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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