The Pond and Hallett Nature Sanctuary in the park's southeast corner
Interactive map highlighting Central Park
|Location||Manhattan, New York City|
|Area||843 acres (3.41 km2)|
|Owned by||New York City Department of Parks and Recreation|
|Operated by||Central Park Conservancy|
|Visitors||about 37.5 million annually|
|Status||Open all year|
|Architect||Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), Calvert Vaux (1824–1895)|
|NRHP reference #||66000538|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||May 23, 1963|
Central Park is an urban park in Manhattan, New York City. It is located between the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, roughly bounded by Fifth Avenue on the east, Central Park West (Eighth Avenue) on the west, Central Park South (59th Street) on the south, and Central Park North (110th Street) on the north. Central Park is the most visited urban park in the United States, with 40 million visitors in 2013, and one of the most filmed locations in the world. In terms of area, Central Park is the fifth-largest park in New York City, covering 843 acres (341 ha).
The park was established in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) of land acquired by the city. In 1858, landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and architect/landscape designer Calvert Vaux won a design competition to improve and expand the park with a plan they titled the "Greensward Plan". Construction began the same year, and the park's first area was opened to the public in the winter of 1858. Construction north of the park continued during the American Civil War in the 1860s, and the park was expanded to its current size in 1873. After a period of decline in the early 20th century, Robert Moses started a program to clean up Central Park. Another decline in the late 20th century spurred the creation of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980, which refurbished many parts of the park during the 1980s and 1990s.
Central Park was designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1963, which in April 2017 placed it on the tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage sites. The park, managed for decades by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, is currently managed by the Central Park Conservancy under contract with the municipal government in a public-private partnership. The Conservancy is a non-profit organization that contributes 75 percent of Central Park's $65 million annual budget and is responsible for all basic care of the 843-acre park.
Central Park, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 1962, was designed by landscape architect and writer Frederick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaux in 1858 after winning a design competition. They also designed Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Central Park is the fifth-largest park in New York City, behind Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Van Cortlandt Park, the Staten Island Greenbelt, and Pelham Bay Park. Central Park is located on 843 acres (3.41 km2; 1.317 sq mi) of land, although its original area was 770 acres (3.1 km2). The park, with a perimeter of 6.1 miles (9.8 km), is bordered on the north by Central Park North (110th Street), on the south by Central Park South (59th Street), on the west by Central Park West (Eighth Avenue), and on the east by Fifth Avenue. It is 2.5 miles (4 km) long between Central Park South and Central Park North, and is 0.5 mile (0.8 km) wide between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West.
Central Park constitutes its own United States census tract, number 143. According to American Community Survey 5-year estimates, the park's population was five people, all female, with a median age of 19.8 years. However Central Park officials have rejected the claim of anyone permanently living there. The real estate value of Central Park was estimated by property appraisal firm Miller Samuel to be about $528.8 billion in December 2005.
Central Park's size and cultural position, similar to London's Hyde Park and Munich's Englischer Garten, has served as a model for many urban parks, including San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Tokyo's Ueno Park, and Vancouver's Stanley Park. The park, which receives approximately 35 million visitors annually, is the most visited urban park in the United States. It is also the most filmed location in the world. A December 2017 report found that 231 movies have used Central Park for on-location shoots, more than the 160 movies that have filmed in Greenwich Village or the 99 movies that have filmed in Times Square.
The park is maintained by the Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization that manages the park under a contract with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, in which the president of the Conservancy is ex officio Administrator of Central Park. Today, the conservancy employs 80% of maintenance and operations staff in the park. It effectively oversees the work of both the private and public employees under the authority of the Central Park administrator (publicly appointed), who reports to the parks commissioner, conservancy's president. As of 2007[update], the conservancy had invested approximately $450 million in the restoration and management of the park; the organization presently contributes approximately 85% of Central Park's annual operating budget of over $37 million. The system was functioning so well that in 2006 the conservancy created the Historic Harlem Parks initiative, providing horticultural and maintenance support and mentoring in Morningside Park, St. Nicholas Park, Jackie Robinson Park, and Marcus Garvey Park.
The park has its own New York City Police Department precinct—the Central Park Precinct—which employs both regular police and auxiliary officers. In 2005, safety measures held the number of crimes in the park to fewer than one hundred per year (down from approximately 1,000 annually in the early 1980s). The New York City Parks Enforcement Patrol also patrols Central Park. There is an all-volunteer ambulance service, the Central Park Medical Unit, that provides free emergency medical service to patrons of Central Park and the surrounding streets. It operates a rapid-response bicycle patrol, particularly during major events such as the New York City Marathon, the 1998 Goodwill Games, and concerts in the park.
