Wall Street today is not the same thoroughfare as that of yesteryear. The famous street that runs from Trinity Church on Broadway to the East River has been transformed. No, not by the noise and nuisance makers who have “occupied” a portion of the area that used to be the center of world finance. The neighborhood was fundamentally altered over the past decade after the World Trade Center area was reduced to rubble and ashes on 9-11. Other nearby buildings, rendered uninhabitable, had to be torn down, like the Deutsche Bank building that faced the WTC on Liberty Street. Countless financial firms moved their offices uptown or to other locations because many of their workers were so traumatized by what they witnessed that they no longer were willing to work in the area.
To promote the revitalization of Wall Street after 9-11, an organization was formed called “Wall Street Rising” to encourage smaller firms to relocate to the area and fill the empty buildings. It was successful in attracting numerous nonprofit organizations which found the rents attractive. Today the nonprofits sport addresses formerly associated with the elite of international finance, banking and insurance. A famed address, 120 Wall, was converted into an “association center” with lower than average rents and suitable office space for large New York nonprofits such as the National Urban League, the Asian American Federation and the United Way of America. Surrounding streets such as William Street and Maiden Lane are now home to Habitat for Humanity and the Western Hemisphere Division of International Planned Parenthood.
As more and more financial firms moved away, valuable and historical real estate was left vacant. As prices fell, property moguls moved in, bought buildings and transformed the area from a financial center to a residential neighborhood. The skyscraper located at 63 Wall Street, a designated historical landmark and once the headquarters of investment bank Brown Brothers Harriman, is now residential rentals. Even the venerable House of Morgan at 23 Wall Street was sold, together with adjacent properties on Exchange Place and Broad Street, across from the New York Stock Exchange, to an Israeli developer who converted the properties into upscale residences.
The former headquarters of the Seamen’s Bank for Savings at 30 Wall had earlier met a similar fate after failing in 1990 under the heavy burden of then prevailing high interest rates. Today, its grand ground floor banking hall has been transformed into an exercise gym while only a part of the outer portal adornments serves as a reminder of the building’s former life. The Seamen’s Bank was founded in 1829 with the noble purpose of encouraging sailors from ships docked in the nearby Hudson and East Rivers to save some of their money instead of spending it all on wine, women and song in local drinking establishments.
The Occupy Wall Street movement protesting against billionaires whom President Obama has referred to as “Wall Street Fat Cats” are barking up the wrong tree. The people who provide the financial flows nourishing the enterprises that create sorely-needed jobs are no longer there. The “occupiers” are upsetting area residents who have been turned off by the noise and filth created by the well-organized rabble rousers. Their tightly packed tent city at 10 am on a bright November morning was hardly stirring but a few signs were already up. “Wanted” signs were posted on a surrounding wall so passersby could see the pictures and contact information of the despised corporate and financial titans.
Diagonally across Church Street from the occupiers’ “Zuccotti Park,” construction workers were on the job since early dawn, toiling on the new World Trade Center that was rising ever higher into the clear morning sky. The lower 40 or so floors were brilliant as the rising sun lit up the newly installed window panes. The site inspired hope and promise – the antidote to the hype and protest across the way.
Wall Street was floundering once before, in the 1950s. At that time, David Rockefeller decided to build a new headquarters for his Chase Manhattan Bank. The splendid 60-story skyscraper that was inaugurated in 1961 brought new life to Wall Street. A short time later construction began for the World Trade Center and the twin towers were inaugurated in the early 1970s.
Wall Street will rise again.
Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.