Central Park was the first major landscaped public space in urban America. It was created in the late 1850s as an antidote to the turbulent social unrest, largely as the result of the country’s first wave of immigration, and a serious public health crisis, caused by harmful environmental conditions.
Here are the facts you ought to know:
- initially opened in 1857
- 1858 to 1873 – improved and expanded according to design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux
- hours: open daily from 6:00 am until 1:00 am (all year)
- area: 843 acres (341 ha) (3.412 km²) – about 6% of Manhattan’s total area
- perimeter: 6 miles (2.5 miles up and down the avenues and 0.5 miles across Central Park North and South)
- pathways: 58 miles of walking paths; 4.25 miles of bridle paths
- trees: over 26,000
- benches: over 9,000
- bridges and arches: 36
- birds: 215 species in a 6.1-acre sanctuary, many rare to the area including the peregrine falcon
- sculptures: 29
- visitors: about 40 million per year making it the most visited urban park in the USA
- currently managed by the non-profit Central Park Conservancy under contract with the city government
- The Conservancy contributes about 85% of Central Park’s $37.5 million annual budget
Central Park is one of the most famous sightseeing spots in New York. It is bordered on the north by Central Park North, on the south by Central Park South, on the west by Central Park West, and on the east by Fifth Avenue.
While planting and land form in much of the park appear natural, it is in fact almost entirely landscaped. There are several natural-looking lakes and ponds that have been created artificially, seven major lawns, the “meadows”, and many minor grassy areas; some of them are used for informal or team sports and some set aside as quiet areas; there are a number of enclosed playgrounds for children.
The park contains extensive walking tracks, bridle paths, two ice-skating rinks (one of which is a swimming pool in July and August), the Central Park Zoo, the Central Park Conservatory Garden, a wildlife sanctuary, a large area of natural woods, a 106-acre (43 ha) billion-gallon reservoir with an encircling running track, and an outdoor amphitheater, the Delacorte Theater, which hosts the “Shakespeare in the Park” summer festivals.
Indoor attractions include Belvedere Castle with its nature center, the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre, and the historic Carousel.
The 6 miles (9.7 km) of drives within the park are used by joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders, and inline skaters, especially when automobile traffic is prohibited, on weekends and in the evenings after 7:00 pm.
Before the construction of the park began, the area had to be cleared of its inhabitants, most of whom were quite poor and either free African Americans or residents of English or Irish origin. Most of them lived in small villages, such as Seneca Village, Harsenville, or the Piggery District; or in the school and convent at Mount St. Vincent’s Academy. Around 1,600 residents occupying the area at the time, were evicted under the rule of eminent domain during 1857. Seneca Village and parts of the other communities were razed to make room for the park.
During the early park development period, more than 18,500 cubic yards (14,100 m3) of topsoil had been transported in from New Jersey, because the original soil was not fertile or substantial enough to sustain the various trees, shrubs, and plants.
More than four million trees, shrubs and plants representing approximately 1,500 species were transplanted to the park.
Sheep grazed on the Sheep Meadow from the 1860s until 1934, when they were moved to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and were soon moved to a farm near Otisville, New York as it was feared they would be used for food by impoverished Depression-era New Yorkers.
Following completion, the park quickly slipped into decline as maintenance effort gradually declined, and there were few, if any, attempts to replace dead trees, bushes and plants, or worn-out lawn. For several decades, authorities did little or nothing to prevent vandalism and the littering of the park.
Restored in 1936 when Fiorello LaGuardia was elected mayor of New York City and unified the five park-related departments then in existence. Robert Moses was given the task of cleaning up the park.
In a single year, Moses managed to clean up Central Park and other parks in New York City. Lawns and flowers were replanted, dead trees and bushes were replaced, walls were sandblasted, and bridges repaired. Another dramatic change was Moses’s removal of the “Hoover Valley” shantytown, where scores of homeless families camped out and whose site was transformed into the 30 acres Great Lawn.
The 1960s marked the beginning of an “Events Era” in Central Park that reflected the widespread cultural and political trends of the period. The Public Theater’s annual Shakespeare in the Park festival was settled in the Delacorte Theater (1961), and summer performances were instituted on the Sheep Meadow, and then on the Great Lawn by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera. During the late 1960s the park became the venue for rallies and cultural events such as the “Love-Ins” and “Be-Ins” of the period. Increasingly through the 1970s, the park became a venue for events of unprecedented scale, including rallies, demonstrations, festivals and concerts.
In the summer of 1966, two-term mayor of New York John V. Lindsay, himself an avid cyclist, initiated a weekend ban on automobiles in Central Park for the enjoyment of cyclists and public alike – a policy that has stuck to this day.
On October 23, 2012, hedge fund manager John A. Paulson announced a $100 million gift to the Central Park Conservancy, the largest ever monetary donation to New York City’s park system.
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