While planting and land form in much of the park appear natural, it is in fact almost entirely landscaped. The park contains several natural-looking lakes and ponds that have been created artificially by damming natural seeps and flows. There is a large area of woods in addition to seven major lawns, the "meadows", and many minor grassy areas; some of them are used for informal or team sports and some set aside as quiet areas; there are a number of enclosed playgrounds for children. The 6 miles (9.7 km) of drives within the park are used by joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, and inline skaters, especially when automobile traffic is prohibited, on weekends and in the evenings after 7:00 pm.
Between 1821 and 1855, New York City nearly quadrupled in population. As the city expanded northward up Manhattan Island, people were drawn to the few existing open spaces, mainly cemeteries, to get away from the noise and chaotic life in the city. Since Central Park was not part of the original Commissioners' Plan of 1811, John Randel, Jr., surveyed the grounds. The only remaining surveying bolt from his survey is embedded in a rock located north of the present Dairy and the 65th Street Transverse, and south of Center Drive. The bolt marks the location where West 65th Street would have intersected Sixth Avenue.
New York City's need for a great public park was resounded by the famed poet and editor of the Evening Post (now the New York Post), William Cullen Bryant, as well as by the first American landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing, who predicted and began to publicize the city's need for a public park in 1844. A stylish place for open-air driving, similar to Paris' Bois de Boulogne or London's Hyde Park, was felt to be needed by many influential New Yorkers, and, after an abortive attempt in 1850–1851 to designate Jones's Wood, in 1853 the New York legislature settled upon a 700-acre (280 ha) area from 59th to 106th Streets for the creation of the park, at a cost of more than US$5 million for the land.
The state appointed a Central Park Commission to oversee the development of the park, and in 1857 the commission held a landscape design contest. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux developed what came to be known as the "Greensward Plan", which was selected as the winning design. According to Olmsted, the park was "of great importance as the first real Park made in this country – a democratic development of the highest significance...", a view probably inspired by his various trips to Europe during 1850 (he had visited several parks during these trips and was particularly impressed by Birkenhead Park and Derby Arboretum in England). The Greensward Plan called for some 36 bridges, all designed by Vaux, ranging from rugged spans of Manhattan schist or granite, to lacy Neo-Gothic cast iron; no two are alike. The ensemble of the formal line of the Mall's doubled allées of elms culminating at Bethesda Terrace, whose centerpiece is the Bethesda Fountain, with a composed view beyond of lake and woodland, was at the heart of the larger design. Execution of the Greensward Plan was the responsibility of a number of individuals, including Jacob Wrey Mould (architect), Ignaz Anton Pilat (master gardener), George E. Waring, Jr. (engineer), and Andrew Haswell Green (politician), in addition to Olmsted and Vaux.
Several influences came together in the design. Landscaped cemeteries, such as Mount Auburn (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Green-Wood (Brooklyn, New York) had set examples of idyllic, naturalistic landscapes. The most influential innovations in the Central Park design were the "separate circulation" systems for pedestrians, horseback riders, and pleasure vehicles. The "crosstown" commercial traffic was entirely concealed in sunken roadways (today called "transverses"), screened with densely planted shrub belts so as to maintain a rustic ambiance.
In 1850, the land was occupied by free blacks and Irish immigrants who had purchased land, where they raised livestock, built churches and cemeteries, and had lived as a community for close to 50 years. Before the construction of the park could start, the area had to be cleared of its inhabitants. Rossi states that part of the impetus to schemes such as Central Park and others was to remove what they incorrectly deemed as shanty towns and their denizens. However, most lived in small villages, such as Harsenville, the Piggery District, or Seneca Village; or in the school and convent at Mount St. Vincent's Academy. Approximately 1,600 residents were evicted under the rule of eminent domain during 1857. Seneca Village and parts of the other communities were razed to make room for the park. In addition, when the commission finally submitted its report for public examination on October 4, 1855, taxpayers learned that they would be paying $5 million just for the park land, more than three times what they had been told the completed park as a whole would cost. At the same time, the offsetting revenue from property taxes of adjacent land came to $1.7 million, or one-third of the purchase price, and was considerably less than earlier estimates.
During the park's construction, Olmsted battled with the park commissioners, many of them also politicians. In 1860, he was forced out for the first of many times as Central Park's superintendent, and Andrew Haswell Green, the former president of New York City's Board of Education took over as the commission's chairman. Despite his having relatively little experience, Green managed to accelerate the construction. Green also finalized the negotiations to purchase an additional 65 acres (260,000 m2) at the north end of the park, between 106th and 110th Streets, which would be used as the "rugged" part of the park, its swampy northeast corner dredged, and reconstructed as the Harlem Meer.
