Lower Manhattan a Historically Rich Area September 29 2014
For the first arrival from Europe, downtown was the beginning. Indeed, the first actual settlers, the Dutch, lived below downtown: when they arrived in 1624, they set up on Governors Island, just off the southern tip of Manhattan.
It wasn't until the late nineteenth century that the last real residents began vanishing from what is now the financial district. This included the above-the-store merchants still living in their brick warehouses/stores/dwellings.
The advent of the skyscraper began after the Civil War. Initially, the race to the clowds was a stately one, with towers reaching seven, ten, and then fifteen stories; by the start of the First World War, thirty or forty was the norm.
Manhattan circa 1910
Soon, the shipping, banking, finance, insurance, and other industries became synonymous with downtown, the large sums of money passing through their hands making taller and taller skyscrapers possible.
The influx of capital culminated in the World Trade Center, a project conceived in controversy, with the local Port Authority using the power of eminent domain to evict the surviving, and thriving, businesses of Radio Row and others from its multi-block site for what was essentially a private purpose. The original claim that the WTC would be only "world trade" was soon forgotten, and it gradually emptied the older skyscrapers, leading to their decline.
Downtown before 9/11
Instead of revitalizing the office market, however, the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001 accelerated an uptown migration of banks and financial companies, a flight from which downtown is still recovering.
World Trade Center One is finished and is being expected to open its doors soon. A three-level observation deck called One World Observatory will open in 2015.