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The Evolution of City Hall Park –Part II


Since the second city hall at the time was being used by Congress, between 1784 and 1790, the City built a new city hall, the third and present city hall. (Today, the site of the second City Hall is now the Federal Hall National Memorial.) John McComb Jr. and Joseph Francois Mangin designed City Hall in the Georgian style. Construction began in 1803, it was completed in 1812. At the time, it was criticized as being too far north of the city’s population center. Between 1861 and 1881, the Tweed Court House was built north of it.  Today, it houses the New York City Department of Education.


In 1842,  City celebrated its new water system, the Croton Aqueduct, designed to fight fire and provided New York City’s first dependable supply of pure water by building fountains at Union Square, Bowling Green, and, of course, City Hall Park. The aqueduct drew water from the Croton Dam more than forty miles north of the city and was considered one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century. The Croton Fountain was built on the southeast tip of the Park.  The Croton Fountain was removed to make way for a Federal Post Office that opened in 1870. At one point, it was the nation’s busiest and most profitable post office. Mail Street separated the Post Office from what remained of the park.


In 1871 an ornate granite fountain designed by the noted park architect Jacob Wrey Mould was placed in front of City Hall. In 1920, the fountain was disassembled and shipped to Crotona Park in the Bronx. In1939, the Post Office was demolished, and the land returned to the city.  Robert Moses started building in the park but was stopped by local protests.  When Giuliani observed the unfinished status of the park upon taking his second oath of office as mayor, he decided to do something about it.  City Hall Park was renovated in 1999 to return to its pre-Civil War splendor as part of his legacy. Jacob Wrey Mould Fountain was returned from the Bronx to the Park, with exact replicas of its centerpiece and lights reconstructed from Mould’s designs Once more people could have a view of St. Paul’s Chapel from the fountain area. People in living in Tribeca and Chinatown complain that closing of parts of the park even before 9/11 has caused problems for pedestrians trying to commute from one part of the city to another.


The west side of City Hall Park on Broadway became the first Ladies’ Mile in the early nineteenth century. Gradually, it marched northward. Bradford Gilbert’s first building in New York was the Broadway-Chambers Building at 277 Broadway climaxed by his Woolworth Building. The Woolworth Building was the world’s tallest building between 1913 and 1929.  Most amazing of all, it was built without a mortgage. Today, you can get a condo on the top floors


In the nineteenth century, the east side of City Hall Park became the publication center of the country. Park Row became known as newspaper row. Between the Civil War and World War sixty newspapers were published there.  The early media barons competed to build the world’s tallest buildings.  In fact, one building, 15 Park Row was the world’s tallest for two weeks!


The area north of City Hall, the Collect Pond had been the city’s ritziest neighborhood. George Washington had lived a rented mansion at 3 Cherry Street close to the Collect Pond. Today, the Brooklyn Bridge is there. Why?


The Collect Pond had been big enough to demonstrate the world’s first steamboat in 1787. Robert Fulton had been a passenger on the boat designed by Johnny Fitch. Fulton decided the James Watt steam engine would be an improvement. He won the battle of the marketplace and Fitch became a footnote to history.


The pond became polluted by breweries and tanneries that had taken advantage of the fresh water. In 1808, the Collect Pond was drained, and the hills cut down to fill in the pond.  However, the city did a bad job of filling in the pond. As a result, the buildings began to sag. The area became the low-rent district of the city a larger area that would become known, the Lower East Side. As soon as the immigrants learned English and had a better income, they left. In the nineteenth century, the neighborhood became known as the notorious “Five Points” where five streets came together in an area that is now Columbus Park. Jacob Riis crusaded against the slums. The most notorious part of the Five Points was Mulberry Bend in which Riis succeeded in getting replaced by Mulberry Bend Park, later named Columbus Park, in 1893.


In the early twentieth, the nation’s most notorious slum was replaced by “Foley Square” where the courts of justice now reside – the Surrogate Court House, the Federal Court House (the last building designed by Bradford Gilbert in 1930), the New York State Supreme Court, the Manhattan Administration Building and many more.  As a child in the 1950s, I still remember my father driving through the Manhattan Administration Building to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge!


Today, a memorial, “Triumph of the Human Spirit,“ by Lorenzo Pace in honor of the survivors and victims of the Middle Passage stands in the middle of what would have been the Collect Pond or the heart of Foley Square. It was dedicated as part of the city’s African Burial Ground Memorial project on the politically incorrect Columbus Day, 2000. The square is still sinking!


Thus, skyscrapers and public works have replaced the Indian village of Werpoes that long ago stood on the spot. I wonder what they would have thought.



Robert T. Augustyn, Robert T.  and Cohen, Paul E. Manhattan in Maps:  1527-1995, (New  York, Rizzoli, 1997)

City Hall Park, City of New York Parks & Recreation, October 1999

Hershkowitz, Leo Tweed’s New York:  Another Look (New York, Anchor Press, 1977)

Homberger, Eric The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City’s History (New York, Henry Holt Reference Book. 1997)

Mackay, Donald A., The Building of Manhattan  (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987.

New York Public Library, Map Division

The New York Times

Tribeca Trib

NYC Walks Blog 19 The Evolution of City Hall Park –Part II © 2018 by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg

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