Between 1860 and 1873, most of the major hurdles to construction were overcome, and the park was substantially completed. Construction combined the modern with the ageless: up-to-date steam-powered equipment and custom-designed wheeled tree-moving machines augmented massive numbers of unskilled laborers wielding shovels. The work was extensively documented with technical drawings and photographs. During this period, more than 18,500 cubic yards (14,100 m3) of topsoil had been transported from New Jersey, because the original soil was neither fertile nor sufficiently substantial to sustain the various trees, shrubs, and plants called for by the Greensward Plan. When the park was officially completed in 1873, more than 10 million cartloads of material had been transported out of the park, including soil and rocks, and more than four million trees, shrubs, and plants representing approximately 1,500 species were transplanted to the park. More gunpowder was used to clear the area than was used at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War.
A proposal to have ornate, European-style entrances to the park was opposed by Olmsted and Vaux, who intended for the park's unadorned entrances to signal "that all were welcome, regardless of rank or wealth." The park's commissioners assigned a name to each of the original 18 gates in 1862. The names were chosen to represent the broad diversity of New York City's trades; for example, "Mariner's Gate" for the entrance at 85th Street and Central Park West. The majority of entrances did not receive an inscription, however, until a park restoration effort in 1999.
Sheep grazed on the Sheep Meadow from the 1860s until 1934, when they were moved to Prospect Park in Brooklyn and soon thereafter moved to a farm near Otisville, New York, in the Catskill Mountains. It was feared they would be used for food by impoverished Depression-era New Yorkers.
Following completion, the park quickly slipped into decline. One of the main reasons for this was the lack of interest from the Tammany Hall political machine, which was the largest political force in New York at the time. Around the turn of the 20th century, the park faced several new challenges. Cars were becoming commonplace, bringing with them their burden of pollution, and people's attitudes were beginning to change. No longer were parks to be used only for walks and picnics in an idyllic environment but also for sports and similar recreation. Following the dissolution of the Central Park Commission in 1870 and Andrew Green's departure from the project, and Vaux's death in 1895, the maintenance effort gradually declined. All of this changed in 1934, when Republican Fiorello La Guardia was elected mayor of New York City and unified the five park-related departments then in existence. Robert Moses was given the task of cleaning up the park. Moses, about to become one of the most powerful men in New York City, took over what was essentially a relic, a leftover from a bygone era.
According to historian Robert Caro:
Lawns, unseeded, were expanses of bare earth, decorated with scraggly patches of grass and weeds, that became dust holes in dry weather and mud holes in wet... The once beautiful Mall looked like a scene of a wild party the morning after. Benches lay on their backs, their legs jabbing at the sky...:334
In a single year, Moses managed to clean up Central Park and other parks in New York City. Lawns and flowers were replanted, dead trees and bushes were replaced, walls were sandblasted, and bridges were repaired. Another dramatic change was Moses's removal of the "Hoover valley" shantytown, whose site was transformed into the 30 acres (12 ha) Great Lawn. Major redesigning and construction also was carried out: for instance, the Croton Lower Reservoir was filled in so the Great Lawn could be created. The Greensward Plan's purpose of creating an idyllic landscape was combined with Moses' vision of a park to be used for recreational purposes: 19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields, and handball courts were constructed. Moses managed to secure funds from the New Deal program, as well as donations from the public. He also created the 67th Street Transverse, widened West Drive, and evicted the sheep from Sheep Meadow.:984
Brooklyn Museum collection: "Early Spring Afternoon – Central Park" (1911) by Willard Leroy Metcalf
Belvedere Castle, Central Park, built 1869
The 1960s marked the beginning of an "Events Era" in Central Park that reflected the widespread cultural and political trends of the period. The Public Theater's annual Shakespeare in the Park festival was settled in the Delacorte Theater in 1961, and summer performances were instituted on the Sheep Meadow, and then on the Great Lawn by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. During the late 1960s, the park became the venue for rallies and cultural events such as the "Love-ins" and "Be-Ins" of the period. In 1966, Mayor John Lindsay, an avid cyclist, initiated a weekend ban on automobiles in Central Park for the enjoyment of cyclists and public alike – a policy that continues. Increasingly through the 1970s, the park became a venue for events of unprecedented scale, including rallies, demonstrations, festivals, and concerts.
Despite the increasing numbers of visitors to the park, Robert Moses' departure in 1960 marked the beginning of a 20-year period of decline in its management. The city was experiencing economic and social changes, with some residents leaving the city and moving to the suburbs in the wake of increased crime. The Parks Department, suffering from budget cuts, responded by opening the park to any and all activities that would bring people into it, without adequate oversight and maintenance follow-up. Some of these events nevertheless became milestones in the social history of the park and in the cultural history of the city.
