Since the Dutch built a wooden wall here in 1653, Wall Street has remained an avenue of dreams, schemes, and riches. But the scene changes. In post-'80s austerity, 'limousines that used to be parked up and down the street' are gone, one veteran says.

WALL Street - the financial center of the United States - is hard to miss. Perhaps the most famous single roadway in the North America, Wall Street runs perpendicular to Broadway, which was an old Indian trail.Today, Wall Street is a canyon of skyscrapers that juts directly across lower Manhattan to the East River. It is among the most congested streets in Manhattan, says Frank Vardy, a demographer for New York's city planning department. With three subway stops in a two-block area, Wall Street is "crowded" by definition, Mr. Vardy laughs. Dutch Gov. Peter Stuyvesant built a wooden wall here in 1653, protecting his fellow citizens of "Nieuw Amsterdam" from the cows, pesky Indians, and wild Englishmen running around northern Manhattan. It was the Dutch wall that eventually lent its name to the street. Whether under the early Dutch, the British who followed them, or citizens of today, Wall Street has remained an avenue of dreams, schemes, and riches. But one landmark has almost always been here: Trinity Church, an Episcopal church. Trinity's Gothic facade on the corner of Broadway and Wall was once the tallest in the city. And Trinity's presence seems to underscore the diversity of the street - the mingling of government, commerce, and lofty aspirations. In the cemetery of Trinity Church are found the burial sites of two secretaries of the US Treasury: Alexander Hamilton (under George Washington) and Albert Gallatin (under Thomas Jefferson). And just down the road, at 28 Wall Street, is Federal Hall, the site where George Washington was inaugurated president in 1789 - when New York, for one shining year, was the capital of the United States. The current building dates back to 1842. During the financial panic of 1873, the federal government placed Gatling Guns atop the building - just in case a restive populace stormed the street. Diagonally across from Federal Hall, at the corner of Wall and Broad, is the most famous structure on the street: the home of the New York Stock Exchange. With massive Corinthian columns, the building imparts a sense of solidity to the surrounding area. The original stock exchange, founded in 1792, was a few blocks east. And back in early Dutch days, a canal ran down Broad Street; today, stock traders gather along Broad Street for small-talk while wolfing down sandwich lunches. The current stock-exchange building was erected in 1903 and has been modernized over the years. In late 1929, anxious crowds gathered outside, as the stock market crashed in the most disastrous financial downturn ever to occur in US history. Directly across from the stock exchange is the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company Building, at 23 Wall Street. An unknown person was very unhappy with the House of Morgan in 1920, planting a bomb on a horse-drawn wagon right outside the bank. The noonday blast killed 38 people, and burn marks remain visible today. Wall Street is changing. "What you don't see now are the limousines that used to be parked up and down the street," says Perrin Long Jr., a veteran stock market analyst who prefers to work out of the Midwest. Mr. Long, now with First of Michigan Corporation, a brokerage house, still visits Wall Street frequently. The limos cost too much to rent in these days of austerity, he says. Other changes: most of the brokerage houses are no longer located on Wall Street itself. The financial offices still here are now open 24 hours a day for data processing work; and the back-office workers tend to be minorities. Decades back, Long recollects, few nonwhites were ever seen on Wall Street. Building tenants are changing, too. The massive Irving Trust Company building, on Broadway and Wall, was built in 1932, during the Depression. Irving Trust, alas, is no more, lost in the merger wave of the 1980s. The Bank of New York now occupies the skyscraper. And down the block, Manufacturers Hanover bank has offices at 40 Wall Street; but "Manny Hanny" is merging with Chemical Bank. Whether the merged firm will continue to have a presence there only time will tell. Still, today, as in all of Wall Street's yesterdays, there's money to be made!

There's Gold in 'Them Thar' Lower Manhattan Vaults Gold holdings at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Market value: $126 billion (at $400 an ounce). Held for: 80 foreign nations and international organizations. Gold vault location: 80 feet below street level, 50 feet below sea level. Weight of gold bars: 27 pounds each


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