15 Famous Landmarks You Won't Believe Are Privately Owned
These are some very surprising pieces of private property.
Mount Rushmore. The Eiffel Tower. The Great Wall of China. All over the world, countries, cities, and local municipalities proudly protect and preserve their own landmarks as part of their history. In the United States alone, there are 2,600 National Historic Landmarks—and counting! However, that doesn't mean every famous park or historical property falls under the purview of the government. Some of the world's most famous landmarks—ones that welcome millions of tourists each year—are privately-owned properties that we're all just lucky enough to enjoy. Before you embark on your next expedition, read on to discover which legendary landmarks are actually private property.
The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington
Believe it or not, Seattle's most popular tourist attraction isn't owned by the city. Rather, the saucer-shaped structure known as the Space Needle is privately owned by the Wright family—the descendants of Howard S. Wright and Bagley Wright, who originally financed the project for the 1962 World's Fair.
The Empire State Building in New York, New York
Once upon a time, it was none other than current U.S. president Donald J. Trump who owned the Empire State Building. However, he and his business partner sold the building in 2002 for $57.5 million to real estate mogul Peter Malkin, who now operates the building under the Empire State Realty Trust.
The Taj Mahal in Agra, India
As part of India's "Adopt a Heritage" plan, the government made a controversial $3.7 million deal in 2018, handing over the world-famous Taj Mahal to the privately-owned Dalmia Group. In exchange, the conglomerate has the rights to advertise, set admissions prices, and make money from any sales it conducts on site.
The Chrysler Building in New York, New York
As of March 2019, the Chrysler Building in New York City has a new owner—and it's not the City of New York. Rather, it's real estate mogul Aby Rosen's RFR Holding, LLC. The development company paid a pretty penny—$150 million, to be exact—for ownership of this landmark building. Previously, it was owned and operated by the Abu Dhabi Investment Council, which paid $800 million in 2008 for a 90 percent stake in the skyscraper.
Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia
Monticello is the former home and grounds of President Thomas Jefferson. Unlike many of the landmarks that entertain Washington, D.C. visitors, however, the former estate isn't managed by a municipality. Instead, it's maintained by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc., a private nonprofit that works to preserve the founding father's memory.
The Barringer Meteor Crater in Flagstaff, Arizona
Located on the outskirts of Flagstaff, Arizona, the Barringer Meteor Crater is a popular tourist attraction for those traveling through the Southwest United States. In 1903, Daniel Barringer—the same man who first suggested that the giant hole in the Earth was created by a meteorite—founded the Barringer Crater Company to take care of the site, and both the company and ownership of the area have been in the Barringer family since.
Mount Vernon in Mount Vernon, Virginia
Mount Vernon—George Washington's former estate—is managed and maintained by The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. As the nonprofit notes on their website: "We do not accept government grants or tax dollars, relying instead on ticket sales, retail, and dining purchases and donations."
Bryant Park in New York, New York
Manhattan's Bryant Park, home to one of the city's ice skating rinks and the former site of New York Fashion Week, is surprisingly not under the jurisdiction of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Though the park is still technically owned by the city, it is currently operated by the Bryant Park Corporation, a not-for-profit management company established in 1980 by Daniel A. Biederman and Andrew Heiskell and backed by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
The Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge in Chicago, Illinois
Though the Chicago Skyway Toll Bridge—a 7.8-mile-long toll road located on the South Side of the city—was built by the government in 1958, they're no longer tasked with its maintenance.
In January 2005, Chicago ceded its responsibilities to Skyway Concession Company, LLC under a 99-year operating lease, making the Skyway the first-ever privately operated toll road in the country. Then, in 2016, the Windy City gave up its authority over the toll road entirely, selling the stretch of road to three Canadian pension funds.
Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, China
Appropriately enough, the Oriental Pearl Tower, a popular tourist destination in Shanghai, is owned and managed by a multi-channel company called Oriental Pearl Co., Ltd. Inside the tower, visitors can explore everything from revolving restaurants and shopping areas to hotel spaces and observation platforms.
Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand
More commonly referred to as the White Temple, Wat Rong Khun is a Buddhist temple and art exhibit located in Northern Thailand. Chalermchai Kositpipat, the same man who built the temple and opened its doors to the public in 1997, still owns and operates the building to this day.
The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California
When it comes to sports, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has seen it all. In both 1932 and 1984, it hosted the Summer Olympics; from 1946 to 1979, it was home to the Los Angeles Rams; in 1959, it hosted part of the World Series; it's the home stadium for the University of Southern California Trojans; and it was the venue for both Super Bowl I and Super Bowl VII.
The state-run California Science Center, where the Coliseum is located, owns the stadium and its surrounding land. But in 2013 it negotiated with USC to give the college control of the space for the next century. As part of the agreement, the university has agreed to spend up to $100 million on improvements and renovations to the iconic sports venue.
Post Office Square in Boston, Massachusetts
In June of 1983, 19 private firms got together and decided that they wanted to start a new company in order to build a public park where Boston's Post Office Square parking garage stood. This new company's name? Friends of Post Office Square, Inc.
In 1987, the companies—now as a single entity—were able to purchase the rights to the Post Office Square garage land from the City of Boston, and in June of 1992, the new green space was opened to the public. Today, the park runs thanks to a symbiotic public/private partnership, and you'll find the space under its new name: Norman B. Leventhal Park.
Zuccotti Park in New York, New York
Located in Lower Manhattan, Zuccotti Park is a small slice of green space surrounded by skyscrapers and urban residences. (You might recognize this space as the sight of the Occupy Wall Street protests from 2011.) Unlike some of the bigger parks in New York City, Zuccotti is both owned and operated by Brookfield Properties, a real estate company with investments in everything from commercial buildings to residential housing.
London Eye in London, England
Unlike Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, the London Eye isn't one of the British city's publicly owned landmarks. It was actually British Airways that largely funded construction of the Ferris wheel. They co-owned the property with The Tussauds Group and Marks Barfield, the lead architects on the project, until 2005. Today, the giant wheel is owned and operated by Merlin Entertainments Group, Ltd. And if and when you do visit London, be careful interacting with the locals because Most Americans Don't Recognize When British People Are Insulting Them.
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