By the mid-1970s, however, managerial neglect was taking a toll on the park's condition. "Years of poor management and inadequate maintenance had turned a masterpiece of landscape architecture into a virtual dustbowl by day and a danger zone by night", in the opinion of Douglas Blonsky, a president of the Central Park Conservancy. Vandalism, territorial use (e.g. a pick-up game of softball or association football, which commandeered open space and excluded others), and illicit activities were taking place in the park. Several volunteer citizen groups emerged, intent upon reclaiming the park by fundraising and organizing volunteer initiatives. One of these groups, the Central Park Community Fund, commissioned a study of the park's management. The study's conclusion was bi-linear; it called for establishment of a single position within the New York City Parks Department, responsible for overseeing both the planning and management of Central Park, as well as a board of guardians to provide citizen oversight.
In 1979, Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis established the Office of Central Park Administrator, appointing to the position the executive director of another citizen organization, the Central Park Task Force. The Central Park Conservancy was founded the following year, to support the office and initiatives of the administrator and to provide consistent leadership through a self-perpetuating, citizen-based board that also would include as ex-officio trustees, the Parks Commissioner, the Central Park Administrator, and mayoral appointees.
Under the leadership of the Central Park Conservancy, the park's reclamation began with modest but highly significant first steps, addressing needs that could not be met within the existing structure and resources of the parks department. Interns were hired and a small restoration staff to reconstruct and repair unique rustic features, undertaking horticultural projects, and removing graffiti under the broken windows theory. The state of the park has improved since the 1970s, according to Conservancy president Douglas Blonsky:
Graffiti doesn't last 24 hours in Central Park; visible litter gets carted off by 9 each morning and throughout the day. Our workers empty trash receptacles daily (at least) and maintain lawns with tremendous care. Broken benches and playground equipment get fixed on the spot.
By 1980, the Conservancy was also engaged in design efforts and long-term restoration planning, using both its own staff and external consultants. It provided the impetus and leadership for several early restoration projects funded by the city, preparing a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the park. The restoration was accompanied by a crucial restructuring of management, whereby the park was subdivided into zones, to each of which a supervisor was designated, responsible for maintaining restored areas. That year, the Dairy (which was originally designed as a refreshment stand and rest spot) was transformed into the park's first visitor's center, with the Conservancy using it to revitalize public interest in the park through exhibits, music series, and children's programs. The first landscape to be restored was the Sheep Meadow, primarily with funds provided by New York State. During the next few years, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Belvedere Castle, and the East Green were restored.
Bethesda Fountain, which had been dry for decades, was restored in 1980–81 and the Terrace was restored a year later, its stonework disassembled, cleaned, deteriorated surfaces removed, restored, patched, and reset. Resodding, and fifty new trees, 3,500 shrubs and 3,000 ground cover plants specified by Philip Winslow followed in 1986, most of which, having matured into dense blocks, were removed in 2008, to make way for plants native to the United States. Around the same time, the Belvedere Castle, which had been closed for many years, was renovated and reopened on May 1, 1983, as the Henry Luce Nature Observatory.
By 1982, the Chess & Checkers House and Frisbee Hill had been restored; thousands of shrubs and flowers asserted the park as a horticultural showpiece. To tend to those plants, more than 1,900 volunteers contributed more than 4,000 hours of work in the park. On completion of the planning stage in 1985, the conservancy launched its first capital campaign, assuming increasing responsibility for funding the park's restoration, and full responsibility for designing, bidding, and supervising all capital projects in the park. The Conservancy launched its first fundraising campaign in 1986, mapping out a 15-year restoration plan that sought to remain true to the original design. Over the next several years, Campaign for the Central Park Conservancy restored landmarks in the southern part of the park – Grand Army Plaza, Shakespeare Garden, and Cedar Hill. By 1988, Conservancy volunteers logged more than 13,000 hours in the park, with the organization's volunteer program winning a citation for excellence from the White House.
In the early 1990s, the Conservancy announced a $50 million capital campaign to focus on improvements to the northern end of the park. Efforts culminated in the restoration of the Mall and Concert Ground, Harlem Meer, and the Ravine in the North Woods. The Conservancy's work on the Meer and the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center was subsequently honored with three awards: the 1994 New York City Landmarks Preservation Award, the American Society of Landscape Architects' Design Merit Award and the Victorian Society's Citation of Merit. In 1996, the Conservancy embarked on its most ambitious landscape restoration: the overhaul of the 55 acres (22 hectares) including and surrounding the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond (formerly the Great Lawn and the Belvedere Lake). The project was the centerpiece of the Conservancy's three-year Wonder of New York Campaign, which raised $71.5 million and also helped restore southern and westside landscapes, as well as the North Meadow. The Great Lawn project was completed in 1997, featuring new amenities to encourage passive and active recreation as well as nature appreciation.
