Tucked between two office buildings at 55 Water Street is a hard-to-find escalator which whisks you up to The Elevated Acre. Don’t be daunted though, this transformed public plaza in the Financial District is well worth the hunt.
The Elevated Acre at 55 Water Street, a building designed by Emery Roth & Sons, was completed in the early 1970s. After new zoning regulations for skyscrapers were passed in 1961, developers could add an additional stories to a building’s height if it included a public plaza on the property. So, while this outdoor space was always there, the current design was just completed in 2005 by Ken Smith and Rogers Marvel Architects (now two separate firms, Marvel Architects and Rogers Partners), designers of other public spaces including the rehabilitation of McCarren Park Pool in Greenpoint, Bronx’s Mill Pond Park, and Washington DC’s Constitution Gardens.
Ken Smith and Rogers Marvel won an international competition sponsored by the Municipal Art Society and the developer to transform this one acre from a barren deck to a lush, vibrant public park. As Richard Roth, one of the architects of the building tells us in an interview, “The upper plaza was originally designed to connect over the FDR to housing to be built in the water on landfill. This project never went forward probably because the city could not find either the money or a developer.” A few landscape architects worked on the original plaza, until Rogers Marvel and Ken Smith did the redesign.
The Elevated Acre hosts numerous programs — outdoor movies, weddings, and dance performances as part of the River to River Festival. For most though, the Elevated Acre is usually a favorite lunch spot for weekday commuters. And in pandemic times, it is a respite from the city for those in the know. There’s also a restaurant, Sky55, which is temporarily closed at the moment.
The Elevated Acre is unique, as there are only a handful of elevated privately owned public spaces (POPS) in New York City. Another one can be found in Trump Tower, but it has been predominantly inaccessible since the election of Donald Trump. The Elevated Acre, on contrast, has a seven-tiered amphitheater surrounding the lawn, a Brazilian hardwood boardwalk which stands 30 feet above the East River, views of the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge as well as the Brooklyn waterfront. A tower, which can be illuminated by programmable LED lights, beckons visitors from the FDR Drive and from the harbor. Roger Marvels Architects stated that it “announces the park to the highway.”
Opening hours for The Elevated Acre are daily from 7 AM until 10 PM May 1 to Sept. 30 and 8 AM to 8 PM Oct. 1 to Apr. 30 , although these hours can change based on events that might be taking place. It is easy to find a bench or chair among the gardens to quietly read a book, reflect on your day, or people watch. Who would expect to find this little oasis of gardens, panoramic views, leisure and relaxation snug right in the middle of the Financial District? It nearly takes away the droning hum of the Downtown Manhattan Heliport and FDR Drive just nearby.
The Financial District has seen many urban realm improvements since the construction of the Elevated Acre in 2005. The South Street Seaport has undergone a rebranding, welcoming new buildings like Pier 17, robust programming, and art installations. New urban design regulations will allow for the construction of storefronts into the 1970s-era setbacks, to improve the activation of the streetscape.
You can discover this and many other secrets in our upcoming tour The Hidden Gems of the Financial District. Our next date is this Saturday! All of our in-person tours have small groups, state-of-the-art radio ear pieces for safe social distancing, and more health & safety measures.
Next, check out 13 other pocket parks in NYC.