central park

CP001-10.jpg (55009 bytes) CP002-11.jpg (55828 bytes) CP004-10.jpg (54745 bytes) Boathouse Wide Angle
001-Friedsam Memorial Carousel 002-The Dairy 003-The Arsenal 004-Tavern- on-the-Green 005-Loeb Boathouse and lake
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006-Swedish Cottage 007-Harlem Meer Boathouse 008-Belvedere Castle 009 Ladies Pavilion 010 Playmates Arch
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011 Dalehead Arch 012 Pine Bank Bridge 013 Gapstow Bridge 014 Bow Bridge 015 Balcony Bridge
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016 90th Street Rustic Stone Arch 017 Reservoir Bridge West 86th St 018 Reservoir Bridge East 85th Street 019 Reservoir Bridge West 94th Street (the “Gothic” Bridge) 020 Maine Monument
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021 Columbus Circle Fountain 022 Literary Walk 023 The Grand Army Plaza 024 Richard Morris Hunt Memorial 025 107th Infantry Memorial
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027 Blockhouse No.1 028-Some other arches... Christo's Gates


"The first point to be kept in mind then is the preservation and maintenance as exactly as is possible of the natural scenery; the restriction, that is to say, within the narrowest limits consistent with the necessary accommodation of visitors, of all artificial constructions and the prevention of all constructions markedly inharmonious with the scenery or which would unnecessarily obscure, distort or detract from the dignity of the scenery."

-- Frederick Law Olmsted

In 1857, the City owned about 770 acres between Fifth and Eighth avenues, from 59th to 106th Street (within the next five years to be extended to 110th Street), sparsely settled by squatters, and supporting such unsavory enterprises as slaughterhouses and associated glue works. The City employed some 500 laborers under the direction of the Chief Engineer, Egbert L. Viele, and a rather nebulous plan was being followed in the attempt to convert a dismal and barren region with outcroppings of jagged rocks into a verdant retreat. This situation looked rather hopeless when Frederick Law Olmsted, who bad been a successful scientific farmer, a topographical engineer, and had an inherent interest in landscaping, applied for the position of Superintendent. After some vicissitudes he was given the assignment, mostly because the name of Washington Irving (an invited consultant to the Board of Commissioners of Central Park) appeared among his papers. Olmsted's duties were to act as executive officer for the Engineer with respect to the laborers, and to have charge of the police force in the park. Obviously his powers respecting the design were limited.
First study of design for the Central Park. Woodcut, after Olmsted and Vaux's Greensward plan, 1858. (Description of a Plan for the Improvement of the Central Park, New York, 1868)

Early in 1858 the Board of Commissioners launched a competition for an articulated plan for improving Central Park, offering premiums of $2,000, $1,000, $750 and $500 for the first four prizes. Calvert Vaux, a British architect, who had come to the United States in 1850 to work with Downing, proposed to Olmsted that they collaborate on a design. Olmsted at first refused on the basis that it would be showing insubordination to his superior, but when he learned that Viele did not care, he accepted. Their entry, entered anonymously under the name Greensward, was the last of 34 designs to reach the judges. It was awarded first place on 28 April 1858. During the following month Olmsted was given the title Architect-in-Chief of Central Park, and Vaux was appointed Consulting Architect.

Panorama of Central Park. Lithograph by John Bachmann, 1868. (Museum of the City of New York)

