Blog WHS Visits

(T)WHS of New York City

It took me 35 years of travel as an adult, visiting 126 countries and 873 World Heritage Sites, before I finally made it to New York. I had a nice place to stay near the Flatiron building in Midtown Manhattan, and it almost felt like I lived there. I did not enter many places, I enjoyed just walking around and taking the subway or bus to cover the larger distances. Overall I found it had quite a European feel to it and it wasn't as crazy loud as you see on TV. The city’s 2 WHS and 3 TWHS are on the well-trodden tourist trail, but I’ll try to add some insights from a World Heritage perspective.

On my first morning in the city, I took the first ferry of the day to the Statue of Liberty. With a starting time of 9 a.m. on your ticket, you are allowed to enter the queue at 8.15 and the security tent at 8.30.  I managed to get a spot on the upper deck. From here you get the best photo opportunities of the statue right before the ferry docks at the island (it does a small loop around it). Although the boat was very full, we spread out quickly on the island. I went directly to the Pedestal access and could climb the stairs alone. Keep an eye out for the WHS plaque – it is on the wall on the ground floor of the pedestal, next to the museum entrance.

The island has two similar exhibitions on its history. I liked the one inside the pedestal best – it shows old photographs and newspaper articles of how the Statue came about, how it was created in Paris and how it got assembled in New York. The attraction of the separate exhibition building elsewhere on the island is the original torch, which was removed from the statue in 1984 due to damage.

The ferry then continues to Ellis Island. This was probably the biggest disappointment for me. You cannot freely walk around on the island, virtually only the National Museum of Immigration is accessible. This has the impressive Great Hall where immigrants had to wait for their screening to be let into the country, but the exhibition did not really do anything for me (maybe because my ancestors did not cross the ocean). Also the ‘museum’ mostly consists of boards with information, there are very few original exhibits.

The Brooklyn Bridge is an easy add-on to the Islands cruise, as its access also lies in Downtown Manhattan. I first walked on the East River Esplanade, where the closer you get the better views of the bridge you will have. It then takes a detour inland to get to the ramp for pedestrian access to get on the bridge itself. The walkway was flooded with tourists and souvenir sellers – I walked about halfway where you can see the structure with its cables best. A future WHS? Nah, the age of single monuments has gone and although this one used to be the longest suspension bridge in the world only that would not suffice.

I did two walks through Central Park, finding it a pleasure to just stretch my legs at the start of the day. The first was through the southern part, and the other day I went north as far as The Lake. It helped to have a self-guided walking tour downloaded, otherwise just roaming around you somehow often end up at an exit. The ‘backbone’ of the park is where the most points of interest are, with its statues and other common props such as a monumental fountain and obelisk – mere follies actually. With UK’s Birkenhead Park now also T Listed, it raises the question of whether Central Park would best represent the global, mid-19th century trend of parks developed for the greater public – one that has been unrepresented so far. It certainly is remarkable that Central Park stayed untouched considering the real estate value of the surrounding blocks.

From the north of Central Park, New York’s ‘other’ WHS can be easily accessed: FLW’s Guggenheim Museum. Its low, round forms stand out among the surroundings of vertical blocks. I hadn’t planned to go inside, but I arrived just before the opening hour and there was no queue. You can just enter the ground floor without paying, but I also entered the other floors and saw an exhibition on Avantgarde Korean Art. The ramp was closed due to changing exhibitions (the entrance fee was lowered as well). With what was accessible now, I did not find the layout very handy for a museum visitor, as you always have to look where the exit is to the next floor. This contrasts sharply with the MoMa – a perfectly simple building with a great permanent collection. For the WHS fetishist, room 511 even has models of the Tugendhat Villa (the original made by the Office of Mies van der Rohe) and the Bauhaus Building in Dessau (a later model, from 1979), plus a video on the construction of the Van Nelle Factory. New connection!

Finally: what about Missing WHS? NYC is full of skyscrapers of course, and they are of all ages although many of the very old ones have been demolished. As an outsider I would find it hard to propose a coherent group of buildings, so we’d have to resort to an iconic single skyscraper. The Chrysler Building has been named, I liked the Flatiron building best (even though it's half-hidden under scaffolding now). What negatively distinguishes them overall compared to the Early Chicago Skyscrapers is that they are not open to the public (even the Chrysler Building’s entrance hall was blocked), while peeking inside is such a joy in Chicago. So my vote would still go to Chicago!

Els - 22 October 2023

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Ligocsicnarf89 28 October 2023

NYC is truly a heritage treasure trove. I can see something such as 'Art Deco and Revivalist Skyscrapers of New York' making a great World Heritage Site. Other sites in NYC that could be awesome WHSs that come to mind are 'Grand Central Terminal', 'Carnegie Hall', the 'Moorish Revival Synagogues of New York', the 'New York Botanical Garden' and the 'SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District'. (:

Nan 23 October 2023

@Kyle: There is also the departure ports, e.g., Ballinstadt in Hamburg. Will post in the forum.

Kyle Magnuson 22 October 2023

After visiting Angel Island in San Francisco a few years ago, I think I could only support Ellis Island for world heritage status if Angel Island was included.

Jay T 22 October 2023

As for the skyscrapers idea, I do think New York has some iconic buildings, and I'd be curious to see if they would ever be considered as having OUV.

What I like about the Chicago skyscrapers TWHS is that it is focused on the innovative design that changed the way the world approached constructing tall buildings.

Jay T 22 October 2023

Central Park holds a special place for me because I appreciate how Olmsted kept nature within the city. I'll be curious to see how Birkenhead Park continues, and I should really get out there in the next year or two.

Also, glad you got to see the Guggenheim! Not my favorite FLW building, but it was interesting to see inside. I'm not sure I'll need to go back when the spiral ramp reopens.

Jay T 22 October 2023

Glad you enjoyed your visit to New York City! I'm glad to hear an outside perspective on Ellis Island. Immigration is a big part of what makes the U.S. the U.S. (and I wish our politicians would remember that more), but I suppose it may not translate as well for those who don't have family that emigrated to the U.S. I also hadn't considered that the visit on Ellis Island is a lot more constricted than that of Liberty Island.

Nan 22 October 2023

Re NYC skyline, I think the relevant skyscrapers are later than those in Chicago. There is a big batch of Art Deco skyscrapers (Flatiron, Chrysler, Empire State, ...) that probably deserve a place on the list.

Other sites I could see: The traditional neighborhoods in Brooklyn (redstones). The UN Building.

Zoe 22 October 2023

New York City is the greatest city in the world! :)