Opened in 1900 on Houston and Pitt Streets, Hamilton Fish Park was one of the city’s first playgrounds.
Created after the 1887 passing of the Small Parks Act, it provided a gymnasium, outdoor play area, and later two pools for neighborhood kids living in tight quarters and no place to run and play.
Parks officials could have hammered together a functional yet unsightly gymnasium.
But with the idea in mind that public architecture should be inspiring, the city had Carrere and Hastings—the heralded firm behind Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, the Frick Mansion, and the Public Library on 42nd Street—to design a gymnasium building that would also serve as an entrance to the park.
Carrere and Hastings used the Petit Palais in Paris as their inspiration. It’s not quite an exact replica of the circa-1900 gallery on the Champs-Elysees built for the Universal Exposition that year.
But you can see the similarities and appreciate Carrere and Hastings’ attempt to bring something lovely to what was then an overcrowded, terribly poor neighborhood.
It’s not the first time New York architects were inspired by Europe; the Bronx’s main thoroughfare pays homage to the Champs-Elysees, while Jefferson Market courthouse takes a Bavarian castle as its inspiration.