The precinct was rectangular, measuring 1/2 mile east to west and about 2 1/2 miles north to south. In the exact middle was a rectangular reservoir about a third of the width of the park and extending on a latitude with 79th to 86th Street. Directly above it was a much larger irregular new reservoir, that spanned four-fifths the breadth of the park, leaving only narrow passages to either side. Provision had to be made for commercial traffic crosswise through the tract, which problem was solved by the introduction of four transverse roads, that were sunken, and the drives above furnished with overpasses thickly planted to conceal the lower roadways. The northernmost transverse road skirted the upper tip of the new reservoir. The second ran between the new and old, and the third crossed immediately to the south. The largest uninterrupted section of the park interlay the third and fourth transverse roads, roughly between 65th and 79th streets. Just east of an imaginary center line here and running obliquely was a formal promenade called the Mall. Its northern extremity was the Plaza, where monumental stairs descended to the Terrace featuring the Bethesda Fountain. Central Lake and the hilly Ramble were beyond. The Mall was oriented toward Vista Rock, the focal point of the park and on which stood a wooden lookout, replaced in 1869 by the small stone Romanesque-manner castle called the Belvedere. The open field west of the Mall was originally called the Parade Ground, and by the late 1860's had become known as the Green. Containing about 15 acres, this was the largest meadow in Central Park until the old reservoir was emptied in 1929 and made into the Great Lawn in 1935. The Mineral Spring Pavilion, near Eighth Avenue and 70th Street, and the hexagonal Music Stand, on the Mall near the Plaza, had cusped arches supported on slender colonnettes, and flaring, complex roofs, reminiscent of Saracenic architecture. Below the fourth transverse road were the Play Ground to the west and the Pond in the southeast corner. Facing the Pond, and accessible to the south transverse road for supplies, stood the Dairy, a stone and wooden gothic chalet designed by Vaux. Its porch was hit by a truck and subsequently removed about 1950. A preexisting building, still intact, is the Arsenal, at Fifth Avenue and 64th Street, erected in 1847, converted into the Museum of Natural History about 1870, and remodeled for Department of Parks offices in 1923. The main entrance to Central Park is at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, originally planned with a small plaza. The other three corners were indented by circles in the 1860's. The various parts of the layout were woven together by freeflowing drives and bridle paths, meandering walks shaded by clumps of trees, providing scale in opposition to the open grasslands beyond, and leading to picturesque wooded promontories, such as the Ramble. The creation of a landscape garden in the middle of the nineteenth century is related to the taste for landscape paintings of the same period, exemplified in the work of the Hudson River School of artists, composed of such men as Thomas Doughty, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, George Inness, Frederick E. Church, and the Hart brothers, James M. and William. Olmsted's park meadows are equivalents to canvases by Inness, and his rambles to those of Durand.


See also the section on Prospect Park

Central Park turns 150 

By Jerry Shriver, USA TODAY 

NEW YORK — Long before this metropolis became famous for skyscrapers and neurotic citizens, civic leaders declared the need for an accessible pastoral refuge — a "central park" — where the wealthy could promenade in carriages, urchins could breathe clean air and the masses could just relax under the elms. 

That was in 1853. Eventually, when all of the political wrangling, land grabbing, swamp dredging, bench building, tree planting and grass seeding was done, the result was 843-acre Central Park, the nation's first designed urban park. It celebrates its 150th birthday this year. 

At a news conference April 29, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and possibly first lady Laura Bush are scheduled to announce a seven-month slate of special events to be highlighted by a birthday party July 19, a film fest and several concerts (details at Bloomberg has called the celebrations "a tribute for the ages." 

"We're going to have something for everyone to do, and we anticipate lots of New Yorkers will celebrate the park that means so much to them," says Regina Peruggi, president of the Central Park Conservancy. 

Park experts from around the world also will join in. They're coming for a conference in June that will explore how the private, non-profit Conservancy has teamed with the city to run and finance the park and implement $300 million in improvements since 1980. 

That partnership is widely credited with rescuing the park from its crime-ridden days of the mid-1900s and turning it into a showcase that is visited by 25 million people a year. 

"We concentrate on the fact that this is a very fragile place, and unless it's kept up, it could easily deteriorate to where it was," Peruggi says. 

Today the masses are lured by the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Tavern on the Green, the country's top-grossing restaurant; an outdoor theater offering Shakespearean plays; a zoo; band shells blasting world-music beats; and dozens of memorials honoring personalities as diverse as John Lennon and Beethoven and a sled dog named Balto. 

But they also still come to promenade, breathe deeply and soak up the enduring landscape of lakes, meadows and forests laid out by architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in their 1857 "Greensward Plan." 

And to fall in love. 

Says Michael Patrick King, executive producer of HBO's Sex and the City, which has filmed several memorable scenes at the park: "Central Park is a soft, natural oasis in the center of this concrete and steel city. It represents the romantic heart that still beats inside our big-city girls." 

