Columbus Circle NYC has been an important New York City crossroads since the completion of Central Park in the middle of the 19th century. It was specifically designed as a traffic circle serving horses and carts in 1857 by Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect who, with Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, is responsible for much of Central Park’s design.
The circle now serves car traffic on Central Park South, Broadway, and Eighth Avenue-Central Park West; below ground is a major transit hub. The square is punctuated by the two-towered Time Warner Center, the Trump International Building, and Edward Durrell Stone’s much-altered 2 Columbus Circle. It serves as a divider between Hell’s Kitchen on the south and the Lincoln Square district to the north.
Columbus Circle is sort of a NYC insider’s haven. It’s not touristy like Times Square, but it’s far from gritty and has a classic ambiance, with glass towers along Broadway and lovely brownstones on the streets to the north.
Come hungry to Columbus Circle and the Upper West Side, as there are myriads of eateries within walking distance, including Sarabeth’s, Barney Greengrass and Zabar’s; prepare to be entertained, as Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Beacon Theater are all nearby; and have your walking shoes on, because Central Park is beautiful all year round.
The Columbus Circle NYC Subway Station
Built on a gentle curve, and full of all kinds of convex and concave walls, IRT Columbus Circle serving the 1 train is one of the more interesting of the subway’s original 28 stations. It’s the only one that features plaques by Grueby Faience, a Massachusetts pottery company renowned for distinctive vases and tiles. The plaque depicts “the great navigator’s caravel,” according to “The New York Subway: Its Construction and Equipment,” the book published by the IRT in 1904 when the subways opened. The plaques are surrounded by rosettes and an amphora motif.
In 2007 the Columbus Circle NYC IRT subway station underwent structural renovations. Tearing down an exterior wall revealed some surprising history: the exposure of a curious plaque with Art Nouveau, Aubrey Beardsley-esque lettering and ornamentation — it had been hidden for nearly a century. The use of the word “exhibit” seems to imply that a number of station treatments were originally considered before the Grueby-Faience samples were selected, and American Encaustic was another firm that lost out. The plaque has since been given a protective frame and some historical information added.
From the 1 platform, a transfer is available to A, B, C and D trains on the IND Eighth Avenue line.
Monuments at Columbus Circle
Gaetano Russo’s Columbus Circle monument was dedicated in 1892, 400 years after Christopher Columbus’ three ships arrived in the New World. The Carrara marble monument displays the mariner on a column surrounded by fountains (added in 1965), with an allegorical figure depicting the Spirit of Discovery, two other figures portraying Columbus’s journey, and an American bald eagle. The column shows decorative ships’ anchors and prows. In 2012, New Yorkers had the opportunity for an up-close-and-personal visit with Chris when Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi built a temporary penthouse at the monument’s crown.
The U.S.S. Maine Monument, at the Merchant’s Gate Central Park entrance on Columbus Circle, memorializes the 258 U.S. Navy sailors who perished when the battleship Maine exploded in Havana, Cuba, on February 15, 1898. The cause of the explosion remains unclear, but Spain declared war on the U.S. within a couple of months, and after the war’s end in December, the U.S. acquired many of Spain’s former colonies in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, including Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Hawaii.
Dedicated on May 30, 1913, the monument consists of a large pylon topped by a group of sculptured bronze gilded figures of Columbia, an allegoric representation of the U.S.A., riding in a seashell-shaped chariot. The names of those killed in the attack are inscribed on the pylon above three marble allegorical figures at the base.
Time Warner Center
Topped by a pair of towers reaching 69 stories in height, the Time Warner Center is the corporate seat of Time Warner, the cable empire, the home of cable network CNN, and home to multimillion-dollar condos as well as upscale shops and restaurants. It replaced the New York Coliseum (1954-2000), which had suffered for years after the Javits Center replaced it as the city’s convention capital; and earlier than that, the rococo Majestic Theatre (1902-1954). As The New York Times’ late Christopher Gray noted, as far back in 1987, a twin-towered project was on the drawing boards to replace the coliseum.
The building serves as the company headquarters for WarnerMedia and VMWare, the cloud computing company, and hosts condominiums, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, and the Shops at Columbus Circle, which includes the area’s largest Whole Foods supermarket.
The Museum of Arts and Design: No More Lollipops
Until 2002, the Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle was informally known as the Lollipop Building, because of the marble figures at the base of the building. (It was constructed in 1964 by A&P heir Huntington Hartford, who had a voluminous art collection and desired a showcase for it.) The Modernist structure was designed by architect Edward Durrill Stone, with tiny windows along the sides and top and tall arches at the upper floors. Hartford’s Gallery of Modern Art opened featuring pieces from his own collection, including works by Rembrandt, Monet, Manet and Dali. However, the gallery closed in 1969, and the building then underwent a variety of occupants, including the New York Cultural Center and the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau.
By 2002, the Museum of Arts and Design had moved in, and despite vociferous protests by preservationists (including author Tom Wolfe and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney) to allow the building’s former façade to remain unchanged, the Museum decided to give the building a complete makeover. After a six-year renovation that tripled the floor space, the new museum moved in late 2008.
Things to Do Near Columbus Circle NYC
The Shops at Columbus Circle offers such staples as H&M, Hugo Boss, L’Occitane, J. Crew, Williams-Sonoma, Amazon Books, Whole Foods and much more. The southwest end of Central Park offers a verdant escape, though this is one of the park’s more crowded spots. The architecturally interesting Greyshot Arch and Pine Bank Bridge are nearby. You can dine at the Michelin-starred Per Se, in the Time Warner Center, or the more affordable Bareburger on West 57th.
Living Near Columbus Circle NYC
Median rent in the Columbus Circle area is $3,450, which is at the higher end for Manhattan. Units are available in such buildings as the Element, at 555 W. 59th St., and 160 Riverside Blvd. Condo apartments in Time Warner Center go for higher price points, ranging from $9,000 to $25,000 per month to rent. The lowest-priced for-sale listing is currently asking $9.5 million.
Columbus Circle is bustling with the crowds of workers and shoppers hustling into the shops at Time Warner Center and the lunchtime crowds heading into Central Park for an outdoor respite. There’s a classic New York City experience to be had along Broadway — a link between Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper West Side.