Huddlestone Arch, Lasker Rink, and Harlem Meer

Coming soon to Central Park: a new ice rink, swimming pool, and a long lost landscape

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.

Lasker Rink and Pool
Lasker Rink and Pool

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 in Autumn - Photo by Eric Gross
The Pool in Autumn – Photo by Eric Gross

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.

The current view of Lasker Pool and Rink from Huddlestone Arch
The current view of Lasker Pool and Rink from Huddlestone Arch

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.

Lasker Rink and Pool - Aerial as it is today
Lasker Rink and Pool – Aerial as it is today
Conceptual plan for re-envisioned pool and rink
Conceptual plan for re-envisioned pool and rink

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?

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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

To learn more secrets of Central Park, sign up for one of our Central Park tours.

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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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Bike sharing comes to NYC

In 1894, New York City created the country’s first bike path. It was designed by Central Park’s architects, Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The bike path lays in a median on Ocean Parkway to this day and is landscaped with trees and shaded benches. It stretches five miles from Prospect Park, Brooklyn’s answer to Central Park which was also created by Olmsted and Vaux, to Coney Island.

Olmsted considered himself more a civil servant than an engineer and was always trying to improve a citizen’s quality of life with his design. As such it stands to reason that he would have been quite fond of New York City’s new bike sharing program scheduled to begin in Spring of 2012. But just as Olmsted’s visions were often met with resistance, so are those by one of the city’s current visionaries.

Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s Transportation Commissioner, has been vigilantly working since her appointment in 2007 to make New York a bike friendly city. She regularly speaks of the benefits of streets that serve all the city’s residents and not just automobiles. Sadik-Khan added over 250 miles of bike lane to New York’s roads to date and is responsible for the creation of several pedestrian plazas in areas like Herald Square and Times Square. Her ideas are praised by many yet she’s received some strong resistance in City Hall and from a group in Park Slope that opposed the placement of a bicycle lane. Still, Kahn has paved the way, literally, to bring bike sharing to New York and it seems to be a reality.

Just recently, New York accepted a bid from Alta Bicycle Share, a company that runs bike sharing programs in Washington DC and Boston. Capital Bike Share, their program in DC, just celebrated its first year and the program seems to be going strong:

The bike sharing program allows members to take a bike and ride it anywhere they want in the city where they can drop it off at the nearest docking station. The President of Alta Bicycle Share, also notes that bike sharing will make the city “a healthier, cleaner, greener and safer place.” An NYC pricing plan has not been finalized but in DC, a yearly membership costs $75 or $5 for the day. The first half hour of the bike share is included in the cost of the membership. After that the price starts to go up. At first there’s only a $1.50 uptick for the second half our. But then it’s three dollars for the third and six for every half hour afterwards. The idea being, take your bike, get where you’re going and then give it back. This must also be comforting to bike rental companies who make a significant amount of their income renting bicycles at Columbus Circle, the most requested share station submitted via the DOT’s bike share website. Though they may lose out on some shorter term rental business depending on the pricing structure in NYC. Central Park Bike Rentals, the company that officially rents in Central Park currently charges $20 for a two-hour walk-up rental.

Are you excited about the upcoming bike share program? Do you think there will be an uptick in share bikes being used in the park? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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