By the numbers: 

Annual visitors: 25 million. 
Total acres: 843, including 136 acres of woodlands, 150 acres of water and 250 acres of lawns. 
Perimeter: 6 miles. 
Miles of trails: 58 miles of pedestrian paths, 4.5 miles of bridle trails, 6.5 miles of Park Drive. 
Benches: 6,000, which would stretch for 7 miles laid end-to-end. 
Cost of "adopting" a bench: $7,500 to $25,000. 
Cost of "adopting" a tree: $1,000 to $100,000. 
Original construction cost: About $14 million from 1858-73 ($200 million in today's dollars). 
Restrooms: 17. 
Hot dog/ice cream vendors: About 50. 
Horse-drawn carriages: About 70 in the city, most in Central Park. 
Playgrounds: 21. 
Endowment of the Central Park Conservancy: $72 million. 
Feeding times for penguins at the zoo: 10:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. 


New York Times 
May 15, 2003 
Birth of Central Park Holds Parallels With Ground Zero 

What vast Manhattan architectural and public works project, the likes of which New York City had never seen before, was begun in a time of economic crisis and changed the city forever? 

Hint: Stakeholders ranging from real-estate moguls to state and city politicians exerted intense pressure. Republicans stepped in to bigfoot the process. Initial, ho-hum plans were rejected. In the hard-fought design competition that followed, a showdown led to the choice of the Republicans' favorite. The winning and losing designs were placed on display for all to see. Immediately, then, the winning design was altered by powerful competing interests. 

Another hint: Think way before ground zero. 

The project was Central Park, and there are many eerie parallels between that effort and the rebuilding of Lower Manhattan. "The creation of Central Park, one of the greatest works of art in America, is an epic story," said Morrison H. Heckscher, Lawrence A. Fleischman chairman of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "And the dynamic hasn't changed all that much through the centuries." 

Today the museum is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the park it has inhabited since 1880 with the opening of "Central Park: A Sesquicentennial Celebration." The exhibition, curated by Mr. Heckscher, traces the design and building of the first great public park in America. The show features the original presentation plans and drawings by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, who won an 1858 design contest that was curiously echoed in the ground zero competition decided last February. 

On July 21, 1853, the State Legislature designated as "a public place" the lands that were to become Central Park, accomplishing the unheard-of removal of 17,000 potential building sites from the real-estate market. 

"It's appropriate to celebrate the year of the Legislature's decision rather than, say, the design competition in 1858," said Sara Cedar Miller, the historian and photographer for the Central Park Conservancy, which helped to organize the Met exhibition. "The vision to take so much land for a city park was unprecedented in the history of this country." 

The show's 60 original maps, drawings, watercolors, lithographs, engravings, paintings and photographs include rare stereograph views of the park from the museum's collections as well as those of the New York City Municipal Archives, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and the New-York Historical Society. 

In the exhibit, the genesis of Central Park can be seen in an 8-foot-by-2.5-foot original engraving on heavy paper — decorated with a blue and green wash — of the famous April 1811 commissioners' plan that established the grid pattern for Manhattan. It delineated 12 north-south avenues, 155 east-west streets and a planned public park called the Parade, a 229-acre tract between 23rd Streets and 34th Streets. 

As demonstrated by the subsequent 1836 Colton Map (a rare section of an early engraver's test print is on view in the show), the Parade succumbed to real-estate speculation before it could be built. The ensuing clamor for a large public park ended in the election of Mayor Ambrose C. Kingsland, who in 1851 proposed the creation of just such an amenity. 

"The rich wanted New York to be a major metropolis, and a park was de rigueur, as in Paris and London," said Ms. Miller, author of "Central Park, an American Masterpiece" (Harry N. Abrams, 2003, $45). "And visionaries saw the park as an outdoor classroom in urban reform. They thought immigrants would witness the fine clothes and the carriages and would want to work hard to be part of the American dream." 

In addition, as at ground zero, Mr. Heckscher said, "there certainly was pressure to make a decision on the use of the land." 

The city's parks at the time were largely decorous and enclosed, often privately maintained, like Gramercy Park. And although City Hall Park was open to the public, those hungry for nature had to cross the Hudson or head to the dead at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. 

The State Legislature finally stepped in to check the corruption of Tammany Hall, Ms. Miller said, and it voted to create a park from 59th to 106th Streets, later expanded to 110th Street in 1863. Many of the great 19th-century public parks of England and France had once been royal hunting grounds given over to the people, "which makes the vote of the Legislature to create a park even more unique," Ms. Miller said. 

