“Money and finance impact everyone’s lives,” says Kristin Aguilera, deputy director of the Museum of American Finance in Lower Manhattan.
Aguilera’s museum was set up in the wake of the crash of 1987 and found an audience almost immediately. Now, in the shadow of the global financial crisis that began in 2007, tourism is again surging in the Wall Street financial district. Annaline Dinkelmann, once an employee of Morgan Stanley, has been running Wall Street Walks since 2007, offering tours of the area including a “History of Wall Street”, “Crashes and Financial Panics” and “Scoundrels”. “I’m able to answer many industry-specific questions,” Dinkelmann says. “People who work in the finance industry often don’t know the history and find it fascinating.”
But if you’d rather go it alone, wander around Bowling Green Park and visit the Charging Bull, sculptor Arturo di Modica’s bronze monument to stock market optimism. From there head uptown, past the New York Stock Exchange on Broad Street, then down Wall Street to take in early 20th century skyscrapers, such as the Bankers Trust Company Building and the Trump Building, and their contemporary peers like the neoclassical headquarters of Deutsche Bank. Having soaked up the atmosphere, turn into the Museum of American Finance for a close-up look at the historical details.
“[We have] a 60-pound [27.2kg]gold bar from the gold rush that was recovered from a shipwreck, a certificate from the original federal bond issue signed by George Washington that bears the first use of the dollar sign on a federal document and an original US$100,000 bill on display,” Aguilera says.
A few blocks away is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where visitors are welcomed with free tours that include a look at the Gold Vault, five floors below street level, and exhibitions such as “Drachmas, Doubloons and Dollars: the History of Money”, which has an exceptional display of coins, cowrie shells, tokens and paper bills. Security is strict, so visits must be booked through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s website, www.newyorkfed.org.
Searching for the historical roots of London’s financial district might mean a trip down Threadneedle Street in the City of London. Here is “the grand old lady of Threadneedle Street”, the Bank of England, which has stood on this site since 1734.
Turn down Bartholomew Lane on the eastern side of the building for entry to the Bank of England Museum with its reconstructed 18th century office interior, an impressive display of gold bars ancient and modern, and documents, currency and photographs from the bank’s collection. The museum is open on weekdays and admission is free.
A flurry of architectural activity in the past few decades has seen many spectacular modern buildings rising up to house financial institutions. One of the first was designed by architect Richard Rogers for Lloyd’s of London, completed in 1984. Utilities such as staircases, lifts and electrical piping wrap the outside of the structure, making way for an enormous interior void.
At its base is the Underwriting Room, with the famous Lutine Bell as its showpiece. The bell, salvaged from a 19th century shipwreck, was struck when a ship was missing. Now it sounds on ceremonial occasions and to mark events such as the September 11 attacks.
Impossible to ignore is “The Gherkin”, a torpedo-shaped glass tower designed by Foster + Partners that houses financial institutions such as Deutsche Bank. It stands on the site of the Baltic Exchange, the global maritime marketplace that moved into premises at 30 St Mary Axe in 1903 that was damaged beyond repair by an IRA bomb in 1992. What remained of the old Baltic Exchange building was painstakingly dismantled and catalogued and is being rebuilt in the Estonian port of Tallinn.
If in London in September, put the weekend of 22-23 September into the itinerary, when more than 700 of London’s most impressive buildings will open to the public.
See www.openhouselondon.org.uk to find out more about this year’s events.
HONG KONG - SHANGHAI
In the past decade or so the Chinese financial centres of Hong Kong and Shanghai have emerged to challenge New York and London.
Hong Kong’s growth as a centre of international finance is evidenced by the waterfront development aptly named the International Finance Centre (ifc). It is dominated by two towers: One ifc, which opened in 1999, and Two ifc, which opened in 2003. The buildings came to international attention when they featured in action scenes from the Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight, but finance geeks may also note that they house high-profile tenants, including many of the big global banks, the Hong Kong office of the Financial Times and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. Zoom up to the 55th floor of Two ifc during normal working hours and take a look around an HKMA exhibit about Hong Kong’s monetary history.
By 2020, China intends that Shanghai will rival Hong Kong as a centre of international finance. That growth is well under way with iconic buildings such as the Shanghai World Finance Center, which opened in 2008. At the heart of the Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, the skyscraper has 101 floors and at 492m tall is China’s tallest building.
EMINENCE, ANCIENT AND MODERN
Established in 1834, the Numismatic Museum (Panepistimiou Ave 12) houses literally hundreds of thousands of coins, medals and weights from the 14th century BC to the present day. The museum currently occupies a highly decorative house built in the late 19th century for amateur German archaeologist Hermann Schliemann, whose 1873 discovery of the site of the ancient city of Troy proved it was not a Homeric fiction as then believed. www.nma.gr
In a city known as the birthplace of skyscrapers, the towering Chicago Board of Trade (141 West Jackson Boulevard) stands out. Built in the late 1920s to house the Chicago commodities exchange, it is topped by a 9.5m statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of fertility and agriculture. The Chicago Architecture Foundation runs lunchtime tours on Thursdays that include a close-up look at the action on the trading floor. See www.architecture.org to book.
The central governing body for the euro is the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays you can attend free information sessions inside the Eurotower (Kaiserstrasse 29). “Overview” sessions deal with the tasks and responsibilities of the ECB, while “advanced” sessions cover topics such as the security features of euro banknotes and coins and the ECB’s role in global financial stabilty. www.ecb.int
Conceived as an unambiguous display of financial might, the “Triple Nickel” building (555 California Street) was built as the headquarters of the Bank of America in the late 1960s. It’s now occupied by the likes of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Bank of England Museum
60 Wall Street
26 Wall Street, Lower Manhattan
Federal Reserve Bank of New York
33 Liberty Street
44 Maiden Lane
Hong Kong Monetary Authority
Two ifc. 8 Finance Street
Central, Hong Kong
Hong Kong Stock Exchange
Exchange Trading and Exhibition
Exhibition Hall Complex
1 and 2 Exchange Square
Central, Hong Kong
Lloyd’s of London
1 Lime Street, London
Museum of American Finance
48 Wall Street, New York
New York Stock Exchange
18 Broad Street
Shanghai World Finance Center
100 Century Avenue
30 St Mary Axe, London