You can see the building through Trinity Church cemetery as you walk along Broadway, just north of Wall Street. The large letters on the fourteen-story art deco façade identify it as the American Stock Exchange.
From inside the cemetery yard above Trinity Place, relief sculptures show ships, railroads, factories, and farmland that hint at some of the exchange’s traded commodities.
This side of the building is the 1931 addition to a 1920 structure. A stroll around the block to Greenwich Street takes you back in time and provides a clue to some long-forgotten New York history.
The Greenwich Street side-the original back end-remains as built. With its simple geometries and proportions, its use of quality materials, and its unadorned classicism, it could be mistaken for a train station, a library, even an opera house. That is, until you see the lettering at the top. And not an added-on label-like around front-but one carved into the original façade: “New York Curb Market.”
Brokers have sold stocks in New York City for well over two centuries-from taverns, coffeehouses, anywhere really, even on the street. In 1792, when twenty-four brokers gathered around a Wall Street buttonwood tree where they regularly conducted business and pledged allegiance to one another, the New York Stock & Exchange Board was born. This regulated exchange calmed a nation in a financial panic by instilling confidence in commodity trading.
But as that limited exchange traded under one roof at a local coffeehouse, many traders remained in the street and continued to trade as they always had-outside, unregulated, on stoops, below streetlamps, at the curb. Through spring, summer, fall, and winter, in sunshine, rain, and snow.
Business out on Broad Street was lively and loud, and street traffic was regularly blocked by “curb traders,” who routinely took up the same spots so their customers could easily find them. Brokers screamed their orders and wildly waved their arms to communicate with their agents, who often hung out of windows in nearby buildings to get an unobstructed view.
At their best, these were brokers making names for themselves trading in the commodities the New York Stock Exchange chose not to, hoping to move up to the big leagues. At its worst, unscrupulous and unregulated brokers sometimes won the day before disappearing with any profits into the night.
In 1920, the loosely organized curb traders finally thought it best to come in from the cold-to join the twentieth century and conduct business under one roof-and the Curb Trade Market was built. The row of arched windows on Greenwich lit the 65-foot-tall trading floor-which was designed with artificial hills, lampposts, and stoops to make the curb traders feel right at home.
In 1931, business was so good that the building expanded on the Trinity Place side with a modern art-deco addition, choosing to leave the back end as is. By 1953, the New York Curb Market had evolved into the American Stock Exchange, which it proudly promoted with the new signage looking out in the direction of its rival New York Stock Exchange. More than fifty years later, in 2008, the AMEX was absorbed into the NYSE.
The New York Curb Market building has sat abandoned since 2009, though it is currently a hotbed of restoration activity with a hotel and retail space coming soon.
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