The Monkey is a recovering New Yorker, having left the city in 2007 after a nine-year stint there. In this set of photos, he introduces a few of the Big Apple’s biggest sights.
New York City, the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the United States, is the cultural and economic capital of the country. It’s also one of the oldest U.S. cities, although its five boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island) were all separate cities until their official unification as New York City in 1898. New York has been at the center of U.S. history for about as long as such a topic has existed.
Of the five boroughs, Manhattan (seen here from Queens) is the most celebrated, for its skyline, its seemingly endless grid of streets and avenues, its pulsating crowds, its nightlife and restaurants, its business and cultural centers, and its varied neighborhoods. An island delimited by the New York Bay and the East, Harlem, and Hudson Rivers, Manhattan was the occasional home of nomadic indigenous groups when the first European colonizers arrived in 1624. The Dutch built a tiny settlement at the southern tip of Manhattan that became the principal center of New Netherland. Their colony did not fare well and was captured by the English, who had rival colonies further north in New England, in 1664. The English split New Netherland into New Jersey and New York, and under their rule New York became a major port and trading center.
After the revolution, New York was the capital of the United States from 1785 to 1790. New York grew rapidly in the 19th Century, from 33,000 inhabitants in 1790 to almost 3.5 million by 1900! The completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 made New York the gateway to much of the U.S. inland water system and brought it great wealth as goods passed through its ports. At the same time, New York became the main port of entry for immigrants, which contributed both to its size and to its multicultural character. The city’s territorial expansion owed in large part to the growth of the immigrant community, who lived mainly in dangerously overcrowded tenements; the city’s wealthier classes continuously moved further away from the slums, pushing the de facto city limits along with them. The 1898 incorporation of New York City acknowledged how the disparate communities of Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the other boroughs were interacting. With the first subway line in 1904, development of even further-flung neighborhoods became possible.
In the 20th Century, New York caught on quickly to the skyscraper trend. Building upward allowed even more concentration of people within the fixed city limits: by 1930, New York City’s population had exceeded 7 million and today it has more than 8 million residents. Part of the city’s continued vibrancy owes to the constant influx of new immigrant groups and domestic migrants who, together with the city’s trendsetting artists and media moguls, perpetually redefine “the next big thing.” Fast-paced and brash, elegant and chaotic, New York City is a unique metropolis the Monkey was pleased to get to know.
As architectural advances coming out of Chicago in the late 19th Century combined with feverishly high Manhattan real estate prices, New York developers decided to build up, up, up. Though the United States is now losing out to East Asian tigers and Gulf emirates in the skyscraper stakes, and Chicago has the bulk of the United States’ very tallest buildings, no city rivals New York in terms of skyscraping seniority. As of 2004, five of New York’s seven tallest buildings were built in the 1930s! Considered with the dozens of other 1920s and 1930s towers, New York is home to many of the finest high-rise Art Deco buildings in the world.
In this photo, the Monkey poses in front of two Art Deco classics. At left is the 103-meter American Radiator Building, designed by Hoods & Howells and built in 1924. In the center (eight blocks away) is the Empire State Building, which has twice held the title of tallest building in New York City and was, at the time of its construction, the tallest structure on earth. Built from 1930 to 1931, the 102-storey, 381-meter tapered tower was designed by William Lamb, who is said to have based his plan on the shape of a pencil! It edged out its nearby rival the Chrysler Building, which had just obtained the “tallest” title in 1930. The Empire State Building remained New York’s tallest building until the World Trade Center rose in lower Manhattan in 1972. After the terrorist attacks that toppled the Twin Towers in 2001, the Empire State Building once again became New York’s tallest building. With the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers, it is the most recognized symbol of New York City in the world. Contrary to popular belief, the Empire State Building has never been attacked by a giant ape.
Frenetic Times Square goes hand in hand with stately Wall Street (below) as New York’s twin symbols of capitalism. At the crossing of Broadway, 42nd Street, and 7th Avenue, Times Square is not so much a plaza as a set of intersections. Beginning as a horse stabling area in the 19th Century, Times Square boomed with the opening of hotels and the New York Times newspaper offices, from which the square got its name, in 1904. In the heart of Midtown and the Theater District, and home to the largest subway station in the city, Times Square is always buzzing with crowds.
The peep shows and adult cinemas that characterized Times Square in the 1980s have all been pushed further afield in the city, and today, Times Square is essentially one giant billboard. Huge flashing screens, neon lights, theme restaurants, megastores, and glass-walled television studios bombard visitors and residents alike with the latest corporate slogans from the advertising houses across town on Madison Avenue. A number of the media firms that drive the hyper-consumerism of today’s Times Square have put up office towers overlooking the chaos, as if to keep their own eyes on what catches the eyes of their potential customers. Though many New Yorkers bemoan this Disneyfication, Times Square is also something of an indicator of what wild capitalism has in store for us if left to its own devices. The Monkey doesn’t find that particularly comforting, but Times Square is worth a look nonetheless.
A rather dapper looking Monkey visits Wall Street, where your future may have been traded away without you even knowing about it! Pride of place on Wall Street goes to the columned facade of the New York Stock Exchange, in nearly continuous operation since 1792, and the world’s largest stock exchange.
While Wall Street promises handsome pay-offs to those ready to play its game, it is frequently irresponsible both to its investors and to those who have no say in its wheeling and dealing. The investment process revolves around endless projections, intrigues, and rumors which—whether true or not—drive the buy and sell decisions of those wealthy enough to partake in the gamble. When things go awry, entire economies can be wiped out, as with the Great Depression that struck after the crazed 1920s stock boom and its all too predictable crash. In the present neoliberal world order, traders on Wall Street and other financial centers have inordinate influence in countries to which they have no firm commitment, pulling out investments when “things look bearish” with no concern for the effects on the local populations and the economies they live and work in. Combined with business-friendly politicians (like the Democrats and Republicans), Wall Street is really loosed to work its magic or wreak its havoc.
Note: This caption was written several years before the 2008 financial crisis struck. Sometimes it sucks to be right…
In a perfectly aligned shot that leaves out both of its signature guardian lion statues, the Monkey poses in front of the New York Public Library’s famed Humanities Library. This Beaux-Arts palace opened its doors in 1911 and its front steps are one of New York’s most popular rendez-vous spots.
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