Wall Street refers to the financial district of New York City, named after and centered on the eight-block-long street running from Broadway to South Street on the East River in lower Manhattan. Over time, the term has become a metonym for the financial markets of the United States as a whole, or signifying New York-based financial interests. It is the home of the New York Stock Exchange, the world’s largest stock exchange by market capitalization of its listed companies.Several other major exchanges have or had headquarters in the Wall Street area, including NASDAQ, the New York Mercantile Exchange, the New York Board of Trade, and the former American Stock Exchange. Anchored by Wall Street, New York City is one of the world’s principal financial centres.
There are varying accounts about how the Dutch-named “de Waal Straat” got its name. A generally accepted version is that the name of the street name was derived from an earthen wall on the northern boundary of the New Amsterdam settlement, perhaps to protect against English colonial encroachment or incursions by native Americans. A conflicting explanation is that Wall Street was named after Walloons — possibly a Dutch abbreviation for Walloon being Waal. Among the first settlers that embarked on the ship “Nieu Nederlandt” in 1624 were 30 Walloon families.
In the 1640s, basic picket and plank fences denoted plots and residences in the colony. Later, on behalf of the Dutch West India Company, Peter Stuyvesant, using both African slaves and white colonists, collaborated with the city government in the construction of a more substantial fortification, a strengthened 12-foot (4 m) wall. In 1685 surveyors laid out Wall Street along the lines of the original stockade. The wall started at Pearl Street, which was the shoreline at that time, crossing the Indian path Broadway and ending at the other shoreline (today’s Trinity Place), where it took a turn south and ran along the shore until it ended at the old fort. In these early days, local merchants and traders would gather at disparate spots to buy and sell shares and bonds, and over time divided themselves into two classes—auctioneers and dealers. The rampart was removed in 1699. In the late 18th century, there was a buttonwood tree at the foot of Wall Street under which traders and speculators would gather to trade securities. The benefit was being in close proximity to each other. In 1792, traders formalized their association with the Buttonwood Agreement which was the origin of the New York Stock Exchange. The idea of the agreement was to make the market more “structured” and “without the manipulative auctions”, with a commission structure. Persons signing the agreement agreed to charge each other a standard commission rate; persons not signing could still participate but would be charged a higher commission for dealing. In 1789, Wall Street was the scene of the United States’ first presidential inauguration when George Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall on April 30, 1789. This was also the location of the passing of the Bill Of Rights. In the cemetery of Trinity Church, Alexander Hamilton, who was the first Treasury secretary and “architect of the early United States financial system,” is buried.
Wall Street’s architecture is generally rooted in the Gilded Age, though there are also some art deco influences in the neighborhood. The layout of streets doesn’t have the rectangular grid pattern typical of midtown Manhattan, but small streets “barely wide enough for a single lane of traffic are bordered on both sides by some of the tallest buildings in the city”, according to one description, which creates “breathtaking artificial canyons” offering spectacular views in some instances. Construction in such narrow steep areas has resulted in occasional accidents such as a crane collapse. One report divided lower Manhattan into three basic districts:
- The financial district proper—particularly along John Street
- South of the World Trade Center area—the handful of blocks south of the World Trade Center along Greenwich, Washington and West Streets
- Seaport district—characterized by century-old low-rise buildings and South Street Seaport; the seaport is “quiet, residential, and has an old world charm” according to one description.
Landmark buildings on Wall Street include Federal Hall, 14 Wall Street (Bankers Trust Company Building), 40 Wall Street (The Trump Building) the New York Stock Exchange at the corner of Broad Street and the US headquarters of Deutsche Bank at 60 Wall Street. The Deutsche Bank building (formerly the J.P Morgan headquarters) is the last remaining major investment bank to still have its headquarters on Wall Street. The older skyscrapers often were built with elaborate facades; such elaborate aesthetics haven’t been common in corporate architecture for decades. The World Trade Center, built in the 1970s, was very plain and utilitarian in comparison (the Twin Towers were often criticized as looking like two big boxes, despite their impressive height). Excavation from the World Trade Center was later used by Battery Park City residential development as landfill. 23 Wall Street was built in 1914 and was known as the “House of Morgan” and served for decades as the bank’s headquarters and, by some accounts, was viewed as an important address in American finance. A key anchor for the area is, of course, the New York Stock Exchange. City authorities realize its importance, and believed that it has “outgrown its neoclassical temple at the corner of Wall and Broad streets”, and in 1998 offered substantial tax incentives to try to keep it in the financial district. Plans to rebuild it were delayed by the events of 2001. In 2011, the exchange still occupies the same site. The exchange is the locus for an impressive amount of technology and data. For example, to accommodate the three thousand persons who work directly on the Exchange floor requires 3,500 kilowatts of electricity, along with 8,000 phone circuits on the trading floor alone, and 200 miles of fiber-optic cable below ground.
