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New York City

Tourists banned from Woolworth Building  Mar 03, 2009

New York City may love the $30 billion generated by tourism, but tourists themselves are no longer allowed inside one of Manhattan's most-admired landmarks - the iconic Woolworth Building.

It says so on a sign posted outside the lower Broadway landmark: "Tourists are not permitted beyond this point."

Building manager Vincent Baffa downplayed the restriction, calling it necessary in the age of terror, and adding that schools and students of art or architecture can still arrange a visit to the lavish lobby.

Some tourists, such as three sisters from France, said they weren't bothered by the ban.

But others were put off by the sign, particularly since the Woolworth Building is still listed in many tourist guide books and a Downtown Alliance tourist board just feet away urges visitors to come see the "vaulted arcade resplendent in marble walls, bronze, Gothic filigree and golden mosaics."

"I feel that's unfair," said Roshni Vyas, 23. "I feel it's discriminatory. If you go to our country, Australia, you won't find that."

Her friend, Laura Opperman, also 23, said she was not surprised by the restriction.

"It's America," she said. "This is the way America is seen by other countries - ridiculous and over the top. On the plane here we were told you can't line up for the toilet. We were told we were congregating and that's something that terrorists might do."

Still, Opperman and a third friend in the group, Brye Nicholl, decided to go inside anyway. As expected, a security officer at the front desk denied them access.

Nicholl, 23, said the ability to get into the lobby makes the restriction pointless. "Laws that are enforced are the only laws worth having," he said. "In this case, you can still get into the building. If you wanted to cause trouble you could."

Baffa admitted the sign does not always work, as many tourists who don't speak or understand English ignore it and head inside, cameras in hand.

"We try to cater to [the students]," he said. "We have someone who will give them a tour, but if we let people in they start wandering to the back of the lobby and doors are open and they can get to other parts of the building."

When the Woolworth Building opened in 1913 its 55 stories made it the tallest building in the world. It looks much the same today, except employees are issued identification cards and visitors are questioned about whom they are seeing.

It is much the same throughout Manhattan, though it wasn't clear how many other similar bans exist.

Lea Amram, 25, hadn't even planned on stopping at the building, but the sign caught her attention. "For me, that's OK," she said. "For security, I understand. We have the same concerns in France. After the World Trade Center, what can you say? It's necessary."

Other landmarks with restrictions

The Statue of Liberty Despite efforts by some city politicians to open it, the statue's crown, closed since Sept. 11, remains off-limits for now.

City Hall Visitors still line up each day and gawk from afar, especially if there's a news conference on the front steps or if Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spotted, but the days of easy access are over. Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani restricted access to the steps before the terror attacks, but much of security now in place followed Sept. 11.

Wall Street Security barriers prevent tourists from what had been a common practice: taking pictures at the entrance to the famed icon of finance.

Tourists banned from Woolworth Building
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