The 1850s

The 1860s

The 1870s

The 1880s

Early 20th Century

The 1920s

The 1930s

Post World War II

The 1960s

The 1970s

The 1980s

All text from:
The Park and the People

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Reshaping Park Politics   |   Modifying the Park Landscape
Easing the "Iron Rules"   |   Sex and Sex Crimes in the Park

Modifying the Park Landscape
As new fashionable neighborhoods formed in the late nineteenth century, individuals and real estate groups lobbied for their own interest in the maintenance and arrangement of the park's landscape.

The drainage problem particularly worried uptown developers. The stagnant lakes bred malaria, reporters charged, warning parents to keep their children away. [Ch1127] Uptown landowners backed the park board's request for special appropriations to dredge the lakes and replace pipes. Samuel Parsons, Jr. and Vaux (who once again returned as landscape architect in 1888) oversaw the filling of the west arm of the Lake at 77th Street -- once known as the Ladies Pond -- and redesigned an adjacent bridle path. But by the 1890s, the lakes were stagnant cesspools once more. This time the board turned to asphalt and then concrete bottoms. However pleasing the illusion of a natural landscape, artificial materials were easier to maintain. [Ch1128]

The original Greensward plan had enclosed Central Park to create a self-contained pastoral landscape, but the wall and the limited carriage and pedestrian entrances along the east and west borders represented a constant source of irritation for the park's neighbors. East Side landowners were able to get a new entrance into the park at 67th Street. West Siders, who had no entrances between 59th and 72nd streets, were demanding the same accommodation. Responding to such complaints the board arranged for new pedestrian entrances near West 62nd and 66th streets, and also new carriage entrances north of 72nd Street. [Ch1129]

The park's neighbors were even more annoyed about their difficulties getting across the park. By the early 1880s the four transverse roads had so deteriorated that the one at 85th Street bore virtually all crosstown traffic. Sidewalks had been laid through the narrow and walled sunken roads, but pedestrians were loath to compete with two lanes of wagons and carriages. While some uptowners crossed the park on the 72nd Street carriage road, developers petitioned for a new surface road across the park. Transit companies also proposed building tracks for horse railways on the transverse roads. Meanwhile, the park's neighbors campaigned to extend the curfew to midnight and to light the paths so that they could walk across the park at night. [Ch1130]

Adjacent land developers also pushed park officials to finish landscaping the long-neglected northern end of Central Park, which, the East Harlem Improvement Association complained in 1890, rendered their nearby lots "unmarketable." One such improvement was construction of the Conservatory at 104th Street and Fifth Avenue in 1899. And despite the reservations of Calvert Vaux, the board also approved elaborate entrances at the 110th Street east and west corners. The Real Estate Record successfully campaigned for the introduction of flower beds at the park entrances -- an aesthetic trend Olmsted denounced. [Ch1131]

Landowners and residents on Fifty Avenue repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) urged that the zoo be moved from behind the Arsenal at 64th Street. Commercial proprietors on Ninth Avenue enthusiastically greeted one proposal to rebuild the zoo on the West Side, but residential developers marshaled the West Side Association to defeat this threat to their own exclusivity. The park board told Fifth Avenue residents that it would move the zoo to the North Meadow if they would pay the costs. Although Vaux mobilized editorialists and artists to oppose these proposals, that the zoo stayed at the Arsenal site was as much a tribute to West Siders' resistance and East Siders' parsimony as to the park board's loyalty to the Greensward plan. [Ch1133]


Reshaping Park Politics   |   Modifying the Park Landscape
Easing the "Iron Rules"   |   Sex and Sex Crimes in the Park