Citywide budget cuts in the early 1990s, however, resulted in attrition of the park's routine maintenance staff, and the conservancy began hiring staff to replace these workers. Management of the restored landscapes by the conservancy's "zone gardeners" proved so successful that core maintenance and operations staff were reorganized in 1996. The zone-based system of management was implemented throughout the park, which was divided into 49 zones. Zone gardeners supervise volunteers assigned to them; these volunteers commit to a consistent work schedule and are supported by specialized crews in areas of maintenance requiring specific expertise or equipment, or more effectively conducted on a park-wide basis. In 2007, there were 3,000 volunteers compared to just under 250 paid workers in the park.
Renovations continued through the early 2000s. In 2000 the Conservatory Water opened after a six-month restoration effort, with a $4 million project beginning on the 59th Street Pond, one of the park's most visible and heavily used landscapes. A new Reservoir fence was installed in 2003 under a $2 million capital project that replaced the old chain-link fence with a replica of the 8,000-foot long steel and cast-iron one that had enclosed the Reservoir in 1926. The new fence, along with removal of invasive trees and shrubs, restored the panoramic views of the park and Manhattan skyline.
Another ambitious restoration effort began in 2004, when Conservancy staff and contractors worked together to refurbish the 15,876 Minton tiles that hang on the ceiling of the Bethesda Arcade. Originally designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, the ceiling of the Arcade is lined by 15,876 elaborately patterned encaustic tiles. Made by Minton and Company, a leading 19th-century ceramic manufacturer in England, the ceiling tiles are divided into 49 panels, each containing 324 tiles. Salt and water infiltration from the roadway above had badly damaged the tiles, leaving their backing plates so corroded they had to be removed in the 1980s. The tiles sat in storage for more than 20 years until the Conservancy received a generous private donation for their restoration. The Conservancy embarked on a $7 million restoration effort to return the Minton tiles to their original luster in 2004. A team of seven conservation technicians cleaned and repaired more than 14,000 original tiles by hand. Only three panels of replica tiles were needed to replace those that had been damaged beyond repair. For those recreations, the Conservancy decided to commission Maw and Company, Minton's successor in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The completed Bethesda Terrace Arcade was unveiled to much fanfare in March 2007. In 2006, the Conservancy completed a nine-month renovation of the Mall in a project that returned the landscape to its original character and ensured the protection of its great American Elms.
The Lake was the last of Central Park's bodies of water to be renovated by the Central Park Conservancy, in a project to enhance both its ecological[note 1] and scenic aspects. In the summer of 2007, the first phase of a restoration of the Lake and its shoreline plantings commenced, with replanting using native shrubs and understory trees around the northern end of the Lake, from Bank Rock Bay – a narrow cove in the northwest corner that had become a silted-up algae-covered stand of aggressively invasive Phragmites reeds – to Bow Bridge, which received replicas of its four original Italianate cast-iron vases, overspilling with annuals. In the earliest stages, invasive non-native plants like Japanese knotweed were eradicated, the slopes were regraded with added humus and protected with landscaping burlap to stabilize the slopes while root systems became established and leaf litter developed.
During the same time, Bank Rock Bridge, also called Cabinet Bridge, across the mouth of the cove was recreated in carved oak with cast-iron panels and pine decking, its original materials, following Vaux's original design of 1859–60. The cascade, where the Gill empties into the lake, was reconstructed to approximate its dramatic original form, inspired by paintings of Asher B. Durand. Sections of the Lake were dredged of accumulated silt – topsoil that had washed off the surrounding slopes – and the island formerly in the lake, which gradually eroded below water level, was reconstructed in the summer of 2007 with rugged boulders along its shoreline, graded wetland areas, and submerged planting shelves for water-loving native plants, like Pickerel weed.
Oak Bridge, the major entrance to the Ramble from the Upper West Side, spans Bank Rock Bay in the Lake's northwest corner; the long-lost picturesque feature was recreated in 2009 based on Calvert Vaux's original drawings. The bridge, built in 1860 of white oak with decorative openwork panels of cast iron, has been recreated in steel clad in ornamental cast iron facings, with wooden deck and railings. Restoration of further sections of the Lake's shoreline landscapes was undertaken, and the first renovated sections were opened to visitors in April 2008.
