Central Park visitors to get soaked in giant water fight this month

Waterfight in Central Park

Ah the waterfight, a perennial childhood favorite. Every year we’d fill up our water guns and run around soaking a sibling or maybe the kid from across the street. It was fun but it never seemed to compare to the giant, all-out water wars you saw on Nickelodeon. Now, all these years later, your childhood fantasy is about to come true. On July 30th from 2 to 5pm, New Yorkers will swarm Central Park’s Great Lawn sporting water guns, super soakers, buckets full of water, and spray bottles (but not water balloons – they’re banned because of the mess they leave) with one mission: getting everyone really wet.

If you’d like to join in the fun, check out the Official Event Page on Facebook. You’ll find rules, recommendations about what to bring, and event merchandise.

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A “hidden” Central Park woodland is returned to New York’s citizens.

The Hallett Nature Sanctuary

When Central Park was designed, it was architect Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s intention to bring nature to the citizens of New York. Rather than just building paved gathering areas or gardens, they built meadows, and lakes, and three wooded areas. Up until this year though, most people only had access to two of the wooded areas: The Ramble and The North Woods.

Hallett's Wild Woodland

The third woodland sits on the rocky western shoreline of The Pond (located near, 59th Street between 5th and 6th Ave). The three and a half acre area, once known as The Promontory, has mostly been closed to the public since 1934 when former Parks Commissioner Robert Moses fenced it off to “to see what happens if you let nature take care of nature,” as Gal Lavid, operations director for the Central Park Conservancy told the New York Times. Commissioner Moses seemed to have a thing for nature sanctuaries, he knocked down an entire fishing resort town on Jamaica Bay to create one.

The Department of Parks continued Moses’s sanctuary experiment for decades. As Central Park is not actually nature, but rather a man-made re-creation of nature, the Promontory experienced the same problem most parks would have if they were left unattended, it became overrun by weeds. In 2001, The Central Park Conservancy began an extensive restoration of The Pond and the surrounding Promontory, tearing out Tree of Heaven, Wisteria, Black Cherry, Norway Maple and other invasive species that had completely saturated the area.

Closeup: Plants in Hallett Nature Sanctuary

In 1986, the Promontory was renamed the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to honor George Hervey Hallett, Jr. a civic leader and lover of nature. It remained closed though until 2013. After 79 years, The Central Park Conservancy finally opened the Hallett Nature Sanctuary to the public for a special viewing. Then finally, this year the hidden woodlands received regular hours. Starting in July, you can visit Hallett Nature Sanctuary on Monday from 2-5pm, Wednesday from 2-7pm, Friday from 2-5pm, and Sunday from 11-1pm. The Conservancy will only let 20 people into the area at once so be prepared to wait in a line. These hours will continue until September when they will be amended for the fall season.

Inside Hallett Nature Sanctuary

As you walk through the area, you’ll find park officials stationed throughout as if you’re visiting a museum. Even though it’s open to the public, the park wants the area remain primarily a wildlife sanctuary. You won’t find benches or street lights and will be asked to stay on the wood-chip path. However, if you walk up to the top of the waterfall, you’ll be able to spot a reminder that the park is still man-made nature. Hidden beneath a log is a white plastic pipe that serves as the source of the falls. For many years this was just a garden hose but it was upgraded before it was open to the public.

The Source of Hallett's Waterfall

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The Ladies Pavilion

The Ladies Pavillion

The Ladies Pavillion – photo by Heather Shimmin

— This guest blog post was written by Heather Shimmin. —

The Ladies Pavilion in Central Park is a delectable Victorian fantasy in cast iron. This delightful little structure sits on The Lake near West 75th Street. Its whimsical decorative ironwork, broken columns, and elaborate cresting topped with gold-leaf finials makes it one of the finest examples of the Decorative Arts movement in the United States.

The pavilion was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould in 1871 as a trolley shelter that sat on the southwest corner of the park at 8th Avenue and 59th Street. It served as a respite from the elements for parkgoers for over forty years until the construction of the Maine Monument began in 1912 when it was moved to its present location.

