One of the most coveted reservation-only locations in the annual Open House New York Weekend has been the cupola of the Manhattan Municipal Building. This site was opened through the efforts of OHNY, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Moses Gates, urban explorer and urban planner for the Regional Plan Association (who with Untapped Cities has been on a quest to access all of the formerly public observation decks in New York City like the ones on 70 Pine and 20 Exchange Place).

Architectural details inside the Manhattan Municipal Building cupola

This past weekend, we headed to the cupola, which is located on the 36th floor of the Municipal Building. The experience, from beginning to end, is full of beautiful architectural details, starting from the entrance to the building that sits below stunning Guastavino tiling.

The entrance hall to the Manhattan Municipal Building, with a vintage subway entrance

The lobby of the Municipal Building has two banks of elegant elevators (photographs are unfortunately not allowed in the lobby itself). To access the cupola, you first take the elevator to the 19th floor, where the office of Gale Brewer, the Manhattan Borough President is located. One of the secrets of this building is that Gale Brewer’s office has an art gallery with rotating exhibits (such as the Women’s History Month exhibit we covered earlier this year). Even if visitors did not have a reservation ticket to the cupola, Gale Brewer’s office was an open site accessible to anyone.

From there, if you did have tickets to the cupola, you took a freight elevator to the 24th floor, from where you took a small golden elevator to the 36th floor which opens directly onto the cupola. Walk through a short space and below a Neoclassical lintel and doorway, and you will be standing below a ring of stone Corinthian columns. Above you, which you can only see from the ground and surrounding buildings, is the 25-foot gilded statue of Civic Fame, modeled by sculptor Adolph Weinman after Audrey Munson, “Miss Manhattan,” who was the model for numerous New York City statues.

The most stunning aspect of the cupola is of course, the views. 360 degrees around Lower Manhattan, with such sights as the Woolworth Building, the gold topped pyramid of the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse (the latter two both by Cass Gilbert), the Brooklyn Bridge, 1 WTC, Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, and more. You’ll also see a clear view of the midtown skyline.

Thurgood Marshall Courthouse Building (foreground) and midtown Manhattan skyline


The Woolworth Building

The Manhattan Municipal Building is one of the several buildings in NYC that have sister buildings around the world. Next, see a video to see more about the inside of Manhattan’s Municipal Building. Discover the secret archive in the Surrogate’s Courthouse, just next door.