Since the 1960s, there has been a grassroots campaign to restore the park's loop drives to their original car-free state. Over the years, the number of car-free hours has increased, though a full closure is currently resisted by the New York City Department of Transportation. Legislation was proposed in October 2014 to conduct a study to make the park car-free in summer 2015. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the permanent closure of West and East Drives north of 72nd Street to vehicular traffic as it was proven that closing the roads did not adversely impact traffic. The law was to take into effect permanently north of 72nd Street.
Visitor attractions include:
A total of 29 sculptures by sculptors such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Emma Stebbins, and John Quincy Adams Ward have been erected over the years, most donated by individuals or organizations. Much of the first statuary placed was of authors and poets, in an area now known as Literary Walk. Some of the sculptures are:
Geographic features include:
There are four different types of bedrock in Manhattan. In Central Park, Manhattan schist and Hartland schist, which are both metamorphosed sedimentary rock, are exposed in various outcroppings. The other two types, Fordham gneiss (an older deeper layer) and Inwood marble (metamorphosed limestone which overlays the gneiss), do not surface in the park. Fordham gneiss, which consists of metamorphosed igneous rocks, was formed a billion years ago, during the Grenville orogeny that occurred during the creation of an ancient super-continent. It is the oldest rock in the Canadian Shield, the most ancient part of the North American tectonic plate. Manhattan schist and Hartland schist were formed in the Iapetus Ocean during the Taconic orogeny in the Paleozoic era, about 450 million years ago. During this period the tectonic plates began to move toward each other, which resulted in the creation of the supercontinent Pangaea.
Various glaciers have covered the area of Central Park in the past, with the most recent being the Wisconsin glacier which receded about 12,000 years ago. Evidence of past glaciers are visible throughout the park in the form of glacial erratics (large boulders dropped by the receding glacier) and north-south glacial striations visible on stone outcroppings.
One such outcrop is Rat Rock at , named after the rats that used to swarm there at night but also known as 'Umpire Rock'. Located near the southwest corner of the park, the outcrop is roughly circular, about 55 feet (17 m) wide and 15 feet (4.6 m) tall with different east, west, and north faces. Boulderers usually congregate there, as many as fifty per day, with some being regulars, and others being tourists; the quality of the stone is poor, and the climbs present so little challenge that it has been called "one of America's most pathetic boulders". The park police formerly ticketed climbers who climbed more than a few feet up the rock, but the City Climbers Club approached the park authorities and, by working to provide safety features such as wood chips around the base, they were able to legalize climbing there.
Central Park is home to seven bodies of water, all artificial. The largest lake is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, so named since 1994. It was constructed between 1858 and 1862. Covering an area of 106 acres (43 ha) between 86th and 96th Streets, the reservoir reaches a depth of more than 40 feet (12 m) in places and contains about 1 billion US gallons (3.8 billion litres) of water. The Reservoir is best known to New Yorkers for the jogging track around it.
The Ramble and Lake south of the Great Lawn covers nearly 18 acres (7.3 ha). Built on a former swamp, it was designed by Olmsted and Vaux to accommodate boats in the summer and ice skaters in winter. The Lake was opened to skaters in December 1858, while the rest of the park was still under construction. At the northern end of the park, at 110th Street, the Harlem Meer, named in honor of one of the first communities in the region, covers nearly 11 acres (4.5 ha). Located in a wooded area of oak, cypress, and beech trees, it was built after the completion of the southern portion of the park. Harlem Meer also allows visitors to fish, on a catch and release basis. In the southeast corner is the Pond, with an area of 3.5 acres (1.4 ha). The Pond is located near one of the busiest entrances to Central Park but still provides an atmosphere of calm and solitude.
Central Park is home to over 25,000 trees and has a stand of 1,700 American elms, one of the largest remaining stands in the northeastern U.S., protected by their isolation from the Dutch elm disease that devastated the tree throughout its native range.
A partial listing of the tree species found in Central Park, both natives and exotics, includes:
A wooded section of the park, called the Ramble and Lake, is popular among birders. Many species of woodland birds, especially warblers, may be seen in the Ramble in the spring and the fall.
Rowboats and kayaks are rented on an hourly basis at the Loeb Boathouse, which also houses a restaurant overlooking the Lake. As early as 1922, model power boating was popular on park waters.
The tradition of carriage horses in New York City was revived in 1935. The carriages have appeared in many films, and the first female horse and carriage driver, Maggie Cogan, appeared in a Universal newsreel in 1967. As such, they have become a symbolic institution of the city. After the September 11 attacks, in a much-publicized event, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani went to the stables himself to ask the drivers to go back to work to help return a sense of normality.