When the shelter was moved, it was renamed The Ladies Pavilion because of its close proximity to the Ladies Skating Pond. To the city’s surprise, the Ladies Skating Pond was never used much. Women preferred to skate on the large co-ed rink where they could hold a gentleman’s hand in public. Physical contact with the opposite sex in public was strictly frowned upon in the Victorian Era. Ice skating was one of the few activities where men and women could have physical contact in a public space, so naturally the women-only skating rink proved quite unpopular. In 1920, it was filled in and covered with azaleas and other plantings.

By 1971, the pavilion was dilapidated and finally torn apart by vandals. Fortunately, pieces of the pavilion were salvaged and the structure was rebuilt. To prevent future destruction, the pavilion was anchored with steel rods sunk into a three-foot concrete foundation.

Except for its monochromatic slate roof and some missing decorative foliage elements from the arcade frieze, the pavilion looks very much as it did when it was moved to its present location. Having only Mould’s working drawing of the pavilion, done in the autumn of 1871, it is impossible to know what the original finished structure looked like.

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Betty and Veronica join a long line of bears living in Central Park

Welcome Grizzle Bears Betty and Veronica to The Central Park Zoo

Welcome Grizzle Bears Betty and Veronica to The Central Park Zoo – photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

Bears have existed in Central Park since 1859 when a young park messenger named Phillip Holmes unwittingly became the caretaker of a young black bear cub. A wealthy New Yorker insisted that guards in the park take the trained cub as a symbolic gift. It was a way of saying, “thanks for bringing this wilderness to the city, here’s some wildness for you.”

Holmes job as messenger meant that he essentially carried out odd tasks for park employees. This was the first time he’d taken care of a wild animal but would not be the last. New Yorkers were so taken by the bear that more gifted animals began to arrive until the area where the zoo currently is situated became a “menagerie” for the animals to live. Holmes would eventually become the nation’s first zookeeper.

Bears living in an earlier version of the Central Park Zoo

Bears living in an earlier version of the Central Park Zoo

Much has changed since Victorian times and our city’s zoos are now home to many animals who might, under normal circumstances, not have survived in the wild. Betty and Veronica, who have moved into the habitat formerly belonging to Gus the polar bear, are two such animals.

The newest residents of the Central Park Zoo.

The newest residents of the Central Park Zoo. – photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society

These beautiful grizzle bears were rescued from Montana and Wyoming when officials deemed them a threat to humans in their respective areas. Bears such as these have typically shown repeated signs of violence and aggression and are often shot. Instead the Wildlife Conservation Society brought them to The Bronx Zoo where they’ve lived since 1995.

Veronica the Grizzly Bear - photo: Julie Larsen Maher

Veronica the Grizzly Bear – photo: Julie Larsen Maher

Zoo officials have reported that these seasoned grizzlies, who know prefer games to violence, will open the Grizzly Bear exhibit in Central Park but it will eventually become the home of three young cubs. The cubs recently lost their mother and the zoo officials need time to work with them before they introduce them to the public.

“It’s a new species and a new exhibit,” Jim Breheny, the society’s executive vice president for zoos and aquariums, told the New York Times. “That’s why we’re sending Betty and Veronica down there. They’re really solid, they’re responsive animals, they really like each other, have great relationships with their keepers. And they’re beautiful.”

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Jazz and Colors brings Central Park a swinging soundtrack

Jazz and Colors
This coming Thursday, in addition to the beautiful changing leaves and the crisp feeling of autumn, Central Park goers will be treated to music by thirty different ensembles spread out throughout the park. They’ve all been given the same set list with songs by Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Billy Strayhorn, Dizzy Gillespie and more. The idea being that as you move throughout the park you’ll experience a seamlessly shifting soundtrack. This beautiful idea is called Jazz and Colors and it’s sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center.

The music starts at noon on Thursday, November 7th and goes all the way to 4pm. It just so happens, we’re giving a park tour during the concert… bonus! But even if you don’t join us, head over to the park. It’s going to be magical.

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Wollman… er Trump Rink… opens this weekend.

