A warm summer weekday evening is the perfect time to visit lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center, the Oculus, and the 9-11 Memorial.
An early Sunday morning start allowed our 5 hour drive from Greensburg to Jersey City to be completed shortly after noon. After dropping the car off with the Courtyard Hotel valet, and the bags in the room we caught the Path train for Manhattan, specifically the new World Trade Center.
As we came up the escalator we entered the Oculus, the transportation and retail center designed by a Spanish architect Santiano Calatrava. Designed to resemble a bird being released from a child’s hand, the roof was originally designed to mechanically open to increase light and ventilation to the enclosed space. Due to budget restraints, a 355 foot operable skylight was built with 224 pieces of glass in 40 panels that can be cantilevered from the surrounding steel skeleton. When the skylight is opened, its panels retract into pockets in the roof.
Each September 11th, the skylight will be opened to the elements for 102 minutes. That is how long the 2001 terrorist attack lasted, from the time the first jetliner hit the trade center at 8:46 a.m. until the collapse of the second tower at 10:28 a.m. “In all weather conditions, the public will experience a subtle sense of man’s vulnerability, while maintaining a link to a higher order,” as said by Santiago.
The project was grossly over budgeted and critics complain of the narrow halls to handle the mass of commuters. Some describe the “Oculus” as a stegosaurus or white elephant monstrosity rather than a bird. I thought the building was very modern in appearance with the spiny ribbed ceiling and white interior and it suited New York to match the chic style of the city providing a real statement in architecture.
We went out into the streets and found the Fulton Street Cafe for something to eat, followed by a walk uptown to the J. P. Morgan Library. The company I work for supports the arts in New York, and as a result, we have access to most of the New York museums without charge, a great perk. The Morgan Library is a personal collection of books and items of Mr. John Pierpont Morgan. The collection was so dear to him that he had a building added on to his home to store his books and historical documents, drawings and prints. The library was built in the Italian-Renaissance-style with three magnificent rooms.
After Pierpont’s death, his son J.P. Morgan, Jr. fulfilled his father’s wishes by transforming the library and its treasures as a public institution. Late in the 1920’s the Library and Museum expanded replacing the Morgan home. Although a staircase which led from the Morgan home to the library remains hidden behind two bookshelves, the staircase can still be seen if looking through the screen and behind the books on the shelf. In 1988, the Library and Museum annexed the brownstone home of J.P. Morgan, Jr. so that a garden courtyard now connects all the various buildings of the campus.
Our tour of the Morgan Library began at the entrance into the rotunda. The rotunda had a vaulted ceiling and the room was made of marble surfaces, mosaic panels, and columns of lapis lazuli. We toured the original reading room that also served as Morgan’s office with the fresco painting on the ceiling and antique artifacts and items on display. Morgan’s office also served as an important point in history where the most influential bankers met to design a plan to pull the United States out of debt and save the economy. Art and books filled the room. In fact, books scaled the height of the walls so that a ladder was installed to reach the upper shelves. We saw the first ever electric light which hung from the ceiling and Rembrandt’s first masterpiece painting in the same room.
The Library also has a rare collection of illustrated manuscripts decorated with silver or gold. The Crusader Bible, also called the Morgan Bible, is probably the most famous manuscript in the world because this picture book, which was likely made in Paris about 1250, has long been associated with the court of Louis IX. The book originally had no text, but along the way, inscriptions indicative of changing owners were added in Latin, Persian, and Judeo-Persian. The illuminations represent one of the greatest visualizations of Old Testament events ever made. Other items included great works of artists—Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens, Gainsborough, and Picasso; early printed Bibles, among them three Gutenberg Bibles. There were also Bob Dylan’s scraps of paper where he jotted down his song “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
We walked from the Morgan Library and picked up the High Line, once a railroad track, but now an elevated walking trail lined with shrubs and natural flora. The old tracks were hidden along side the paved path where we walked until we reached the Chelsea District for a beer. A great walkway, it has been discovered by tourists (like us) as a result it is very busy.
Eventually we dropped off, had a beer, and continued south on the streets past the meat packing district, Greenwich Village, and SoHo until we reached the World Trade Center about dusk, which was great timing for photographing the Oculus exterior.
The PATH train took us to Hoboken, New Jersey for us to have dinner at Del Frescoes, where we had sole with crab and filet mignon. The food was not as tasty as expected but the views from the restaurant were spectacular. The restaurant was located on the bank of the river with the best view of New York City. The entire New York City skyline was lit and shimmered onto the river as we walked the short trip back to our hotel in the Newport area.