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New York is a city of such extremes that any visitor would be hard pressed to describe it without resorting to superlatives. Words like biggest and best come to mind when referring to America's most populated city. The superlatives are not always positive though. The enormous number of people, pace of life and stark urban landscape contribute to an often grim and sometimes frustrating experience when walking along its streets. Despite problems common to any major city, New York attracts 34 million visitors each year to its man-made canyons.

A true archipelago, the 314 square miles that make up New York City are a series of islands that embrace five boroughs, or administrative districts: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. More than 8 million people live in the city's metropolitan area, which includes Long Island and parts of southern New York State, northeastern New Jersey and southwestern Connecticut.

About Rockefeller

New York is a city of such extremes that any visitor would be hard pressed to describe it without resorting to superlatives. Words like biggest and best come to mind when referring to America's most populated city. The superlatives are not always positive though. The enormous number of people, pace of life and stark urban landscape contribute to an often grim and sometimes frustrating experience when walking along its streets. Despite problems common to any major city, New York attracts 34 million visitors each year to its man-made canyons.

A true archipelago, the 314 square miles that make up New York City are a series of islands that embrace five boroughs, or administrative districts: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx. More than 8 million people live in the city's metropolitan area, which includes Long Island and parts of southern New York State, northeastern New Jersey and southwestern Connecticut.

The city's early history laid the foundation for that “New York state of mind”—a powerfully independent, rambunctious outlook on life. Both the Dutch and English spent years quarreling over the rights to Manhattan after its official discovery in 1609 by Englishman Henry Hudson (the Hudson River's namesake), who navigated the area's waterways.

Fifteen years later it was the Dutch who claimed the area by forming a settlement called New Amsterdam, a principal colony of New Netherland. Two years later Peter Minuit, sailing with the Dutch West India Company, finagled the purchase of Manhattan from the local Indians for trinkets worth about 60 guilders, or $24.

The English returned in 1664 and, angered by their trade rivalries with the Dutch in Europe, seized New Amsterdam. A more autocratic form of government was instituted, and the area was renamed New York after King Charles II's brother, the Duke of York. Just 9 years later the Netherlands launched a surprise attack on New York, reclaiming the area and christening it New Orange. In 1674 New York changed hands for the last time, the result of the Treaty of Westminster between England and the Netherlands. In 1686 New York became the first city in the colonies to be granted a royal charter.

The 1825 opening of the Erie Canal furthered development by connecting the city with Buffalo, the Great Lakes and parts of the West. Overseas trade burgeoned. The increase in international stature had another important effect: Those in other parts of the world, victims of failed revolutions or poverty or motivated by an adventurous spirit, bid farewell to their homelands and set sail for a haven promising greater opportunities.

From the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries New York was the official port of entry for millions of immigrants. From 1855 to 1890 newcomers first landed at Castle Garden in Lower Manhattan, near what is now Battery Park. As the numbers swelled, the federal government was forced to find a larger facility, and an island in the New York Bay seemed the logical choice. Ellis Island, southwest of the tip of Lower Manhattan, was first used as a dump site for ships' ballast and later as a fort. Named after its owner, Samuel Ellis, the 27.5-acre island was transformed into a processing station.

Waves of immigrants swept onto the shores of Ellis Island. German, Irish, Scandinavian and central European families clutched sacks filled with personal items. Frightened, anxious and weary from their arduous passage, Italians, Poles, Czechs and Russians waited for entrance into the United States.

The red-brick buildings were cramped and drafty, containing scowling immigration inspectors standing between a fresh start and heartbreaking deportation. Many of those permitted to stay began new lives not far from where they had disembarked. It was these immigrants, mostly skilled laborers and those willing to work cheaply, who built the city's bridges, tunnels, roads and elevated transportation systems—infrastructure that helped New York make the leap from city to metropolis.

With this sudden surge in population came a boom in economic enterprises, from manufacturing to entertainment. New citizens worked furiously not only to improve their island home but also to make New York one of the most influential cities in the world.

Increasing interdependence of the five boroughs roused city leaders to discuss merging. Although Brooklyn initially resisted, Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Brooklyn consolidated to form Greater New York on Jan. 1, 1898.

This proverbial melting pot fostered a strong sense of ethnic pride within neighborhoods, and newcomers' craftsmanship lent a striking beauty to the city streetscape. Embellishments on many of New York's older buildings stand as a testament to painstaking Old World artistry.

Considered the city's first skyscraper, the 285-foot-tall brick and limestone Flatiron Building was built in 1902 on the south side of Madison Square. This impressive Italian Renaissance structure was shaped like a wedge of pie to fit into the triangular area between Broadway and Fifth Avenue. Two years later the IRT, the city's first subway line, began operations, running from City Hall to 145th Street. Today subways in New York City are much more extensive: They move 1.2 billion people a year over 656 miles of track.

In 1931 the Empire State Building became a distinctive Art Deco-style landmark in the city's skyline. Rising some 1,454 feet above Manhattan, construction of the 102-story office building sped along at almost a floor a day. Forty years later this impressive architectural feat was topped by the World Trade Center, each of its two towers 110 stories tall. The buildings were destroyed by terrorists in 2001.

In New York bridges and tunnels are themselves attractions. They include the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the second longest single span bridge in the world, and the Holland Tunnel, a marvel of engineering skill at the time of its completion in 1927. The Brooklyn Battery Tunnel is one of the world's longest, and the Bayonne Bridge is one of the longest steel arch bridges in the world. But the Brooklyn Bridge is undoubtedly the world's best known—and most purchased—bridge. The ability to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to gullible visitors was long a standard of a con man's worth.

In 1948 what is now the 4,930-acre John F. Kennedy International Airport opened in Queens. Kennedy and La Guardia, also in Queens, along with Newark Liberty International, in nearby New Jersey, combine to service some 86.5 million passengers annually.

New York's population explosion fueled a building boom and job growth and generated worldwide recognition. Unfortunately its ethnic diversity gave rise to racial tensions. Harlem, in Upper Manhattan, was considered the most notable African-American community in the United States in the 1920s—a haven for intellectuals, artists and writers. But as overcrowding and racial discrimination began to eat away at the city, several destructive blows were dealt.

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his stirring “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington; racial tensions in New York continued to escalate. And activist Malcolm X was killed in 1965 at a Harlem rally. In 1966 a race riot broke out in East Brooklyn; the following year more violence erupted in East Harlem. African-Americans and other minority groups gathered together for a cause—social and economic justice and improvements to their neighborhoods.

If the '60s were socially volatile, the '70s were financially bereft. In 1978, after more than 10 years of spending and borrowing, the city narrowly avoided bankruptcy. New Yorkers blamed their failing economy on spendthrift politicians and sought a mayor who could reverse the city's downward fiscal slide; they chose Democrat Edward Koch, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. Mayor Koch, who reigned for 12 years, was revered for his brazen outspokenness and his dedication to the middle class.

As New York finally emerged from its financial doldrums, its beloved 151-foot-tall Lady of the Harbor re-emerged from a cocoon of scaffolding after a much-needed makeover. During an $85 million restoration project, American and French workers replaced worn sheets of copper to enhance the statue's blue-green patina. Elevators and stairs leading to the crown also were replaced. The torch, having long since fallen into disrepair because of the strain of visitors seeking an unobstructed view of the city, was restored as well.

In 1986 the centennial of the Statue of Liberty was observed after completion of the restoration. Americans celebrated the beauty of Lady Liberty in grand style with fireworks, marching bands and tall ships on parade in the harbor. The festivity was a fitting tribute to the lady who offered solace to those millions following the light from her torch in search of refuge from poverty and strife.