The Central Park tract was swampy, scrubby, rocky and not easily farmed. Another of the treasures on view is the original 1855 drainage plan of Egbert Ludovicus Viele, who was hired in 1854 to be the park's chief engineer. He had come up with a design that, though lackluster, was at first accepted by park commissioners in 1856. That workmanlike plan — also presented in the exhibition — so appalled Vaux that he politicked to throw the choice open to a competition. 

Vaux had been a partner of Andrew Jackson Downing, the nation's foremost landscape gardener, and he entered the competition with Viele's gifted park construction superintendent, Olmsted. After toiling at his day job in the park, Olmsted would travel to the town house of Vaux, helping to design the park during the winter of 1857-58. Their hand-drawn original 11-foot-long-by-3-foot-wide presentation drawing is one of the stars of the exhibition. 

Also part of the exhibition are eight of the original 11 presentation boards created by Olmsted and Vaux to hawk their plan. The boards feature black-and-white "before" pictures of the existing parkland, taken by the studio of the photographer Matthew Brady (some possibly by Brady himself), as well as oil renderings of the park that would be, some by Vaux. Alone among all the entries, the Olmsted and Vaux plan (they called it Greensward) called for submerged road cuts, isolating the park from crosstown traffic. 

The park, Mr. Heckscher said, "was to be a place for passive entertainment, and for the appreciation of nature — a public living room for people of all classes, who were supposed to be on their best behavior." 

In all, there were 33 competing design proposals, compared with seven in the final round at ground zero. In the end, the park battle narrowed down to two plans, as in the recent drawdown between Daniel Libeskind and Rafael Viñoly. 

The exhibition presents two new discoveries: the runner-up design in the competition by Samuel J. Gustin, as well as an exuberant original ink-and-watercolor entry by John Rink. They have not been on public display since the competition, and both were discovered by Ms. Miller. 

Though the Gustin plan was originally the betting favorite (not unlike the Viñoly plan after a key planning committee supported it at the 11th hour in the February ground-zero smackdown with Mr. Libeskind), the Republican-backed Greensward plan was victorious. The final 1858 commissioners' tally presaged the vote in 2003, when Republican Gov. George E. Pataki threw his weight behind the Libeskind design. 

Shortly after it was accepted, the Greensward plan was modified to accommodate wealthy New Yorkers' demand for carriage drives and riding trails, adding to the pedestrian paths originally envisioned. An attempt to shrink the size of the park was beaten back by Mayor Fernando Wood, "which was the best thing — and possibly the only good thing — he ever did," Ms. Miller said, noting that Wood was an otherwise undistinguished politician. In the end, admirers of Central Park inspired the movement for state and national parks. And, even then, imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. "Every city in the country," Ms. Miller said, "wanted its own Central Park." 


Central Park's Golden Age 

If a well-tended park can bring to mind the gaudy spring of Shakespeare's sonnet, Central Park summons an epic of Homeric proportions. Taken all at once, it is grand, sweeping, nearly overwhelming. Fortunately, it is also digestible in small, delicious bites. 

The park's 150th birthday is this year. It has taken that long to make the park what it is today: a safe retreat where one's only worry is that there's a more beautiful spot elsewhere that one may be missing. On one recent morning at the north end of the park, a black-crowned Night-Heron sat regally on a branch in the Harlem Meer, waiting to pluck lunch from the fish-filled waters. Farther south, a waterfall glistened along a wall of jagged black rock and puddled into the Pond, another serene pool with coves and aquatic grasses, where a resident duck waddled ashore to fetch one of her brood, briefly forcing passers-through to make way for the duckling. In the Ramble and the North Woods, paths slice through thickets of trees and shrubs with a density approaching a subtropical forest's. Ferns sway on hilly terrain. 

The 843 acres that make up the nation's best-known municipal park showcase nature at its finest. But except for the naturally formed rock and some of the creatures that inhabit or pass through the park, from 200 species of birds to all kinds of dogs and people, the settings are made or enhanced by man. Away from the obviously manicured greenery of the Great Lawn (created from a drained reservoir in the 1930's), the Sheep Meadow and the elm-lined Mall and Literary Walk, there are places shaped by stealthy engineering. The park's ponds and lakes are carved out by design, the fish they hold selected like tenants in an exclusive co-op. A heron's perch will remain picture-perfect, because it has been anchored at just the right spot. Trees, plants and flowers, seemingly wild, are placed and tended with care. Hidden garden hoses create a waterfall. This is art, the realization of Hudson Valley paintings and imagined Edens. Taken together with its structures and monuments, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Bethesda Terrace, Central Park is an ingenious effort to soothe and inspire 25 million visitors every year. 