Serendipity at Trump/Wolmann Rink

Serendipity at Trump/Wolmann Rink

Ice skating season opens this weekend in Central Park at… umm… well, we’re not really sure what to call it anymore. The famous rink, featured in the movie Serendipity, which was originally built with money given to the city by philanthropist Kate Wollman, used to be called Wollman Rink. If you Google, Wollman Rink, almost everything on the internet refers to it by this name… except the rink itself. It is now calling itself Trump Rink. True, Mr. Trump restored the rink in 1986 after it had been closed for several years. Trump then operated the rink, then didn’t, then came resumed operations in 2001. Since that time, the Trump Organization has spent a significant amount of money in capital improvements on the rink. Nobody could say that he hasn’t been a huge supporter and friend of the rink and the park. Our company has personally made it a point in the past to thank The Trump Organization for its many contributions. But what about Kate Wollman’s contributions? The Trump name now appears on the rink’s website (wollmanrinkskating.com), Facebook account, and Twitter profile and we can’t seem to figure out what prompted the change. We reached out to the Central Park Conservancy and they didn’t seem to know the rink had been “renamed.” When we called the rink, they informed us that it has been called Trump Rink for the past two years. Yeah… it hasn’t. While Mr. Trump certainly has the right to receive credit for his philanthropy, both philanthropists really should receive credit.

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Camping in Central Park is illegal, unless you know what we know…

camping in central park

Tents are pitched in Central Park.

So, you want to camp in Central Park? We’d advise against it. It’s illegal. Take our tour instead. But, if you happen to be free the evening of Saturday, August 24, there’s a loophole. New York City’s Urban Park Rangers have set the night aside to escort several lucky people into our glorious park to spend an evening under the stars. If you want to be a part of the experience, you’ll need to enter a lottery. If you don’t get a chance to camp in Central Park, don’t worry. There are also opportunities in other city parks including Alley Pond Park, Inwood Hill Park, Prospect Park, and Pelham Bay Park.

Not sure what to expect of city camping trips? Our friends at Downtown Traveler went earlier this year and seemed to have a great time. Apparently there were drum circles, cheesy games, and seedy hiking trips. They recommend bringing snacks, headlamps, and a camera that can take photos at night. Their best tip though is to set your tent up next to a family with kids as they tend to go to bed earlier and stay quiet. Smart!

So, who’s feeling adventurous? Will you be camping in a city park anytime soon?

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A Whopping Seventeen Concerts Will Take Place in Central Park this June 21st

harmonica concert in central park

Anyone can join in this harmonica concert, even Mike Bloomberg

For many, Central Park conjures up images of woodlands, meadows, and lakes. But some people associate the park with something else, drum circles, saxophonists playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to children, and diehard hippies strumming out Beatles songs. On June 21, there will be even more street musicians in the park though. Or perhaps we should call them lake musicians.

Each year on the first day of summer Make Music New York takes to the streets with over a thousand free open air musical performances. When we say music, we’re talking anything and everything: funk, punk, jazz, you name it. The festival is showing Central Park some love too, bringing two classical concerts to The Lake, five folk music performances at The Great Hill, traditional Indian music at The Dairy, three free for all concerts that anyone can join, a string orchestra, and a French hip-hop concert by IAM.

Lake Music
At 7:30am and 8:15pm, six trombones standing on opposite sides of The Lake will face their conductor situated in a boat in between them to play Canadian Composer R. Murray Schafer’s Music for Wilderness Lake. At 5pm, a 144 singers will perform Schafer’s 50 minute piece Credo which was intended to be sung by twelve separate but coordinated choirs. As if that wasn’t spectacular enough, the will do this while sitting in boats on The Lake. The Lake is found in the center of the park at 72nd Street. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Hill Folk
At 11:00am, singer/song writer Cynthia Goddeau kicks things off, guitar in hand with an hour set. Then at 12 noon, singer Elaine Romanelli, who’s been compared to Sarah McLachlan, switches things up when she steps behind the piano. Later at 2:00pm, Joe Miller brings some country flair to his folk music in an acoustic guitar and vocals set. Immediately after at 3:00pm, coffeeshop and bar veteran Paul Tabachneck will share covers of his favorite pop-rock songs and some originals of his own. Finally at 4:00pm, The Folk Music Society of New York and NYCStreetsingers shares an hour and a half of old fashioned folk goodness. The Great Hill is found on the West Side of the park at 104th Street. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Never Too Late To String
The New York Late Starters String Orchestra claims The Great Hill at 6:30pm to perform chamber music. Their chamber orchestra is comprised of amateur adult performers who discovered their passion for music later in life. Stop by and hear this unique group comprised of players from 18 to 80 years of age give an hour and a half concert. The Great is found on the West Side of the park at 104th Street. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

