Posts Tagged ‘central park’

Old men, a folded chessboard, and Central Park

February 6, 2017

Time stands still in this May 1946 photo, which captures two “old timers,” as the caption states, immersed in a game of chess while surrounded by the beauty and tranquility of Central Park.

Perhaps they were among the former residents of Central Park’s Depression-era Hooverville, a pop-up city of shacks and forgotten men?

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It’s part of the digitized American Cities collection at the National Archives, which deserves a long thumbing through.

Chess wasn’t the only game older men played in New York City parks. Bocce courts ruled parks in Italian-American neighborhoods, with groups of often Italian Americans crowding green spaces in Lower Manhattan.

The Central Park Mall in color in 1914

February 2, 2012

That’s what the postmark says, but the photograph the card is based on probably dates to several years earlier.

The caption on the back of the card notes that “here are the residences of some of New York’s wealthiest families.”

The old Victorian boathouse of Central Park

June 22, 2011

“Boating on the lake has been a popular pastime from the Park’s earliest days,” states the Central Park Conservatory’s website.

Yet the Lake didn’t get a proper boathouse until 1874, when Calvert Vaux designed this one in the 1907 postcard below.

“With its charming Victorian touches, the building also featured a second-story terrace that afforded beautiful views of the Ramble,” explains the Conservatory.

“A popular draw for more than 80 years, the boathouse fell into disrepair by 1950 and was soon torn down. The iconic Loeb Boathouse that New Yorkers and visitors know so well today opened at the Lake’s northeastern tip in 1954, financed by philanthropist Carol M. Loeb.”

Who named the gates of Central Park?

May 15, 2010

When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were just about done building Central Park in the early 1860s, there was one more thing to consider: the entrances.

While rich New Yorkers desired grand, ornate gates like in the urban parks in London and Paris, Olmsted and Vaux opted for low sandstone openings—symbolizing an accessible city refuge that would be open to all.

They chose names for the 20 planned entrances that referenced who would use the park, reports an 1864 Harper’s article:

“The first broad generalization will be something like this: Artisan, Artist, Merchant, Scholar. Descending to subdivision of these heads we shall have Cultivator or Agriculturalist, Hunter, Fisherman, Woodman, Minor, Mariner, Warrior, Engineer, Inventor, Explorer.”

Actually almost all did end up as official names, though most weren’t carved into the sandstone entrances until the 1990s.

Women’s Gate is at 72nd Street and Central Park West; Scholars’ Gate at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street. A complete list is here.

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.

Where was “Boys Lake” in Central Park?

April 15, 2010

Some areas and structures in Central Park still hang on to their antiquated names, such as Scholar’s Gate (at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street) and the Ladies’ Pavillion (that cute Victorian-era shelter in the center of the park).

But I’d never heard of Boys Lake until I came across this postcard. Looks like it’s where the northernmost tip of the Lake is now. 

The postcard also offers a glimpse of pre-apartment building lined Fifth Avenue as well as Temple Beth-El, a gorgeous, Moorish-looking synogogue that once gleamed on Fifth Avenue at 76th Street.

Built in 1891, it was demolished in the 1940s. An apartment house now occupies the site.

Central Park in a horse-drawn sleigh

January 3, 2010

Makes you wish snow was on the ground right now, doesn’t it? This turn-of-the-century postcard depicts winter in the park as even more magical and enchanting than it usually is.

Sleighing in the park was a popular pastime after a snowstorm. View a December 1898 clip of horse-drawn sleighs traveling through Central Park here.

A War of 1812 fort in Central Park

July 6, 2009

The Revolutionary War left a deep mark on New York City. But the War of 1812? This skirmish with the British hasn’t had a lasting impact here, save for a tiny stone structure tucked away in the northwest corner of Central Park called Blockhouse #1.

BlockhousecentralparkThe Blockhouse was built in 1814, one of many constructed in Upper Manhattan to protect the area from the British should they invade the city from the north.

It’s in a part of Central Park that is still rugged, high, and hard to reach—the perfect place for some canons.

Luckily the British never attacked, and the war was over in 1815. The Blockhouse was later used to store ammunition as well as a place to celebrate patriotic holidays.

When Central Park was expanded in the 1860s to include the undeveloped, rocky land between 106th and 110th Street, the Blockhouse came with it. The old structure was considered a romantic, picturesque reminder of another era. 

It’s now empty, serene, and mostly lifeless, except for a tall American flag soaring into the sky from the flagpole in the center of the fort. 

A gorgeous day at Bethesda Fountain

May 6, 2009

Rowing in Central Park’s lake and gathering on Bethesda Terrace appear to have been as popular 100 years ago as they are today.

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The fountain, unveiled in 1873, is topped by a sculpture called “Angel of the Waters,” by Emma Stebbins. She was the first woman commissioned to create art in a city park.

Going for a donkey ride in Central Park

February 23, 2009

Donkey rides were a big attraction in the park in its early decades. The cost of a ride in 1905, when this photograph was taken: a nickel. 

The park also offered goat carriage rides on the Mall. And elephants.

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