By Carol Cain, on November 8, 2013

New York behind the scenes

There is no denying that some of the most captivating things about New York City are its buildings. From modern high-rise buildings to century-old structures, the island of Manhattan offers a huge variety in its architecture, each structure with a unique story to tell. Though a complete history on all of the buildings in the city would require more than just one post, I thought it would be fun to highlight some interesting facts about a few of our most beloved structures.

42nd Street Theatre Houses

Times Square, renamed after the New York Times relocated its offices to the area, used to be a very different place from what it is today. Now it is a major tourist hub with manyhotels, restaurants, and shops for the entire family. However, many of the theaters most families enjoy were exactly the kind of places they would have avoided 20 years ago.

The New Amsterdam Theater, a city landmark, used to be the home of the racy Ziegfeld FolliesGeorge White’s Scandals, and Eva LeGallienne’s Civic Repertory Theatre. It then became a cinema that later closed in 1985. Walt Disney Corporation leased the aging building in 1993. Hugh Hardy, an architect known for his extensive work in renovating many cultural icons in NYC, performed his magic on it, and between 1995 and 1997, renovated the New Amsterdam to become the flagship for Disney Theatrical Productions that it is today.

Another family favorite in Times Square is the New Victory Theater, a gorgeous theater that like many of the theaters throughout the city, retains a lot of its original architectural details. Though today it is a place where families can bring their little ones to engaging and entertaining theatrical productions, for many years the venue functioned as an X-rated movie theatre, following the trend of the overall environment of the local area.

Viewfinder Tip: Because of the amount of information one can receive from these more specific tours, it is best to book neighborhood tours, as opposed to general city tours, to experience as much of it as possible.

The GE Building

Today this building is known for its famous tenants. This is the home of NBC studios, as well as the filming location for Saturday Night Live. The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon will soon broadcast from here as well. Tourists come and go, often taking tours and enjoying the shops and many restaurants. But what most people overlook is the history of the mural located in its main lobby.

Catalan artist Jose Maria Sert painted the current mural, titled American Progress. But even more wonderful than the mural one finds there today is the history of the one it replaces. The mural, Man at the Crossroads, was originally painted by Mexican artist Diego Rivera, but was destroyed due to Nelson Rockefeller’s protest of its depiction of Lenin and other communist leaders. So offended was Rockefeller by Rivera’s mural that he prohibited the entry and photographing of it, instructing that it be completely demolished. No one would have seen it were it not for Rivera sending in his assistant with a hidden camera under the guise of needing her to pick up his tools. From that very grainy picture Rivera was able to duplicate the painting, which is now displayed in the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.

Diego Rivera painting

St. Paul’s Chapel

This chapel is part of Trinity Church, the oldest church in America. Recently it has become most famous for not only the benevolent role it played after the attacks of September 11 in NYC, but also because it sustained absolutely no damage despite its proximity to the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings. The chapel also has strong ties to historical personalities.

Alexander Hamilton, a Founding Father of the United States, is buried at St. Paul’s churchyard. He died from a gunshot wound inflicted on him by Jefferson’s Vice President, Aaron Burr. At the time, dueling was illegal in New York. They went to Weehawken Heights, New Jersey, and when Hamilton shot his warning shot, Burr went ahead and shot him directly anyway, fatally wounding Hamilton.

This is just a glimpse into how fascinating the history of New York City landmarks can be. There is so much more to our architecture and landscape than meets the eye. The best way to learn about it all is to take bus tours across the city, like the ones offered on the double-decker buses that allow you to look up at the buildings without stopping the flow of pedestrian traffic. Trust me when I say, once you get a deeper insight into it all, you will never look at an New York City building the same way again.

Which NYC landmark or building is the most intriguing to you and why?