That Time You Performed In Central Park
Throughout the day there are three “mass appeal” concerts. In other words, anyone can join one of these concert if they want to. At 4:00pm, flutists will gather at Wollman Rink (approximately where 63rd Street and Sixth Avenue would be) for a two hour concert of prepared pieces with sightseeing performances. For more info contact [email protected]. At 6:00pm, you can bring a harmonica to Stranger’s Gate (106th Street and Central Park West) even if you’ve never played one before in your life. After a quick harmonica lesson, everyone will perform in an interactive concert. Contact Jia-Ye He at [email protected] to sign up. Lastly, at 7pm, accordionist Melissa Elledge will lead an all-accordion performance of “In C” (1964) by Terry Riley which anyone may join at Dalehead Arch (64th Street on the west side of the park). To sign up, and get sheet music, email [email protected]. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Journey Through India
Experience India in front of a Swedish Cottage with ensembles directly from India. Featured performers include vocalist Falu and group at 4:00pm. At 5:30pm, Jin Won, Woman of Tabla from Taalika, followed by Taalim Tabla Trio/men of Tabla (Kaumil Shah, Michael Lukshis, and Archit Krishna) Lastly, at 6:45pm the Hindustani Vocalist Samarth Nagarkar. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

Summer Stages Makes Music Again
Maybe it was planned or maybe it was serendipity, but it just so happens that French Hip-Hop group IAM is performing at Rumsey Playfield (in the center of the park below 72nd Street) at 7pm. The group incorporates the sounds of Ancient Egypt, Africa, China, Japan, India and American music. They’re recent album, Paid in Full, was called “the greatest Hip-Hop album of all time” by Rolling Stone. If you need more help, check out our map of the park.

You might be tempted to say something like “only in New York” but Make Music NY happens simultaneously with similar festivities in over 500 cities globally. If you feel like doing more than just watching, MMNY is looking for some volunteers for the day to help row singers into location, hand out programs and other such things. You can email [email protected] if you want to volunteer.

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The Rocking Chair Riots

The Central Park Mall in 1901

The Central Park Mall in 1901

New York is an amazing city, we’ve got more than 8 million residents who speak one or more of the 800 languages found here. Every year over 47 million tourists come to see our skyscrapers, sample our many cuisines, fill our Broadway theatres, and stroll through Central Park. Naturally with so many people sharing these crowded streets, we don’t always see eye to eye. One thing we can all agree on though is despite its many wonders New York is often lacking in creature comforts. Have you ever run from establishment to establishment trying to find a bathroom in SoHo? In the last few years however, one thing had gotten easier, finding a place to sit. Janette Sadik-Khan, the Commissioner of the New York Department of Transportation, has created a large number of pedestrian plazas where once there were roads and equipped them with tables and chairs for all to use. This was exactly the opposite of what happened in 1901 however, the year of New York’s Rocking Chair Riots.

Nestled between 66th and 72nd Street, The Mall is the only formal gathering area which was planned in Central Park. Seen as a necessity for a great park, the elm lined path’s intent was to move visitors to the center of the park, additionally serving as a promenade and resting place. The area quickly attracted the city’s upper class citizens who used it to socialize and show off their fine clothing and carriages. For some time, lower class citizens avoided The Mall and spent the majority of their visit in the further south Children’s District. This changed however around the turn of the century as street cars made travel to Central Park easier for the ever growing population of New York’s working class. Lower class citizens began to spend time in areas they’d not traditionally frequented, including The Mall.

