Sightseeing: New York's Finest!
By Bronwen Elisabeth Roberts
Four Buildings, two Museums, one Bridge and a Station
If you only have days in New York, these are the places to see.
Between Fifth & Seventh Avenues and 47th Street & 52nd Street
Urban architects have tried to imitate the scale and complexity of the Rockefeller Center ever since it was built in the ‘30s, but no one has ever succeeded. It covers two entire city blocks! People hang about the pedestrian spaces between the Maison Francaise and the British Empire Buildings, looking down on the ice-skating rink, which in summer is used as a café. Sunset is the best time to visit, as the views accompanying the cocktails at the elegant Rainbow Room can be spectacular. The famous art deco Radio City Music Hall is situated on the western side of the complex.
Empire State Building
350 Fifth Avenue, at 34th Street
The top of the Empire State Building is legendary both in movies and in life. Taking this trip is one of New York’s highlights. The road travelled goes a bit like this… take a high-speed lift up to the 80th floor in under a minute. Take a second lift to the 86th floor. Queue again to continue to the 102nd storey, where there’s a 360-degree view with 50-mile/80-km visibility on a clear day. Think of innovator, Douglas Leigh, the man who worked out how to bathe the tower in different coloured lights using plastic sheets and coloured gels. Try to visit the Empire State Building at sunset when the place is less crowded. You can watch the city lighting up: the view is particularly stunning at dusk.
405 Lexington Avenue, at 42nd Street
New Yorker’s have a great fondness for this magnificent building. Although you can’t visit its luminous pinnacle – made of stainless steel arches and shaped like a ‘30s Chrysler car’s radiator cap – you can visit the fabulous art deco lobby of red and brown marble and chrome, with original inlaid wooden elevator doors and a painted ceiling. The façade of white brick is decorated with designs taken from automobile hubcaps. Another romantic New York hotspot: particularly at sunset.
United Nations Headquarters
First Avenue, at East 46th Street
The Modernist headquarters of the United Nations is also an excellent example of ‘50s architecture. Built by a committee of international architects that included Le Corbusier (who eventually renounced any association with the final design) there are three main buildings on the 17-acre/7 hectare site by the East River, plus a library added in the ‘60s. You can visit the foyer and basement of the General Assembly building alone, but to see any of the council rooms and the General Assembly itself, you must take a tour.
Probably the most famous and breathtaking bridge in the world; the Brooklyn Bridge was a massive undertaking. It took over 600 men, some 16 years to build and when completed in 1883 was the world’s largest suspension bridge – and the first to be constructed of steel. This bridge is a popular film location, used as a backdrop for films like ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Mo’ Better Blues’. Although you might have seen it on celluloid; nothing beats the wonder of standing on it for the very first time.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Fifth Avenue, at 82nd Street
New Yorkers regard this Museum as home-away-from-home during the winter months. Spending endless hours pouring over the art: then retiring to the café for something warm. This treasure trove of 1.4 million square feet of galleries is virtually impossible to do in a single afternoon, but don’t be put off: the art you will see cannot be viewed anywhere else. Friday evenings are particularly pleasant. Relax in splendid surroundings, enjoy a cocktail, and listen to a string quartet.
Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53rd Street, between Fifth $ Sixth Avenues
A storehouse of some of the world’s most exciting and contemporary art of the twentieth century, the Museum of Modern Art houses some of the most significant modern paintings, drawings and sculpture. The collection has grown to include 150,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and drawings, and design objects. MoMA also owns some 22,000 films, videos, and media works, as well as film stills, scripts, posters and historical documents.
Solomon R Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue, at 88th Street
In 1943, iconoclast architect, Frank Lloyd Wright drew a citrus press, and submitted it to the New York building authorities. 16 years later, this innovative and remarkable design came into being, commissioned by Solomon R Guggenheim to house his notable collection of works by modern artists. It was completed six months after Wright died. The cylindrical design of this building and use of volume and space make it one of Wright’s masterpieces. In January 1990, a new gallery building – designed by Gwathmey & Associates, based on a plan by Wright – was built and opened too much fanfare. The Guggenheim also has a downtown branch in SoHo that is well worth visiting and stays open late.
Grand Central Station
If you’re looking for old-world romance, the most legendary of New York’s romantic havens has to be Grand Central Station. Its faded elegance only adds to the ambience its magnificent origins provide. Once a hubbub of city life - before the airlines took business from the railroads - this Beax-Arts building, which dates from 1903, was once the heart of New York. Inside is still marvelous: the enormous vaulted ceiling is decorated with the constellations of the Zodiac. For great dining views; check out Michael Jordan's Steak House on the west side of the concourse and Metrazur on the east. The Vanderbilt Hall often hosts visiting art exhibits and other events. Take a moment to stand on the platform and envisage elegant days gone by. How great it is to be in New York!
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