New York City, NY

The United Nations Headquarters in New York City: History and Tours of the Building

Traveling with Alice
United Nations Plaza, New Yorkblowup/Unsplash

A brief history of the United Nations

In 1945, after World War II, the United Nations was founded to replace the League of Nations.

Fifty countries signed the United Nations agreement, hoping that it would ultimately help them avoid future wars and intervene in international conflicts.

The United Nations Security Council consists of five permanent members who can veto any United Nations resolution.

The five members are representatives from countries that won World War II: the United States, Russia, France, China, and the United Kingdom.

The United Nations has its own emergency services security, fire department, and postal administrators.

Visitors often send postcards from the United Nations building, as it is one of the few places on the globe to get the unique United Nations stamp.

New York City United Nations Headquarters

NYC's United Nations Headquarters, founded in 1952, is located at 760 United Nations Plaza, in the Turtle Bay neighborhood on the east side of Midtown Manhattan, overlooking the East River. The 18-acre site is an international zone that belongs not to the U.S., but all member states make for some complicated legal rhetoric.

Despite being on United States property, the United Nations Headquarters place is granted extraterritoriality status, meaning that it is exempt from the local jurisdiction.

Still, this does not grant immunity to those who perpetrate crimes at the Headquarters, which will remain under the United States' jurisdiction.

The Rockefeller family bought the property for the United Nations Headquarters and later gave it to New York City. Wallace Harrison, Rockefeller's architectural advisor, was the one who designed the building and was also the lead architect of an international team.

Before constructing this complex, the United Nations Headquarters was temporarily housed at Lake Success on Long Island.

Since the building needed reparations, some members suggested a new temporary location close to the Lake Success site or in Brooklyn; others advise building a permanent replacement building where the World Trade Center towers were once located.

The construction of the United Nations Headquarters was financed by an interest-free loan from the United States government. The Headquarters consists of four main buildings the General Assembly building, the Conference Building, the Secretariat building, and the Dag Hammarskjold Library.

When the Secretariat building was first built, it was controversial and met with a huge public outcry. Over time, the building has become a modernist landmark.

The Dag Hammarskjold Library, named after the Swedish United Nations Secretary-General, is connected to the Secretariat and Conference buildings by ground-level and underground tunnels.

What to see at the United Nations Headquarters in New York

One-hour guided tours of the facility operate daily from the General Assembly Public Lobby. The tour, held in several languages, shows the main Council Chambers, the General Assembly Hall, and the art of the United Nations member states.

Children must be accompanied, but those under 5 are not allowed on tour.

Special tours conducted only in English are available for children aged 5 to 10; and on specific topics such as significant women in the United Nations history and today, black history, and the U.N. garden.
Garden at the United Nations Headquarters, New York CityColin W, CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons

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