It was never meant to be the way it is now. The stark, concrete recreational facility sits fenced in at approximately 107th Street just east of the center of the park. It’s an eye-sore surrounded by some of the most significant and impressively designed naturalistic landscapes in the world. A problem from the time of its construction, the crudely constructed building will soon be a thing of the past. It serves as a swimming pool in the summer and an ice skating rink in the winter and was named after Loula D. Lasker, whose foundation gave $500,000 to New York City in 1961 to put toward a recreational facility that ultimately cost about $2,050,0000. The new facility replaced a section of Harlem Meer where people traditionally swam and skated. The thinking was that it would only disturb the landscape of Central Park minimally.
Instead, a park that was designed to be a respite from the crowded city, began to feel more like the places people go to the park to avoid. The facility would eventually become plagued by long-lines at entry as it requires all guests to show they’ve brought a lock to protect their belongings. It’s an ironic move as the locker-rooms haven’t been updated in years and many of the lockers won’t even close. The showers and toilets aren’t particularly pleasant to use either, but the problems continue beyond the experience of attendance. The site has suffered from flooding due to drainage problems present since its initial construction. Furthermore, it tainted one of the park’s greatest landscape sequences, a series of pathways following a natural stream that wind from 101st Street and Central Park West up to Harlem Meer in the northeast corner of the park.
The Pool, which is not a swimming pool but one of the most intimate bodies of water in the park, was created when designers Olmstead and Vaux decided to dam Montayne’s Rivulet, one of New York’s original streams. They sent the water northeast through via the Loch, a waterway that pools before traveling on through the North Woods. This area is called the Ravine and its landscapes were meant to unfold for a person walking through the park as if they were watching a movie. Change in elevation, twists and turns in the path, and two arches, Glen Span Arch and Huddlestone arch, act as dividers between scenes of woodlands and bodies of water. Originally this went all the way to Harlem Meer but the construction of Lasker Rink and Pool changed all of that.
Fortunately, The Central Park Conservancy and The City of New York are partnering together to fix everything. Not only will they be building a new facility for skating and swimming that doesn’t flood (and hopefully has decent locker rooms), they’ll be restoring The Ravine walk that the original structure interupted.
The Conservancy will raise $100 million for the project and the city will raise an additional $50 million – note the increase in construction costs from the 1960s. This exciting project truly balances the needs of today’s park-goers with the original intention of the landscape and the Conservancy is to be congratulated on getting it so very right. Expect to see the new pool/rink, and landscape completed by 2021.
If you’d like a tour of The Ravine, Harlem Meer and the surrounding areas, why not book a private tour of Central Park?