Park officials date its beginning from July 21, 1853, when state legislators voted to create a public space out of a rocky and swampy plot of land on the edges of 19th-century New York City. Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted provided the blueprint several years later. Their grand vision went beyond the European model, and not only in landscaping. They foresaw that the rich and working classes alike could find solace within its boundaries. 

Over the years, the park came to symbolize the ills of the larger city, hitting bottom in the mid-1970's, when it became a repository for graffiti and garbage, thugs and drugs, its gardens and playgrounds in ruins. Resurrection came with the establishment of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980, which did something the city alone could not. The conservancy marshaled the resources of the park's neighbors, raising and spending $300 million to recreate and maintain the park as a model of public-private partnership. 

The anniversary will be marked on July 19 with fireworks and concerts. But the real celebrating will be done by the city's lucky residents, as it is every day, on skates and bikes, in sneakers and strollers, or arm-in-arm, soaking up the joys of one of the greatest parks in the world. 



Central Park: Grand experiment, urban respite 

NEW YORK (AP) --Step off Fifth Avenue into Central Park and the temperature can drop five degrees on a steamy summer day. Eyes accustomed to grimy shades of city gray suddenly flood with every tint of green. Breathe deeply: A heady combination of lilac and magnolia overwhelms. 

It's a place to scale rocks, to jog, to swim, to fly a kite, to simply read a book. Life in New York would be "impossible" without the park, declares Sarah Elliott, an avid bird watcher who takes visitors through the Ramble, a 38-acre shaded woodland of secluded glades, ragged outcroppings, cascades and a cave. 

"There are so many things people worry about in this city," she says. "To step into the park is a reprieve. You become part of Mother Nature's plan." 

Many visitors -- including native New Yorkers -- don't realize its scope: 58 miles of pedestrian paths and 150 acres of water. The varied topography includes a few fiercely protected American elms; Harlem Hill, a steep challenge tackled by thousands of bicyclists and runners each year; craggy boulders worthy of any nature-starved rock climber; and natural springs evoking the Catskills and Adirondacks. 

There are small glades, quiet coves and a bridle trail around the reservoir; hidden inlets and rustic rowboat landings along the undulating shoreline of the 21-acre, butterfly-shaped lake at Bethesda Terrace. Flat, wide-open stretches of lawn dwarf those of almost any college campus. 

People even fish on the Harlem Meer. 

Yet, for all of its lush 843 acres, Central Park is a manmade oasis. The vision of designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, it was born 150 years ago when the New York State Legislature set aside land for the nation's first major public park. 

Birthday celebrations 
This year, theater, music, dance and sports mark a year of birthday celebrations. Two museum exhibits commemorate its sesquicentennial. The original plans and drawings of the "Greensward Plan" submitted by Olmsted and Vaux are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Central Park in Blue," at the Museum of the City of New York, highlights newly discovered blueprints by landscape architect Augustus Hepp. A new book, "Central Park, an American Masterpiece," details the park's extraordinary history. 

There is much to celebrate. Central Park is almost restored to its original splendor and drawing 25 million people annually, a leap from the days when a fiscal crisis rendered it little more than an ugly wild patch on the urban landscape. 

The story began between 1853 and 1856, when city commissioners paid more than $5 million for a rectangle of undeveloped land running from 59th Street to 106th Street between Fifth and Eighth avenues. In 1858, Olmsted and Vaux won a competition to design the space. 

Ten million cartloads of soil were brought in to fill a landscape consisting mostly of swamps and 450-million-year-old bedrock that was moved or blasted with gunpowder. An underground drainage system was installed to create ponds and lakes. 

"They look like they're natural, but they're run by the city water system," says Sara Cedar Miller, the Central Park historian and photographer of "Central Park, an American Masterpiece." 

"The landscape was redesigned and reconfigured to look natural, but it's anything but natural," she says, calling it all a "marriage of aesthetics and engineering." 

Egalitarian vision 
That natural look came at great cost -- 16 years of labor and $14 million for land and construction. (By comparison, the United States purchased Alaska for $9 million a few years later.) 

