One of only two buildings in Central Park constructed when the park was just a gleam in city officials’ eyes (the other is this stone fort), the Arsenal opened in 1851 as a state-run storage place for munitions.
“It was considered at the time to be an ideally strategic position to deploy troops to the city, or to either shoreline,” notes centralpark.org.
And in the ensuing 168 years (above, in 1862), this structure designed to resemble a Medieval castle on Fifth Avenue and 64th Street has been repurposed to serve a variety of city needs.
First, in 1857, it was purchased from the state by park administrators and used as an office and police precinct.
In the 1860s, after many New Yorkers began dropping off exotic animals in the new Central Park, the Arsenal became the temporary menagerie, which was never part of the park’s original plan but proved to be a hugely popular attraction.
By the 1870s, it housed the Museum of Natural History, whose quarters were under construction across the park. It was also home to the studio were a British artist created models of dinosaur bones.
An art gallery and weather station followed—the city’s weather instruments recorded the official temperature from the top of the Arsenal.
An Arsenal restaurant (right) appeared in the early 20th century. By the 1920s, the building was falling apart, and after an overhaul reopened as offices for the Parks Department.
By the 1980s, the Arsenal assumed the role it still plays today: “as a gallery and space for public forums related to Parks’ mission and may be reserved for private and public functions,” states the Parks Department website.
It stands guard on the east side of Central Park, its Ivy gone, a testament to a changing city.
[Top two images: NYPL Digital Gallery]