Photo by the Wurts Bros. from the Museum of the City of New York
Federal Hall, located at 26 Wall Street in Manhattan, was built to be New York’s City Hall and later became the United States’ first capitol building under the newly minted Constitution. Since then, the hall has undergone multiple renovations, and has amassed a great deal of secrets and stories concerning everyone from George Washington to Patrick Swayze. One such fun fact is that there was once a replica of the building at Bryant Park, erected in observation of the bicentennial of George Washington’s birth.
In 1932, Sears, Roebuck and Company and the George Washington Bicentennial Planning Committee decided to construct a wood and plaster copy of Federal Hall on Wall Street, where Washington delivered his inaugural speech on April 30, 1789. The structure was built next to the park’s terrace, and a reenactment of the inauguration was staged in honor of the occasion.
Image via Museum of the City of New York
Bryant Park was fenced off for the event and the true-to-size replica was erected behind the New York Public Library. To make space for its construction, statues of Dr. Marion Sims and of Washington Irving were removed. Visitors were also charged an entrance fee to visit the reproduction (which you can see below).
Image from the Museum of the City of New York
In addition to commemorating Washington, master builder and parks commissioner, Robert Moses, hoped that the replica would attract more people to Bryant Park, which had fallen victim to neglect due to the construction of the Sixth Avenue Elevated line in 1878. At the turn of the 20th century, Bryant Park became a haven for the homeless following the construction of the New York Public Library, and by the 1930s, it had drastically deteriorated.
The Federal Hall replica, however, did not stay up for very long. In 1933, the City of New York paid for its destruction because of its unpopularity with visitors, and a corruption scandal that depleted the committee’s funds. A year later, when Moses became park commissioner, Bryant Park’s redesign became a top priority. As part of a Great Depression public works project, the new park received a major face lift. It was elevated from the streets, trees were planted, and hedges and iron fences were installed around it. In addition, a great lawn was built with the ultimate goal of creating a Midtown oasis, much like the one we know and love today.