A man by the name of Oscar F Spate saw this as an opportunity to make some money, $250 to $300 per day (approximately $7,150 to $8,600 today) by his estimates, charging people three to five cents to sit in rocking chairs placed in the city’s parks.

His idea is that under the pay system, lazy loungers, none too clean, who heretofore monopolized the benches, will hereafter have all the room they want, and that others can group together by moving their chairs to places which suit them – that is by posting for the privilege. – The New York Times, 1901

In other words, if you’re wealthy and don’t want to sit by a poor person, you can pay to sit in a more desirable rocking chair. Spate approached president of the Park Commission, George C. Clausen in April of 1901 with his idea, explaining that it was already being done in London and Paris. It’s worth mentioning that to this day you can pay for chairs in London’s Hyde Park. Clausen happily gave Spate a permit for the price of $500 ($14,300 today) per year.

And so in May of the same year, elegant green rocking chairs were placed alongside the existing free park benches in the Central Park Mall and further downtown in Madison Square Park. Accompanying them were burly attendants dressed in gray who would approach those who sat in the chairs to ask them to pay for the privilege of sitting.

Despite it’s European roots, New Yorkers where not impressed by this new business model. The attendants who made a mere $1 per day (about $28 today) were berated on a regular basis. One of them reported to the press that approximately 1 in 50 people who sat on the chairs actually chose to remain in the seat and pay the requested fee. In June of 1901, Alderman Randolf Guggenheimer, the equivalent to today’s Speaker of the City Council, told the New York Times, “It is ridiculous for the Park Commission to grant such a permit. The parks belong to the people and should be free to all… there is no propriety in providing elegant seats to those who can pay for them and allow those who cannot pay to put up with poorer seats or no seats at all.”

Alderman Guggenheimer intended to do something about the chairs but before he got the chance to, things began to heat up, literally. Late June and early July brought temperatures in the high 90s to New York. With no air conditioning to soothe them, about 1,700 New Yorkers died or were hospitalized with heat related afflictions. Residents sought the refuge of their beloved parks only to find that most of the “free benches” had been removed and those that were left were not protected by the shade of the trees. In defiance, people ignored attendants and sat in the chairs. Initially they were forcefully removed but eventually crowds of people outnumbered the attendants and even threw stones at them. Before long, riots broke out in Madison Square Park. Uptown in Central Park, people began marching with signs protesting Clausen and Spate’s actions. Oscar Spate countered the reaction by informing attendants to stack the chairs in a heap and to only give them out when people paid for them. The protesters resolved to pay for the chairs only so that they could smash them on the ground.

The city did little to protect Mr. Spate or his chairs and his attendants became frustrated and quit their jobs. Meanwhile, a man named Max Radt, vice-president of Jefferson State Bank sued The Park Board in New York’s Supreme Court. The following ruling was issued eliminating Oscar Spate’s contract with Clausen:

It appeared upon the trial that, as an incident to the privilege given to Spate under his agreement, the ordinary park benches were, in or about the month of May, 1901, removed from shady spots to make way for his chairs, and that any person who was either unwilling or too poor to pay for a chair would have to either swelter on a free bench in the sun or seek shade, fresh air, rest or relief from excessive heat in some other place than in the public parks.

It seems to me that the agreement in question is a pernicious one, and that the “special privileges” therein conferred are utterly opposed to our institutions. The parks are for the people, and not for any particular class of the people. At all times a source of health and enjoyment, they are especially refreshing during summer, when relief may be had from the torrid heat in the shade of their beautiful trees. To sustain the privileges of the defendant Spate would be tantamount to holding that the natural benefits derived from our parks could be bought and sold, and that a special tax could be imposed as a prerequisite to admission within their boundaries…

As the agreement made with Spate is, in my opinion, plainly illegal, and in derogation of public right, it follows that the plaintiff, a taxpayer, can invoke the power of the court, and there must be judgment for plaintiff, with costs.