And there was a human cost, too. Although Manhattan was largely undeveloped above 38th Street, more than 1,600 people were displaced to make way. Most were poor shanty dwellers but New York City's first significant community of property-owning black Americans, called Seneca Village, also was uprooted. The Croton Reservoir now floods that territory. 

A Catholic school and convent were forced to relocate, too, becoming a residence for Olmsted and Vaux during the park's development. Two bone-boiling factories were closed, one on a site where the world-famous Tavern on the Green restaurant now serves a Dijon mustard, herb-crusted lamb for $36. 

But if the poor were displaced to make way for Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux had an egalitarian vision -- a park entirely for public use, for both rich and poor. 

"It was the greatest social democratic experiment of the 19th century, and every city in the nation wanted a public park like Central Park," Cedar Miller says. Cities such as Albany and Buffalo in New York state, Louisville, Kentucky, Montreal, Canada, Boston, Massachusetts, and San Francisco, California, all asked Olmsted and Vaux to design parks. 

At the time, the need to escape the ills of urban life were great. New York City was a place "with horse manure covering everything, pollution worse than anything we have today ... the poor houses, the bad ventilation. Infant mortality was at its peak. So people came to the park because many of them were living in unhealthy conditions," Cedar Mills says. 

Olmsted and Vaux believed "that nature brought everyone together," and that a public park "would soothe tensions," Cedar Mills adds. 

Soothing oasis 
The park still serves that purpose. 

"It's our oasis from all this," says Bobbe Schwartz, gesturing toward the skyscrapers beyond the park walls as she walks her King Charles spaniel along a winding path near "Maine Memorial," a grand monument commemorating the sinking of the USS Maine during the Spanish-American War. "It's such a genteel place." 

It hasn't always been. During the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s, the trees and gardens were untended, statues defaced, benches broken, bridges and other structures covered in graffiti. Most of the meadows and lawns turned to dust. 

The park's reputation also has been marred by high-profile crimes, most notably the 1989 "wilding" attacks by gangs of youths against park-goers. A female investment banker was beaten and raped in the infamous "Central Park jogger" case that year. 

"It was meant to be an oasis, a place to get away from it all, from the horrors of the city," says Cedar Mills. "And so whenever something bad happens there, people jump on it." 

But today, under the stewardship of a private-public partnership formed 23 years ago, the park has the lowest crime rate of any precinct in the city. That partnership, the Central Park Conservancy, reinvigorated things and now offers an example to cities nationwide seeking to provide and maintain a natural respite amid urban bustle. The conservancy launched a massive restoration with $300 million in private and public donations to repair damage and neglect. 

The conservancy restored the park's 55-acre Great Lawn "from a total dust ball to the beautiful lawn that you see today," says Regina Peruggi, the current president. By day, thousands use it as a ball field. During summer evenings, some 60,000 people crowd onto blankets and squish next to picnic baskets listening to the Metropolitan Opera or New York Philharmonic. Diana Ross, Elton John and Simon and Garfunkel also have entertained there. 

Along with upgrades to playgrounds, fountains and statues, the conservancy dredged the Harlem Meer, an 11-acre lake in the northernmost part of the park. Now, its banks are draped with healthy willow boughs, the shores traced with wide paved paths that are clean and smooth enough for inline skating. 

Peruggi says about $50 million of capital work still needs to be done. Major projects include the Bethesda Terrace lake, which will be dredged and its shoreline newly planted, and the 20-acre East Meadow on the northern end of the park, which will be restored from a dirt ball to a rolling meadow. 

A model park 
Other cities are again looking to Central Park, this time as a model to restore their parks. 

Despite the unfinished work, the park is in a celebratory mood and ready for the millions of visitors to discover its secrets and wildlife: coyotes and a 2-foot caiman (a South American creature that resembles a crocodile) have been spotted, not to mention the pesky and ubiquitous Norway rat, raccoons and 215 species of birds. 

"These birds come in, and they're looking down and see a sea of cement and then, suddenly, there's this great green rectangle, so they drop in," says Elliott, the park bird watcher who writes and illustrates a bimonthly newsletter. "They need water, food and rest, and they can get it all there." 

Species rare to the area include the peregrine falcon, the orchard oriole and the warbler. Common loons and red-throated loons love the Central Park Reservoir, where they have 106 acres "to run like mad in order to get aloft," she says. 

