Posts Tagged ‘Central Park history’

Thankfully, these were not built in Central Park

April 12, 2013

New York City has a long history of grand, ambitious plans that never make it past the idea stage.

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A few examples? Moving sidewalks in Mahattan, a subway tunnel to Staten Island, a bridge spanning 125th Street to New Jersey, and 100-story housing projects in Harlem.

But some of the wackier or just-plain-wrong proposals were focused on Central Park. And that’s just in the park’s first half-century of existence.

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“If the various persons who have sought to invade Central Park in the last 60 years, for projects in themselves often worthy, oftener grotesque, and frequently purely commercial, had had their way, there would now be nothing left of the park except a few walks and drives, and a lake on which steamboats and full-rigged ships would be plying,” states an amusing New York Times article from 1918 (headline above).

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Among the ideas, according to the article: a theater seating 100,000, a sports stadium, a burial ground for the city’s “distinguished dead,” Grant’s Tomb, the paving of the lower end of the park, free swimming baths, and a speedway that would encircle the entire park.

More outlandish: straightening the circular paths throughout the park so they made the park into a “checkerboard,” a “street railway” running through the park, and cutting up the park and turning it into building lots!

[Vintage postcards: NYPL Digital Gallery]

A whimsical Victorian fountain in Central Park

August 20, 2012

Bethesda Fountain is the one tourists flock to. But just to the west is an ornate beauty dating to 1860, made with frosted glass bowl lamps, gilded black goblets, Minton tiles and topped by a golden spire.

This is Cherry Hill Fountain, in a part of the park overlooking the Lake and near the Ramble ringed by cherry trees.

It’s delicate and pretty, but it also served a purpose, providing “people on horseback or in carriages a place to rest, admire the view of the Lake, and water their animals” in the trough at the base.

Used as a parking lot for many years, it was finally restored in the 1990s. Once again, its gentle waters flow through eight ornate flowers.

It’s one of those hiding-in-plain-sight gems that most people walk right by on their way to some other park attraction.

Horses are no longer allowed to drink from it (as they do in this 1870s photo), but it’s still a lovely scenic spot.

[Photo at left: Central Park Conservatory]

The Central Park Reservoir’s suicide fence

August 16, 2011

The Central Park Reservoir (renamed for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in 1994) has always inspired New Yorkers—who gaze at it, jog around it, and got their water from it between 1862 to 1993, when it was deemed obsolete.

And on a grim note, many city residents were also inspired to jump the four-foot cast-iron fence around it and commit suicide.

That original fence “was sufficient to prevent anyone from accidentally falling into the reservoir, but did not prevent self-destruction,” a March 10, 1926 New York Times piece explained it gently.

“Few months pass that police of the Arsenal Station in the park are not called upon to make a report of death by drowning in the reservoir.”

As a result of all the suicides, city officials later that year put up a 10-foot chain link fence with barbed wire at the top.

[Photo at top right, from a 1999 City Review article; undated NYPL photo, above left ]

Sure it stopped people from hurling themselves into the water. But it was also ugly.

Calls were made for it to be taken down in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that the Parks Department replaced it with a copy of the original 1862 fence—the one encircling the Reservoir today (above photo).

An Iroquois Indian canoes in Central Park

July 28, 2011

It’s all a very culturally insensitive stunt from the 1920s, apparently. According to the caption on the back of this Getty Images photo, with the city skyline in view:

“Often romanticized, native people were hired to help promote New York events and locales. In 1927, amid much fanfare, So-Tsien-O-Wa-Ne (Chief Great Fire), a local Iroquois man, began patrolling Central Park’s lake in a canoe.”

A New York Times article from April 16 of that year has this to say:

“The Indian, an Iroquois, is to glide hither and thither around the three-mile stretch of water, preserve order, and lend local color. . . . He has lived for some years in Brooklyn, although born on a reservation in Montreal. On duty, Chief Great Fire will be attired in the usual buckskin clothes with plenty of feathers attached.”

It’s not the first time the city has officially sanctioned putting a human being more or less on display, as this story, of a man who lived for a short time in the Bronx Zoo, reveals.

Central Park’s magical Vine Arch Bridge

October 15, 2010

We know it today as the Gapstow Bridge, an icon of Central Park, spanning the pond at the southeast end of the park. Built in 1896, it replaced the original wooden Gapstow Bridge from 1874.

In person, it looks even more enchanting.

Central Park: almost built on the Upper East Side

April 26, 2010

They would have had to call it something besides Central Park, of course.

But the great new park planned for the city in the middle of the 19th century came pretty close to being created on the Upper East Side.

The idea of a park was first suggested in the 1840s, and by 1851, one site seriously considered was Jones’ Wood, 150 acres of dense forest overlooking the East River (above sketch from the NYPL).

Once a summer retreat for New York’s wealthy, Jones’ Wood was being used as a sort of amusement area for working-class residents, featuring beer gardens and dancing.

City authorities thought it would make an ideal retreat from the ills of urban life. But others, anticipating the city’s growth northward, realized it was better to put the new park in a central location.

Though the city approved both sites in 1853, only Central Park was developed, opening in 1859.

Jones’ Wood was slowly parceled out and turned into a residential and commercial area, with the remaining land falling victim to a fire in 1894.

It’s now the location of Upper East Side neighborhoods Lenox Hill and Yorkville.