City Hall Park, now eight acres in extent, is much smaller than it used to be when the Sons of Liberty used to meet there, before the Revolution; and when the courier from the Continental Congress in Philadelphia read there, on July 9, 1776, to General Washington and the troops and people, the Declaration of Independence; but it is a considerable area, reckoned in real estate values, for a city dominated by commercialism to preserve for the `setting’ of a lovely little building projected in 1800 by a French architect, Joseph Mangin, whose firm received $350 for the plans and a salary of six dollars a day as supervising architects.
One of the many blessings of the downfall of `Bill’ Tweed, Tammany’s most notorious boss, who was brought low largely by the cartoons of Tom Nast, is that Tweed, having completed the County Court House, whose `every brick and stone represents a thousand dollars of stolen money,’ was stopped from sweeping away the beautiful little City Hall and replacing it by some monstrous Temple to Graft. How the building has survived is a mystery; but there it is, enshrining many memories and still the place where New York City extends her welcome to her most distinguished visitors. There she received Lafayette in 1824, and the Prince of Wales in 1860, his grandson in 1920; and Joffre and Foch and many, many more. There she celebrated the opening of the Erie Canal, the introduction of Croton water into New York, the laying of the Atlantic cable, the centenary of Washington’s inauguration, and other great events. There lay in state Lincoln and Grant.
The City of New York is the seventh largest administrative unit in the world, being exceeded only by our National Government and the five great Powers. The Mayor, the City Council, and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment (which holds the purse-strings) all function in that graceful little building which looks as if it should be in Charlottesville, Virginia. (I don’t know, but I’d be willing to wager that Jefferson, then President, had something to do with the selection of the design.)
You would probably like to see the Governor’s Room, or Trumbull Room, on the second floor, where are the chairs and tables of solid mahogany which were used in the old Federal Building at Wall and Nassau Streets where Washington had his first Presidential headquarters. There are also many interesting portraits.
You will almost certainly be told by someone that the back of the City Hall was built of stone, not marble, because it was believed that no one would ever see the back no one would have any occasion to go that far north. Now the City Hall is flanked on the north by gigantic structures more or less subsidiary to it: the Municipal Building, the Hall of Records, the County Court House, the New York State Building, the New York City Building for the Departments of Health, Hospitals, and Sanitation; the Federal Building, the Supreme Court Building, the Criminal Courts Building, the Tombs (city prison), soon to be replaced by a model modern structure to house 1090 inmates in the prison wing.
In the little park, toward Broadway, stands the new Liberty Pole, on the exact site of the old one; and, not far from it, MacMonnies’ statue of Nathan Hale. In the southeastern section of the park, near Park Row, is the Crane Fountain with MacMonnies’ group representing Civic Virtue, which aroused a storm of controversy when it was dedicated.
From the east side of the park, alongside the old World Building, runs a canyon called Frankfort Street down which, in the direction of Brooklyn Bridge, I shall always see a slim young creature going with quick, eager steps that might have become a run so much was there in the world to see and to do, and so short seemed the time for seeing and doing it save for the slightly restraining remembrance that when one is an editor one must have some dignity.
For that was the route to Franklin Square, and the great, gaunt structure that housed Harper and Brothers, publishers and printers. What ghosts haunted that rattle-trap old building with its iron stairs like fire-escapes, its gloomy offices, its smell of printer’s ink and of virgin paper! Thackeray and Dickens and Charles Reade; Bancroft and Motley and Bayard Taylor; Edwin A. Abbey and Winslow Homer and Tom Nast and Howard Pyle and Frederic Remington; and so on and on and on. Pyle was not a `ghost,’ though, but very real flesh and blood when I was much thereabouts; and so was Remington. And Mark Twain was often to be encountered there. And Henry Mills Alden was editing Harper’s Magazine. And John Kendrick Bangs was there, and James Barnes, and Margaret Sangster (editing what used to be Harper’s Bazar! with frequent contributions from a youngster that was ME); and oh! so many more who were good to know and are grand to remember. My acquaintance in those days included many, if not most, of the men who were `star reporters’ on Park Row and became bright lights in a wider world where good writing gets recognition. But I knew them away from Park Row rather than on it. Harper and Brothers have handsome new offices uptown now, much more convenient and comfortable for everybody; and there will never again be in New York any-thing like that dingy, ramshackle old building in Franklin Square, with `Benjamin’s’ statue brooding over it, and Brooklyn Bridge seeming to be, somehow, an appurtenance of Harpers’, leading to the east. Napoleon was shaking the world when Harpers settled there. And Mussolini had made his march on Rome before they left it.
Visitors to New York do not walk across Brooklyn Bridge as once they did. But those who do, have their reward.