The Scene at City Hall Park

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An eclectic assortment of performers, pedestrians and passers-by outside the center of local government


  • In the summertime, City Hall Park’s fountain, designed by British architect Jacob Wrey Mould in 1872, becomes a popular spot for some unauthorized cooling off. Photo: Oscar Kim Bauman

  • On one of City Hall Park’s tables, a few men take in a game of chess. Photo: Oscar Kim Bauman

  • City Hall Park attracts visitors of all ages. here as a group of young campers walk through the park. Photo: Oscar Kim Bauman

  • Just outside the Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall subway station on Centre Street, street performers set up cones in preparation for a show. Photo: Oscar Kim Bauman

City Hall in Lower Manhattan is the seat of New York City’s government, and the actions that take place inside its historic walls can have consequences that impact every New Yorker. Although City Hall itself is off limits to the general public, the area around it proves to be equally fascinating.

As you step off the 4 train and ascend to the sidewalk, you find yourself immediately greeted by an enraptured crowd of tourists watching a group of street performers. Around the corner, you can find shade and a modicum of peace and quiet next to the Tweed Courthouse, named, of course, for the infamous William “Boss” Tweed, who ran city politics from Tammany Hall in the mid-1800s.

On the steps, and everywhere around City Hall Park, you will find staffers. While tourists and locals alike use the park to relax, for staffers it seems to be an extension of their workplace, as they walk through the trees while taking calls or running back and forth with papers and briefcases, past the barricades and into City Hall itself.

On the long stretch of Broadway that borders the park, an enticing-looking farmer’s market reveals itself to be a film set for some unknown project. Further down the block is an open stretch that is a favorite for campaigners from across the political spectrum — on any given week you might see anyone from LGBT groups to Christian conservatives spreading their message. Inside the park, an eye-catchingly eclectic tableau of city life unfolds. At a table, a group of older men take in a game of chess, while people eat and sleep of the grass next to them, and a small herd of children marches through on a day camp trip.

Elsewhere, a man in business attire tunes an electric guitar, two men in spandex zip past on bicycles, and in the center of the park, a crowd gathers around the fountain where a man in orange has climbed in to escape the summer heat. Of course, tourists are an ever-present force at City Hall. A wide range of languages can be heard on a walk through the park. With its mix of tourists and locals, commuters and performers, campaigners and staffers, City Hall Park is in itself a microcosm of Manhattan.

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