Rachel Adler

A Walk on Wall Street: Incidental Art

I have been in New York City for just over a month now. Long enough, I like to think, that I’ve found ease with the subways and rectangular grid (it’s roughly three blocks to an avenue). Long enough to start noticing the little things. In a city with no shortage of big things demanding to be noticed, little things–sidenotes, afterthoughts, bits neither meant for nor hidden from visitors–have an ineffable draw.

adler bridge

A New York icon–and a bit of Manhattan’s skyline–on a cloudy day.


In the last week or so especially, I’ve found my attention falling more often to fire escapes or displays in shop windows than to the intentionally eye-catching monuments and skyscrapers. The neighborhood where I am interning, the Financial District, is full of amusing situations where unique grandiosity butts up incongruously against pedestrian charm and a winking, surprising self-awareness.
adler tacos

A Mexican restaurant near the waterfront in Battery Park asks the important questions.


Not far from my internship, just minutes away from the iconic raging bull statue, at the Museum of American Finance, the windows and streetlamps glow green in a cheerful homage to paper bills. Near that, there is a bike lock in the shape of a double-barred dollar sign. This is just one of nine whimsical designs David Byrne made for the New York City Department of Transportation. At first overshadowed by more famous neighbors, the little things begin to emerge from behind the iconic sights.

adler dollar

A bike rack on Wall Street, designed by David Byrne

adler trinity

An example of the windows in Trinity Church.


There is an example of this just down the street from where I intern at the breathtaking Trinity Church, where you can marvel at stunning purple and gold stained glass windows and the elegant ambulatory, chapel, and colonial-era grave markers tucked behind the apse. Walk into the graveyard to see Alexander Hamilton’s monument and those of his wife and children. The gravestones, Eliza Hamilton’s especially, are covered in pennies, like a wishing-well for Revolutionary War historians, Federal Reserve employees, and—more recently—Broadway fans. Look directly across the street and you’ll see a discolored sign that promises, in all-caps black block lettering, “WE ARE PROBABLY THE LOWEST PRICED IN THE CITY.” Only probably. But that’s good enough for me.

adler hamilton
Alexander Hamilton’s grave and monument; the aforementioned sign and it’s somewhat reserved price guarantee can be seen in the background.