Jonathan and I moved to New York in the mid-eighties, living on the West Side close to the San Remo towers shown in the image above. One reason we chose this location was to be close to Central Park (I was a contientious jogger). But that Central Park was in terrible decay and heart breakingly so. Thus, I watched in fascination as concerned citizens sprang into action, led by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, who created the Central Park Conservancy. Even the crash of 1987 did not deter this revitalization movement that bested any obstacle in their path.
Today, this glorious creation of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux — all eight-hundred and forty acres of it — is, to me, the jewel in New York City’s crown. Not a visit goes by that I do not make time to take even a short stroll into one of my very favorite “naturalistic landscapes” in the world…hillocks and valleys, vast green meadows and large water centerpieces, meandering drives and strolling paths. And well-tended gardens like those that you would see at a private home.
Early spring in the Park was a draw for many reasons, and I revelled in capturing spots or a vista that were highlights due to a flowering fruit tree or planting of tulips. Yes, I was hungry for a taste of spring but I was first anxious to re-visit a creation that inspires my awe and appreciation.
The stone work and statues alone speak volumes about the restoration work undertaken over the past thirty-five years. Olmsted’s plan also included thirty-six bridges (no two are alike!) all in beautiful condition. But for me, it is the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain Plaza that are the most impressive. Starting at the north end of the long Mall
which is dressed up with planted marble urns and handsomely designed, sturdy benches,
you proceed across 72nd Street to look over the Terrace and Fountain Plaza.
A pair of stately, intricately detailed stairs lead down to the Terrace with its elegant brickwork.
Part of the delight of Central Park is that you get totally subsumed by the Park, forgetting that you are actually in a major city. In the words of Ms. Rogers, “You get this pleasant sense of disorientation. Turn a corner and even I can get mildly lost.”
But then there are those moments when the city’s skyscrapers add their own touch of magic, a counterpoint to the “green metroplis” (the name of Ms. Rogers’ book) that is Central Park.
A closing note –Twenty-five years after designing Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted in 1884 was invited to Newport to collaborate on a twenty-seven acre real estate development of summer estates. Olmsted was responsible for the picturesque layout of serpentine roads leading to residences designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White that would become part of the future “Ocean Drive district.”