Upon this ruling, Spate gave up his business and Clausen purchased the remaining chairs and placed them in the park with a sign on each which read, “For the exclusive use of women and children. Free.”

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Brooklyn graveyard which inspired Central Park is on exhibit

Green-Wood Cemetery

In 1838, the city of Brooklyn (when it was the country’s third largest city) opened one of America’s most important green spaces, Green-wood Cemetery and it’s the topic of an entire exhibit at The Museum of The City of New York. If it seems odd to think of the opening of a cemetery as a significant historic event, it’s merely because you lack the context of the era. In the thirty years prior to Green-wood, New York City had nearly tripled in size. The opening of the Erie Canal brought major goods to New York from the land past the once impenetrable Appellation Mountains and people from all over the world were flocking to the city to make their fortunes. Unfortunately, building was happening so quickly that many of the smaller gardens and wooded areas that once existed were being used to build tenements (a multi-occupancy building) as opposed to the single family homes which had dominated the city at one point. Those who grew up in New York barely recognized their home. Green spaces were disappearing as were plots in the smaller church graveyards in Lower Manhattan. Many of New York’s citizens wound up being buried in a potter’s field that used to occupy the land where Washington Square Park now sits.

Across the river in Brooklyn, Henry Evelyn Pierrepont, a city planner who would become known as “Brooklyn’s first citizen” because of his passion for the city, was already planning a solution… Green-wood Cemetery. The 478 acres instantly became the en vogue place to be buried but something else happened too. The cemetery, unique large in its scale became a tourist destination. Originally it served as a sort of outdoor museums a place to remember significant individuals but soon people began to visit Green-wood and several other urban cemeteries which were now being built, to enjoy its beauty as a garden. This behavior sparked one of New York’s most prominent landscape architects, Andrew Jackson Downing, to become one of the most influential proponents for the creation of a public park in New York City.

Judging from the crowds of people in carriages, and on foot, which I find constantly thronging Green-wood…I think it is plain enough how much our citizens, of all classes, would enjoy public parks on a similar scale. Indeed, the only drawback to these beautiful and highly kept cemeteries, to my taste, is the gala-day air of recreation they present. People seem to go there to enjoy themselves, and not to indulge in any serious recollections or regrets. Can you doubt that if our large towns had suburban pleasure grounds, like Green-wood, (excepting the monuments)…they would become the constant resort of the citizens, or that, being so, they would tend to soften and allay some of the
feverish unrest of business which seems to have possession of most Americans, body and soul?

Now, if hundreds of thousands of the inhabitants of cities, like New York, will…incur the expense and trouble of going five or six miles to visit Greenwood [sic], we think it may safely be estimated that a much larger number would resort to a public garden…. That such a project, carefully planned, and liberally and judiciously carried out, would not
only pay, in money, but largely civilize and refine the national character, foster the love of rural beauty, and increase the knowledge of and taste for rare and beautiful trees and plants, we cannot entertain a reasonable doubt.

While a trip to Green-wood Cemetery today would only cost $2.50 in subway fare, public transit of this sort did not exist at the time, electricity didn’t even exist nor did a bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn. These sorts of excursions showed a strong desire to connect with the outdoors. Downing went on to point out in other publications the oddity of spending leisure time among the deceased. Later he went to Europe to study the parks that existed there and when he returned he brought back Calvert Vaux who would one day design Central Park with Fredrick Law Olmsted. Downing’s writings stirred something in the people of time and it was not long before political candidates were talking about the creation of a new public park… a Central Park.

Pilot's Monument

Over the years many notable people have been buried in the cemetery including William Magear “Boss” Tweed, Leonard Bernstein, DeWitt Clinton, Horrace Greeley, and Peter Cooper. Starting on May 15th, The City of The Museum of New York will have a whole exhibit about Green-wood called “A Beautiful Way to Go.” It will cover the history, architecture, and also feature artifacts and art influenced by the cemetery itself. If you’ve never been to an exhibit at the museum, this would be a great one to start out with.

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