The name of the street derives from the 17th century when Wall Street formed the northern boundary of the New Amsterdam settlement. 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, in part using African slaves, led the Dutch in the construction of a stronger stockade. A strengthened 12-foot (4 m) wall against attack from various Native American tribes. In 1685 surveyors laid out Wall Street along the lines of the original stockade. The wall was dismantled by the British colonial government 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 informally. In 1792, the traders formalized their association with the Buttonwood Agreement. This was the origin of the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1789, Federal Hall and Wall Street was the scene of the United States’ first presidential inauguration. George Washington took the oath of office on the balcony of Federal Hall overlooking Wall Street on April 30, 1789. This was also the location of the passing of the Bill Of Rights.
In 1889, the original stock report, Customers’ Afternoon Letter, became the The Wall Street Journal, named in reference to the actual street, it is now an influential international daily business newspaper published in New York City. For many years, it had the widest circulation of any newspaper in the United States, although it is currently second to USA Today. It has been owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. since 2007.
Decline and revitalization
The Manhattan Financial District is one of the largest business districts in the United States, and second in New York City only to Midtown. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the corporate culture of New York was a primary center for the construction of skyscrapers (rivaled only by Chicago). The Financial District, even today, actually makes up a distinct skyline of its own, separate from but not soaring to quite the same heights as its midtown counterpart a few miles to the north.
September 16, 1920: a bomb exploded in front of the headquarters of J.P. Morgan Inc. at 23 Wall Street, killing 38 and injuring 300 people. Federal Hall (26 Wall Street), with its statue of George Washington, is shown on the right.
Built in 1914, 23 Wall Street was known as the “House of Morgan” and for decades the bank’s headquarters was the most important address in American finance. At noon, on September 16, 1920, a bomb exploded in front of the bank, killing 38 and injuring 300. Shortly before the bomb went off a warning note was placed in a mailbox at the corner of Cedar Street and Broadway. While theories abound about who was behind the Wall Street bombing and why they did it, after twenty years investigating the matter, the FBI rendered the file inactive in 1940 without ever finding the perpetrators. The explosion did, however, help fuel the Red Scare that was underway at the time.
A crowd gathers at the intersection of Wall and Broad streets after the 1929 crash. The New York Stock Exchange (18 Broad Street) is on the right. The majority of people are congregating in Wall Street on the left between the “House of Morgan” (23 Wall Street) and Federal Hall (26 Wall Street).
The stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. During this era, development of the financial district stagnated. Construction of the World Trade Center was one of the few major projects undertaken during the last three quarters of the 20th century and, financially, it was not originally as successful as planned. Some point to the fact that it was actually a government-funded project, constructed by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey with the intention of spurring economic development downtown. All the tools necessary for international trade were to be housed in the complex. However, at the beginning, much of the space remained vacant.
Nonetheless, some large and powerful firms did purchase space in the World Trade Center. Further, it attracted other powerful businesses to the immediate neighborhood. In some ways, it could be argued that the World Trade Center changed the nexus of the Financial District from Wall Street to the Trade Center complex. When the World Trade Center was destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks, it left somewhat of an architectural void as new developments since the 1970s had played off the complex aesthetically. The attacks, however, contributed to the loss of business on Wall Street, due to temporary-to-permanent relocation to New Jersey and further decentralization with establishments transferred to cities like Chicago, Denver, and Boston.
Wall Street itself and the Financial District as a whole are crowded with highrises by any measure. Further, the loss of the World Trade Center has actually spurred development in the Financial District on a scale that hadn’t been seen in decades. This is in part due to tax incentives provided by the federal, state and local governments to encourage development. A new World Trade Center complex, centered on Daniel Liebeskind’s Memory Foundations plan, is in the early stages of development and one building has already been replaced. The centerpiece to this plan is the 1,776-foot (541 m) tall 1 World Trade Center (formerly known as the Freedom Tower). New residential buildings are already sprouting up, and buildings that were previously office space are being converted to residential units, also benefiting from the tax incentives. Better access to the Financial District is planned in the form of a new commuter rail station and a new downtown transportation center centered on Fulton Street. If you look at the building on the left, you will see that it is most likely modeled after the Greek Parthenon
Wall Street’s architecture is generally rooted in the Gilded Age, though there are also some art deco influences in the neighborhood. Landmark buildings on Wall Street include Federal Hall, 14 Wall Street (Bankers Trust Company Building), 40 Wall Street (The Trump Building), and the New York Stock Exchange at the corner of Broad Street.
Over the years, certain elite persons associated with Wall Street have become famous. Although their reputations are usually limited to members of the stock brokerage and banking communities, several have gained national and international fame. Some earned their fame for their investment strategies, financing, reporting, legal or regulatory skills, while others are remembered for their greed. One of the most iconic representations of the market prosperity is the Charging Bull sculpture, by Arturo Di Modica. Representing the bull market economy, the sculpture was originally placed in front of the New York Stock Exchange, and subsequently moved to its current location in Bowling Green.
Wall Street’s culture is often criticized as being rigid. This is a decades-old stereotype stemming from the Wall Street establishment’s protection of its interests, and the link to the WASP establishment. More recent criticism has centered on structural problems and lack of a desire to change well-established habits. Wall Street’s establishment resists government oversight and regulation. At the same time, New York City has a reputation as a very bureaucratic city, which makes entry into the neighborhood difficult or even impossible for middle class entrepreneurs.
The ethnic background of Wall Streeters remains largely unchanged since the days of the railway barons of the early 1900s, as documented by their portraits in the Wall+Broad chapter of The Corners Project