Some activists such as NYCLASS, as well as politicians, have questioned the ethics of this tradition. The history of accidents involving spooked horses has come under scrutiny with recent horse deaths. Protests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and celebrities including Alec Baldwin, Alecia Beth Moore and Cheryl Hines have raised the issue's profile. Additional media accounts have corroborated some charges, but they have also shown that the standards vary from stable to stable.
Both activists and horse owners agree that part of the problem is lack of enforcement of the city code. Supporters of the trade say it needs to be reformed, not shut down, and that carriage drivers deserve a raise, which the city has not authorized since 1989. Paris, London, Beijing, and several U.S. cities have banned carriage horses. Replacements for the carriage horses may include electric vintage cars.
Pedicabs operate mostly in the southern part of the park, the same part as horse carriages. Such vehicles have more recently offered visitors a more dynamic way in which to view the park; covering three to ten times the distance of a typical Central Park horse carriage ride, pedicabs have become very popular with visitors and New Yorkers alike; also, they are being eyed as another replacement for the carriage horses.
Park Drive, just over 6 miles (9.7 km) long, is heavily used by runners, joggers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and inline skaters.
On most weekends, running races take place in the park, many of which are organized by the New York Road Runners. The New York City Marathon finishes in Central Park outside Tavern on the Green. Many other professional races are run in the park, including the 2008 USA Men's 8k Championships. Baseball fields are numerous, and there are also courts for volleyball, tennis, croquet and lawn bowling. The park is home to several competitive running clubs, including Central Park Track Club.
Central Park has two ice skating rinks, Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink; during summer, the former is the site of Victorian Gardens seasonal amusement park, and the latter converts to an outdoor swimming pool.
Central Park's glaciated rock outcroppings attract climbers, especially boulderers. The two most renowned spots for boulderers are Rat Rock and Cat Rock; others include Dog Rock, Duck Rock, Rock N' Roll Rock, and Beaver Rock, near the south end of the park.
Central Park has twenty-one playgrounds for children located throughout the park; the largest, at 3 acres (12,000 m2), is Heckscher Playground named for August Heckscher. The current Central Park Carousel, installed in 1951, is one of the largest merry-go-rounds in the United States. The fifty-eight hand-carved horses and two chariots were made by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein in 1908. The carousel originally was installed in Coney Island in Brooklyn.
The Central Park Zoo is part of a system of four zoos and one aquarium that is managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The zoo is home to an indoor rainforest, a leafcutter ant colony, a chilled penguin house, and a polar bear pool.
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre is located in the Swedish Cottage. The building was originally a model schoolhouse built in Sweden. Made of native pine and cedar, it was disassembled and rebuilt in the U.S. as Sweden's exhibit for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Frederick Law Olmsted moved the cottage to its present site in 1877.
Central Park is home to two indoor restaurants. The famed New York City restaurant Tavern on the Green is located on the park's grounds at Central Park West and West 67th Street. It was originally the sheepfold that housed the sheep that grazed Sheep Meadow, built to a design by Calvert Vaux in 1870. It became a restaurant as part of a 1934 renovation of the park under Robert Moses. In 1974, Warner LeRoy took over the restaurant's lease and reopened it in 1976 after $10 million in renovations including the addition of a glass-enclosed Crystal Room overlooking the restaurant's garden (one of several dining rooms), which doubled the seating capacity to 800. The restaurant closed in 2009 and reopened on April 24, 2014, after a renovation.
The Loeb Boathouse restaurant is the other indoor restaurant in Central Park. Located at the Loeb Boathouse on The Lake, it was designed in 1874, destroyed in 1950, and rebuilt in 1954 on the East Side between 74th and 75th Streets.
The oldest free classical music concert series in the United States, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts – founded in 1905 – presents concerts in the park's only neo-classical building, the Naumburg Bandshell on the Concert Ground, each summer. The concerts feature promising new talent and promote the professional development of young composers and conductors.
Central Park has given birth to other arts groups dedicated to performing in the park, notably Central Park Brass, which performs an annual concert series, and the New York Classical Theatre, which produces an annual series of plays.
Each summer, there are several events happening in the park. The Public Theater presents free open-air theatre productions, often starring well-known stage and screen actors. The Delacorte Theater is the summer performing venue of the New York Shakespeare Festival, where most, although not all, of the plays presented are by William Shakespeare, and the performances are generally regarded as being of high quality since its founding by Joseph Papp in 1962. The New York Philharmonic gives an open-air concert on the Great Lawn yearly during the summer. City Parks Foundation has offered Central Park Summerstage since 1985, a series of free performances including music, dance, spoken word, and film presentations, often featuring famous performers; the Summerstage facility also has non-free concerts that are branded under different names. Since 1992, local singer-songwriter David Ippolito has performed almost every summer weekend to large crowds of passers-by and regulars and has become a New York icon, often simply referred to as "That guitar man from Central Park". From 1967 until 2007, the Metropolitan Opera presented two operas in concert each year. The Fifth Avenue Mile is along the east side of the park between 80th and 60th Streets each September.