This summer they will be surrounded by the park's 150th celebration -- classical theater, music and dance performances under the sky -- and a big, all-day birthday bash July 19 featuring a bike race, archery championships and Andrea Bocelli in concert on the Great Lawn. 

Cedar Miller calls Central Park "a work of art." 

"It's an American icon, as great as the Statue of Liberty," she says.


Text from 

Hernshead is a miniature woodland landscape overlooking the Lake. The name "Hernshead" was derived from the shape of the prominent bedrock outcrop that punctuates the end of this small peninsula. To Olmsted and Vaux, its shape resembled the head of a heron ("hern" in its British translation). Olmsted lavished horticultural attention on this site, first with a grove of London plane trees and then with a variety of herbaceous plants and shrubs. Spring is Hernshead's season with blooming azaleas, Virginia bluebells, Dutchman's breeches, and daffodils. Violets add diminutive dots of color amid the unfurling fern fronds. Most striking of all, in late June, is the copse of flowering white mountain laurel – a rare sight in Central Park. 

A narrow pathway through the woods ends at a filigreed cast iron structure called "The Ladies Pavilion." Located earlier at Columbus Circle on the site of the Maine Monument to serve as a bus shelter, it was moved to Hernshead sometime after 1912. Like many of the Victorian vintage structures in the Park, it has elaborate ornamental detailing requiring consistent maintenance; the good news is that restoration is in the works with plans for ongoing care. The Ladies Pavilion provides a "time past" setting for admiring the vista of the Lake. 


Text from 

Visitors will feel they have been transported to the Adirondacks, but they have simply come to a piece of man-made scenery where Nature rules. Under the forest canopy of the Ravine, the City's skyline is nowhere to be seen and the continual din of traffic recedes against the rushing sound of a hidden waterfall and the chatter of birds. 

The Ravine, the only stream valley in the Park, is part of the 90-acre woodland in the Upper Park called the North Woods. It is bounded to the north and south by two rustic arches – Huddlestone and Glen Span. The Loch, a stream that flows beside the pathway under both bridges, is dammed at several places to create the cascades you hear as you stroll through the Ravine. 

Stop for a moment to study Huddlestone Arch. This picturesque piece of architecture was built without the help of mortar or metal supports. Constructed of immense boulders weighing from 1 to 20 tons found near the site, it looks as though a natural cataclysm happened to deposit them in this form. One boulder, a 20-ton behemoth, was moved a short distance to form part of the base. How did they do it? The Park's Annual Report from 1858 tells us that Olmsted was authorized to employ house movers to move "rocks" whenever he thought it was advisable. 

The northwest slope of the Ravine is a true deciduous forest of oak, hickory, maple, and ash. The forest floor is covered with leaf litter, deadwood, and herbaceous plants, such as white wood aster, Allegheny spurge, and woodland goldenrod. From the trail, visitors have a bird's-eye view of the central part of the Loch. Designed by Olmsted and Vaux as a long narrow lake (Loch is the Scottish word for lake) it has over the past century reverted to its pre-Park form as a stream. The thickets growing on the islands of accumulated silt attract a wide variety of birds, including the rarely seen glossy ibis. 

Another birding locale is the tall grass and wildflower meadow on the Ravine's southeastern slope. The meadow is at its most glorious in the late summer and fall. Cone flower, cup plant, and bee balm mixed in with a variety of goldenrods, asters, and native grasses set the hillside ablaze with color. 


June 29, 2003 

Reservoir's Sunken Fountain Is Rising From the Deep 


The Central Park reservoir of has rarely been accused of flashiness. Most days, the 106-acre body of water is glassy calm or quietly rippled. Do not be deceived, though. Hidden beneath the reservoir's surface is a 35-foot-tall wooden platform built in 1917 that looks like an oil derrick and supports a nearly forgotten fountain. 

Early this month, the city decided to resurrect the fountain as part of its celebration of the park's 150th anniversary on July 19. The fountain is actually a row of five nozzles that, once renovated, will spray up to 60 feet in the air. The spray will probably be illuminated at night by red, white and blue lights. 

"Fountains are a great way to enliven a spot, and this one will certainly surprise New Yorkers who think they know the reservoir well," said Chris Ward, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the city's water supply. 

