Battery Park City: a splendid oasis that mixes business with pleasure

NEW YORK WATERFRONT WONDERLAND

April 05, 1992|By Gloria Hayes Kremer | Gloria Hayes Kremer,Contributing Writer

New York is a great city if it ever gets finished," former mayor Ed Koch said in his own inimitable fashion.

But that, of course, is one of the great charms of this hybrid city -- something new is always happening, being built, created and achieved.

The latest, and possibly the boldest and most stunning effort, is Battery Park City, the new waterfront community at the southern tip of lower Manhattan. This enormous mixed-use development has changed the face of the Wall Street district. The 92-acre landfill, adjacent to the financial district, snugly hugs the Hudson River. And this new, dynamic residential and commercial community promises to become the city's greatest oasis.

A two-mile-long park plan already has an esplanade with exquisite gardens, sculpture and every kind of seating -- wooden benches, marble benches, deck chairs that are movable, reminiscent of St. James Park in London ("We don't want everything bolted down," said the planners). Strollers gaze at crab apple trees surrounded by wildflowers as a waterfall cascades down the side of a building; there are two reflecting pools, an orchard with a water path, a topiary garden -- and a progression of surprises.

At South Cove, the 3-acre area at the southern end of the esplanade, pedestrians wander along pathways that shift from paved surfaces to boardwalk-style wood to metal gratings over water. The lovely esplanade is even more romantic at night with lights dancing on the river and the reflective magic of art and facades in the park.

This innovative neighborhood combines interesting disparate elements -- the monumentality of skyscrapers with huge open spaces, a delightful and creative park, a panoramic waterfront, residential buildings. It all somehow coalesces and achieves the compactness and coziness of a vital community where people choose to live.

The ultimate plan calls for a 50-acre waterfront park. But already people-watching has become a favorite recreation. New Yorkers and visitors leisurely stroll along the esplanade watching the ever-changing panorama on the waterfront. The Statue of Liberty, seen nearby in the harbor, seems to be smiling at this harmonious scene. Eventually, visitors can stroll through more than two miles of waterfront starting at the Statue of Liberty ferries at the southern tip of Manhattan to the still undeveloped areas north and west of the World Trade Center.

Begun with city and state funds (it has cost $4 billion so far), Battery Park City's several residential and commercial buildings are already well occupied. Eventually, the land will be 42 percent residential and 9 percent commercial; 30 percent will remain open space including public parks, plazas and esplanade. Nineteen percent will be streets and avenues. A high school is currently being built in the community. Areas for tennis, basketball and handball have been discreetly landscaped in the park design and blend inconspicuously.

One park area features creative gardens from topiary to Japanese rock gardens to lily ponds. There are plans for a sunken skating rink larger than the one at Rockefeller Center.

The World Financial Center is the hub of Battery Park City.

Situated just west of the World Trade Center, the World Financial Center is a complex that joins several interconnected office buildings. The dramatic centerpiece of this complex is the Winter Garden, a radiant, 120-foot-high structure of glass, steel and marble designed by Cesar Pelli. Paul Goldberger, an architecture critic, described it as "perhaps the grandest public space built in New York since Grand Central Terminal." And spectacular it is.

The main entrance is a stunner. A grand hourglass staircase descends wide polished marble steps onto a vast marble floor. High above is a glass and steel roof through which one can see the office towers of the World Financial Center. Sixteen majestic palm trees, 45 feet in height, rise from the floor of the atrium with benches surrounding them and an open cafe at one side. At the far end of this striking scene is a sheer wall of glass that reveals a spacious public plaza, a marina and the tranquil waters of the Hudson. An enclosed courtyard within steps of the garden is designed to resemble the outdoor piazzas of Europe. It is a three-story piazza surrounded by balconies and punctuated with columns that rise 45 feet from its patterned marble floor to its glass-peaked roof. There is already a Mexican restaurant, Chinese restaurant and American cafe and a tropical bar.

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