Many popular one-time concerts have been given in the park including Barbra Streisand, 1967; The Supremes, 1970; Carole King, 1973; Bob Marley and The Wailers, 1975; America, 1979; Elton John, 1980; the Simon and Garfunkel reunion, 1981; Diana Ross, 1983; Paul Simon, 1991; Garth Brooks, 1997; Sheryl Crow, 1999; Dave Matthews Band, 2003; Bon Jovi, 2008; and Andrea Bocelli, 2011. Central Park was the location of the largest concert ever on record when country superstar Garth Brooks performed a free concert in August 1997, to which about 980,000 had attended.
The New York City Subway's IND Eighth Avenue Line runs along the western edge of the park, with a transfer station to the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line at Columbus Circle. In addition, the IRT Lenox Avenue Line has a station at Central Park North. From there the line curves southwest under the park, and heads west under 104th Street, and the BMT Broadway Line has a station at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
Central Park is surrounded by four roadways: Central Park North, Central Park South, Central Park West, and Fifth Avenue. There are four plazas, one on each corner of the park: Frederick Douglass Circle on the northwest, Duke Ellington Circle on the northeast, Columbus Circle at the southwest, and Grand Army Plaza at the southeast. There are also four transverse roadways: 65th–66th Streets, 79th–81st Streets, 86th Street, and 96th Street. The park has three roadways that travel it vertically: West, Center, and East Drives.
West Drive is the westernmost of the park's three vertical "drives". The southbound-running road is described as "... concealed in sunken roadways and screened with densely planted shrub belts, creating a country-road feel in the center of the city." In the early 20th century, the drive was a popular place for carriage rides. A painting by Gifford Beal shows a picture of West Drive depicted with a horse and buggy. However, the drive is also dangerous; in 2014, a 0.5-mile (0.80 km) stretch of West Drive was considered to be "the most dangerous section of Central Park" for pedestrians, with bicycle crashes along the drive leaving 15 people injured.
Center Drive (also known as the "Central Park Lower Loop") connects northbound traffic from Midtown at West Drive and Sixth Avenue near the 65th Street Transverse. The street generally goes east and then north, forming the bottom part of the Central Park loop. The attractions along this street include the Victorian Gardens Amusement Park, the Central Park Carousel and the Central Park Mall.
East Drive, the easternmost of the three drives, connects northbound traffic from Midtown to the Upper West Side at Lenox Avenue. The street is renowned for its country scenery and free concerts. It generally straddles the east side of the park along Fifth Avenue. The drive passes by the Central Park Zoo around 63rd Street and the Metropolitan Museum of Art around the 80th to 84th Street area. The drive is also one of the legs of the New York Marathon. It is known as the "Elite Carriage Parade", because at the time of the park's opening, only 5 percent of the city was able to afford the carriage; of this, Walt Whitman said that the carriage parade was "an impressive, rich, interminable circus on a grand scale, full of action and color."
Central Park was once a very dangerous place, especially after dark, as measured by crime statistics. The park is considerably safer in the 21st century, though during prior periods it was the site of numerous muggings and rapes. Well-publicized incidents of sexual and confiscatory violence, such as the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger case, dissuaded many from visiting one of Manhattan's most scenic areas. Fear was also directed toward the gay community after World War II from a panic of sex crimes. As crime has declined in the park and in the rest of New York City, many of the negative perceptions have begun to wane. Safety measures hold the number of crimes in the park to fewer than one hundred per year, down from approximately 1,000 in the early 1980s.
On June 11, 2000, following the Puerto Rican Day Parade, gangs of drunken men sexually assaulted women in the park. Several arrests were made shortly after the attacks, but it was not until 2006 that a civil suit against the city for failing to provide police protection was finally settled.
Permission to hold issue-centered rallies in Central Park, similar to the be-ins of the 1960s, has been met with increasingly stiff resistance from the city. During some 2004 protests, the organization United for Peace and Justice wanted to hold a rally on the Great Lawn during the Republican National Convention. The city denied application for a permit, stating that such a mass gathering would be harmful to the grass and that such damage would make it harder to collect private donations to maintain the park. Courts upheld the refusal.
During the 2000s and early 2010s, new towers were constructed along the southern end of Central Park. According to a Municipal Art Society report, such buildings cast shadows over the southern end of the park. There has been some controversy over this.
The Lake in snow, seen from the San Remo on Central Park West
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