Central Park

central parkCentral Park is one of the urban wonders of the world. 

A lot of East-siders probably do not have the time to wonder why it’s such a wonder, being to busy and fast-paced. Or if they do, it’s probably to wonder when Madonna will be jogging somewhere in Central Park, or "is that Yoko Ono walking down Strawberry Fields?" 

They probably do not wonder why Central Park fits so perfectly in a concrete jungle like Manhattan. And they probably have have no idea that Central Park is entirely man-made – all 843 acres of it.

Pre-1858

Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant saw the need for open space within the city. New York City at that time had 500,000 residents who sought refuge in places like Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. 

Bryant was joined by landscape gardener Andrew Jackson Downing in his pleas for a refuge before development ate all open areas in the city. 

Commissioners paid more the $5 million for the land from 59th to 106th street, and between Fifth and Eight Avenues.

1858-1871

Central Park’s design was the brainchild of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, a British architect. Their design was chosen in public contest organized by the independent board of commissioners. Their plan was called Greensward.

The land’s topography had varied terrain, which allowed for different forms of landscapes – all of which were included in the Greensward plan.

Olmsted and Vaux’s problem was the area itself – it was rocky, swampy, and muddy. Also the soil was not fit to support trees.

Their solution was to cart 500,000 cubic ft. of topsoil from New Jersey.

Workers manually dug earth, pulverized boulders using gunpowder. About 10 million cartloads of debris were brought in and out of the project area in horse-drawn carts. 

The construction of the park saw the creation of 36 bridges and arches and 6 man-made bodies of water.

1872-1933

Most of the park’s landscapes were completed 20 years after the design for it was chosen due to several political battles. The designers also quit many times due to political and aesthetic reason.

The park saw new problems coming its way. Demand for recreational space and the coming of cars put new strains on the park. Between 1910-1920, Central Park suffered from neglect, as there were only periodic endeavors to improve the lawns, stop littering and vandalism or replace dead trees and plants.

1934-1966

When Fiorello LaGuardia was elected in 1934, he unified New York’s five parks departments and put Robert Moses in charge, who set out to tidy up the park.

The park thrived under Moses, but he had other plans in mind. During Moses’ 30-year tenure, Central Park saw the rise of playgrounds, ballfields, handball courts, the Wollman Rink, the Hans Christian Andersen and Alice in Wonderland sculptures, the Chess and Checkers House, and the Carousel.

Popular annual performances began in th 60s. In 1961, the Metropolitan Opera began its series of summer performances on Sheep Meadow. The Public Theatre’s "Shakespeare in the Park" debuted in 1962. 1965 saw New York Philharmonic following in Metropolitan Opera’s footsteps.

In 1964, Central Park was declared a National Historic Landmark.

After Moses left, the Park again suffered through a decline which went on for 20 years, mostly due to rallies and protest marches.

1979-1981

Groups were formed to raise funds, volunteers and awareness to salvage Central Park. Primary among these groups were the Central Park Task Force and the Central Park Community Fund. The two groups approached Mayor Mayor Edward Koch and Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis who founded the the Central Park Conservancy (CPC) in 1980. William Beinecke became chairman and Elizabeth Barlow became (the 1st) Central Park Administrator.

The City and CPC worked together to restore the park. The city funded a variety of projects, while the CPC sought private funding to add to the City contributions. Restoration efforts focused on Sheep Meadow, the Dairy, and the Pond.

 
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