The fountain first spouted on Oct. 12, 1917, during dedication ceremonies for the city's First Water Tunnel, which helped supply New Yorkers with fresh water from upstate. But the city soon turned it off because strong winds blew water from the plume onto too many well-dressed walkers along the reservoir's southern edge. 

The fountain sat unused for almost 80 years, until the city began making plans in 1998 to celebrate construction of the Third Water Tunnel, which passes beneath the park. City planners discovered old photographs of the fountain and hired divers to investigate. Sure enough, the fountain nozzles were rusty, but the original platform was still in place. The city spent about $50,000 to renovate it. 

Problem was, a drought began in the city that year. Only months after coming back, the fountain was shut off. 

The city's reservoirs are brimming, so chances are good that the fountain will last at least until winter, when all city fountains are usually turned off. And the park reservoir, now named for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, has plenty of water to supply the fountain because it no longer feeds into the city's water system, he said. About $5,000 will be spent this time to ready it by July 19, including temporarily lowering the water level for maintainance. 

But, common sentiment aside, not everyone loves a fountain. Joan Schumacher, an Upper East Sider who likes to run around the reservoir, said the fountain's spray might mar the reflections of nearby apartment towers. 

"I like the natural, mirror quality of the reservoir right now," she said, "and I don't think it's worth it to keep a fountain in the middle. Maybe other people thought so, too, and that's why we really buried it in the first place." 

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company


On the subject of the Reservoir, if you hate that view-busting chain link fence, good news. From a sign posted by the CP Conservancy: 

...But the panorama has been obscured ever since the low ornamental fence was replaced with a high chain link version 
in 1926. 

A $2 million project is now underway to restore the historic fence. Made of steel with cast iron ornamentation, it will closely resemble the original fence that surrounded the 1.58 mile perimeter of the Reservoir. The restored fence will be four feet-8 inches above the running track - which exceeds city and state safety requirements. Magnificent views of the Park and surrounding skyline will be much enhanced. 

Runners and walkers will be directed to the adjacent bridle path while sections of the running track are temporarily closed for construction. 

Estimated completion of construction is fall 2003.


July 19, 2003 

Fountain Revived for Central Park's 150th 


It was a rare sight: plumes of water shooting 60 feet into the air yesterday from a fountain in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Though the submerged fountain was built in 1917, this was only the third time it had been turned on. 

But the joggers and power walkers who circled the reservoir in Central Park yesterday seemed unimpressed by the spray. Maybe the rubber tubing that buoyed the pipes put them off, but many said it lacked the grandeur of the Bethesda Fountain, 10 blocks to the south. 

Not to worry. Turning on the reservoir fountain around 6:15 a.m. yesterday was only a starting pistol of sorts for the daylong party today to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Central Park. A century and a half ago this Monday, New York State claimed the land that was to become Central Park. 

So today the park will brim with concentrating croquet players, instrument-playing police officers and loping mimes. And the reservoir fountain will still be gushing. 

"It wasn't long ago that Central Park was an embarrassment, a national symbol of municipal failure," said Adrian Benepe, the city parks commissioner, referring to the years the park was neglected. "The odds were so stacked against it. Things were so bad. Now, it's a national symbol of municipal success." 

But back to that fountain. 

"It's a fairly average fountain," said Chevaun Stapleton, 20, of Sydney, Australia, as she strolled through the park with her brother and sister. They concurred. 

"It's just water spitting up in the air," said the sister, Therese, 18. "I guess it adds something, but . . ." 

"Not really," said brother Nick, 16. 

Built to commemorate the Central Park reservoir, the fountain has had a tenuous life. It was shut down the year it was built after New Yorkers complained about being hit by the spray. Then after it was reactivated in 1998, the city again shut it off to conserve water during the parched years afterward. 

Despite a rainy June, the fountain is operating only for the park's 150th anniversary. The spray will stop in another couple of months, said Christopher O. Ward, the city's commissioner of environmental protection. 

A host of other activities and events will also fill the park today. 

The athletic can learn lawn bowling and croquet at the Sheep Meadow or can join the New York Road Runners for a four-mile run/walk. 

The Urban Park Rangers will give a historical tour, and a mock Revolutionary War encampment will be set up at the Great Hill. 

And for the wistful, mimes, jugglers and magicians will circulate through the park. 

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company