock & Exchange Board, shortened to New York Stock Exchange in 1863. The stock market took off, and by 1903, the group opened the modern New York Stock Exchange Building, designed by George Post, to accomodate the growing business. Fun piece of financial trivia: the first publicly listed company on the NYSE? The Bank of New York, which was founded by Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.
The first service at Trinity Church was held in 1698, but the original structure burned down in the Great Fire of New York during the British occupation of New York City. The rebuilt church was the local parish to Alexander Hamilton and John Jay. However, this church was also destroyed, this time by ice, during the blizzards of 1839. The current church was completed in 1846, and at the time was the tallest structure in New York
FINANCIAL DISTRICT Insider LANDMARKS
Bowling Green Fence
It might not be as grand as other New York landmarks, but it has a very cool history. The fence was constructed in 1771 to guard a King George III statue. Not surprisingly, the statue didn't survive past 1776, but the fence managed to stay up, sort of. The folks who pulled down the statue also decided to saw the top off of each fence post, which were decorated with miniature British crowns. The fence will likely last for another 240 years, as it has been designated a New York City Historic Landmark.
City Hall Subway Station
You can find anything in NYC, if you know where to look. To find a subway station that looks like a palace, take a ride through the old City Hall station. The station, with its elegant arches, gold accents, colored glass tiles, and sophisticated skylights, was opened in 1904, but is not in use anymore. Just knowing such opulence is underneath you should be enough to lighten your step. But for a fleeting glimpse of this underground gem, stay on a downtown 6 train after the final stop, as it loops back to go uptown (ask a train operator for permission).
FINANCIAL DISTRICT Parks & Recreation
Battery Park (22 acres)
Battery Park has one of the richest histories of any area in New York City. The Park takes its name from the battery of cannons that were installed shortly after the Dutch landed in 1623. Subsequently, the site has been the home of a fort built in preparation for the War of 1812, the New York City aquarium, and the processing center for immigrants before Ellis Island was built. Today, it stands as one of New York City's largest public parks with lush gardens and stunning views of the intersection of the Hudson and East River. Also, it serves as the jumping off point for visitors who are taking ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.
Bowling Green (1 acre)
There are many old things in New York, but few are older than Bowling Green Park, which when designated as a park in 1733, became the first official park in NYC. Even before then, the Park was an important landmark as it served as a critical meeting area for Native Americans living on Manhattan. Legend has it that it's also the site where the Native American tribes sold the island of Manhattan to the Dutch. Yes, the original Park did in fact have a Bowling Green to play a rowsing game of lawn bowling. Today, the Park is best known for its "Charging Bull" statue that is commonly associated with Wall Street.
City Hall Park (8.8 acres)
City Hall Park's somewhat straightforward name belies quite a history for the space. Originally, the Park served as the central commons for livestock pasturing among early Manhattan residents, before housing a debtor's prison, Revolutionary War barracks, and eventually City Hall. Today, the Park serves as the backdrop to the vast array of government buildings. The Park underwent a $35M facelift in 1999, making it cleaner and greener.
Hudson River Park (550 acres)
The Hudson River Park, one of the City's most popular lesisure destinations, came into being following an aboveground road collapse and a failed highway project that left a large portion of the west side of the City unused. After years of political battling over how to handle the space, Hudson River Park was approved in 1998. The Park's first section was opened in the West Village in 2003. Today, the Park stretches along the river from Battery Park City up to 58th Street. The Park is extremely popular for runners and cyclists who provide a steady stream of traffic for the bikeway, but is equally popular among the multitudes of sunbathers who take up camp on the Park's green banks. One of the Park's most interesting features is its incorporation of old piers, which have been converted into public park space.