Expressway: Federal Reserve Bank, an awesome fortress
Is it possible that, as a nation, we are becoming blasé about the increasing number of terrorist plots occurring around the world? I am probably guilty of it myself. At least I was, until officials announced on Oct. 17 they had foiled an attack against the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan.
Granted, it was uncovered through an FBI sting operation. But, had it not been for the constant surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security, it could have been a plan carried out to a disastrous conclusion.
That possibility certainly heightened my awareness of the proximity of Armageddon, as few other events since 9/11 have done.
That's because when I was young, the 22-floor, limestone and sandstone landmark building at 33 Liberty St. occupied a unique place in my life. My Dad worked at the Federal Reserve Bank as chief engineer for more than 30 years. He'd commute from Huntington to the city every day, occasionally remaining there overnight if some kind of emergency required his presence.
Although he'd had numerous opportunities to work closer to home on Long Island, Dad never considered any of them. When we moved from the Bronx to Huntington in the '50s, that part of suburbia seemed to epitomize his vision of a wholesome, healthy lifestyle for his family.
But the Federal Reserve Bank was always his second home, so he commuted without complaint.
For my sister and two brothers and me, the Fed was an almost magical place. The building itself conjured images of a medieval fortress. And a fortress it is, complete with its own security department. Although Dad's years there in the 1940s through the '60s afforded him the acquaintance of many of the employees, including those in the security detail, it was not the type of environment that allowed any form of "take your child to work" program. Those may have been more relaxed years, but the protection of the Fed was never relaxed.
Nevertheless, Dad's workplace held a special place in our hearts.
It was the niche that stoked the fires of my imagination for years. His stories were always spellbinding, whether about the storehouse of gold in the form of bricks or the incineration of old paper money in furnaces in the bowels of the bank. The subject of money always fosters interest, and the Federal Reserve Bank's role in regulating the financial industry gives it top priority as a topic of conversation.
So, although I was never inside the fortresslike structure, I've always had a proprietary feeling about it. When a 6 o'clock TV anchor referred to it as "that bank in New York" after news of the alleged plot broke, I bristled. "That bank" is not one of our little suburban institutions on the corner of Main and Poplar Streets. It's THE most famous bank in the world -- first among equals of the 12 Federal Reserve Banks in the United States. As such, it should get more respect from the media.
Even foreign governments hold it in the highest regard. Because of their confidence in its security, they store their gold in its vaults, which are 80 feet below street level and rest on the bedrock of Manhattan Island, one of the few foundations considered adequate to support the weight of the vaults, the doors and the gold inside. It is reputed to hold the largest cache of gold in the world, perhaps 7,000 tons, worth more than $415 billion.
Is it any wonder that this edifice and its contents would captivate a child's imagination and devotion? Even after all these years, it still captivates mine.