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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Planting the Seeds for the "Great Lawn"   |   Robert Moses and a New Deal
Planting the Seeds for the "Great Lawn"
The inauguration of Jimmy Walker in January 1926 brought in a mayor avowedly friendly to the expansion of the park system and the preservationists' goals. In just two years, his administration spent $10 million to add twenty-three hundred acres of park land to the park system -- more space than had been developed in the previous fifteen years. In 1930 Walker launched an even more ambitious $30 million effort to provide play space in crowded areas, although the increasingly severe depression as well as corruption and poor management left most of that program uncompleted. He also supplied the million-dollar appropriation for rehabilitating Central Park that its friends had been urging for years. [Ch1566] Thanks to this capital appropriation as well as a higher operating budget for the parks department, Central Park looked better in 1930 than it had in many years.

At least initially, the Great Depression actually improved the park's condition. New York City's privately funded Emergency Work Bureau saw the parks and playgrounds as one of the easiest places to employ relief workers. By December 1930, sixty-four hundred new workers were engaged in a general cleanup of the city's parks. [Ch1567]

From the preservationists' perspective a great triumph came on the long-debated matter of the Lower Reservoir. The thirty-five acre rectangular Lower Reservoir (between 79th and 86th) was no longer needed for the city’s water supply. For a moment in the late 1920s, when the Daily News pressed for swimming pools, sports fields, or playgrounds, and Henry Fairfield Osborn, director of the American Museum of Natural History, renewed his frenetic lobbying for a promenade, it looked as though the city would fill the reservoir site with a combination of play space and scenic effects. But in June 1930 the city adopted a plan drawn up by the New York chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects for converting the drained land almost entirely into an "oval meadow" or "Great Lawn for Play," as their plan called it -- the design that both landscape architects and preservationists had long urged as most faithful to the original plan. As a concession to recreationists, the plan included two small play areas for young children, "entirely enclosed with foliage so that they need not detract from the park-like aspect of the remainder of the treatment." As a gesture to the advocates of a formal aesthetic, the landscape architects ringed the meadow with an oval walk and introduced a small alley of trees at its northern end. The plan also proposed a new lake at the southern end of the lawn. [Ch1568]

After two decades of wrangling, preservationists and landscape architects had seemingly triumphed both over populist and progressive advocates of recreational facilities and over City Beautiful proponents of memorials and grand promenades.


Planting the Seeds for the "Great Lawn"   |   Robert Moses and a New Deal