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The Rise of Wall Street

Vertical Wall Street: every building from Broadway to Pearl over the course of 5 eras.

Guess how Wall Street got its name? Yeah, that’s right. Before it was a street it was a wall, built to mark the edge of town in colonial times. Over time original row-houses were replaced by banks and then by financial buildings that only got higher and higher. In fact, many of the buildings on Wall Street today are vertical expansions of sites first erected as many as 150 years ago. In an optimistic turn of phrase, The Skyscraper Museum (don’t worry, I’d never heard of it either) will open “The Rise of Wall Street,” an exhibition with a focus on the good ol’ days of American business, namely the 1850s, when architects set their sites as high as their clients’ financial speculations.

But the array of small lots in the area that had been under continuous occupation for more than 300 years means that the skyscrapers we see today represent the most expensive and challenging engineering and construction projects of mid-19th century. New York in general is a product of perpetual construction. You can hardly walk through any neighborhood without ducking under a ladder or through a covered walkway, and with everything as crowded as it is, designers and builders alike have had to come up with some of the most ingenious and creative ways to build up, around and over a vibrant, living city.

Construction workers on a lunch break, 1932

“The Rise of Wall Street” April 21 – October 2010 at The Skyscraper Museum.