— 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.