During most of the 20th century, Wall Street was a business community with practically only offices which emptied out at night. A report in the New York Times in 1961 described a “deathlike stillness that settles on the district after 5:30 and all day Saturday and Sunday.” But there has been a change towards greater residential use of the area, pushed forwards by technological changes and shifting market conditions. The general pattern is for several hundred thousand workers to commute into the area during the day, sometimes by sharing a taxicab from other parts of the city as well as from New Jersey and Long Island, and then leave at night. In 1970, only 833 people lived “south of Chambers Street”; by 1990; 13,782 people were residents with the addition of areas such as Battery Park City and Southbridge Towers. Battery Park City was built on 92 acres of landfill, and 3,000 people moved there beginning about 1982, but by 1986 there was evidence of more shops and stores and a park, along with plans for more residential development.
According to one description in 1996, “The area dies at night … It needs a neighborhood, a community.” During the past two decades there has been a shift towards greater residential living areas in the Wall Street area, with incentives from city authorities in some instances. Many empty office buildings have been converted to lofts and apartments; for example, the office building where Harry Sinclair, the oil magnate involved with the Teapot Dome scandal, was converted to a co-op in 1979. In 1996, a fifth of buildings and warehouses were empty, and many were converted to living areas. Some conversions met with problems, such as aging gargoyles on building exteriors having to be expensively restored to meet with current building codes. Residents in the area have sought to have a supermarket, a movie theater, a pharmacy, more schools, and a “good diner”. The discount retailer named Job Lot used to be located at the World Trade Center but moved to Church Street; merchants bought extra unsold items at steep prices and sold them as a discount to consumers and shoppers included “thrifty homemakers and browsing retirees” who “rubbed elbows with City Hall workers and Wall Street executives”; but the firm went bust in 1993. There were reports that the number of residents increased by 60% during the 1990s to about 25,000 although a second estimate (based on the 2000 census based on a different map) places the residential (nighttime and weekend) population in 2000 at 12,042. By 2001, there were several grocery stores, dry cleaners, and two grade schools and a top high school. There is a barber shop across from the New York Stock Exchange which has been there a long time. By 2001, there were more signs of dogwalkers at night and a 24-hour neighborhood, although the general pattern of crowds during the working hours and emptiness at night was still apparent. There were ten hotels and thirteen museums by 2001. Stuyvesant High School moved to its present location near Battery Park City in 1992 and has been described as one of the nation’s premier high schools with emphasis on science and mathematics. In 2007, the French fashion retailer Hermès opened a store in the financial district to sell items such as a “$4,700 custom-made leather dressage saddle or a $47,000 limited edition alligator briefcase.” Some streets have been designated as pedestrian–only with vehicular traffic prohibited at some times. There are reports of panhandlers like elsewhere in the city. By 2010, the residential population had increased to 24,400 residents with crime statistics showing no murders in 2010. The area is growing with luxury high-end apartments and upscale retailers.
Wall Street being historically a commuter destination, much transportation infrastructure has been developed to serve it. Today, Pier 11 at the foot of the street is a busy terminal for New York Waterway and other ferries. The New York City subway has three stations under Wall Street:
- Wall Street (IRT Broadway – Seventh Avenue Line) at William Street (2 3 trains)
Wall Street (IRT Lexington Avenue Line) at Broadway (4 5 trains)
Broad Street (BMT Nassau Street Line) at Broad Street (J Z trains)
Motor traffic, particularly during working hours, is often congested but driving late at night and on weekends can be easier. The roads are not arranged according to midtown’s distinctive rectangular grid pattern with staggered lights, but have small often one-lane roads with numerous stoplights and stop signs. A highway runs along the East River and the Downtown Manhattan Heliport serves Wall Street.
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