Central Park, New York, 1961

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

Colorization by Manos Athanasiadis

September 1961: Three women keep cool during a heat wave by moving a park bench into the water in Central Park, New York. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

September 1961: Three women keep cool during a heat wave by moving a park bench into the water in Central Park, New York. (Photo by Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Central Park is an urban park in middle-upper Manhattan, within New York City.
Between 1821 and 1855, New York City nearly quadrupled in population. As the city expanded northward up Manhattan, people were drawn to the few existing open spaces, mainly cemeteries, to get away from the noise and chaotic life in the city.
New York City’s need for a great public park was resounded by the famed poet and editor of the Evening Post, William Cullen Bryant, as well as by the first American landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing (1815–1852), who predicted and began to publicize the city’s need for a public park in 1844.
A stylish place for open-air driving, similar to Paris’ Bois de Boulogne or London’s Hyde Park, was felt to be needed by many influential New Yorkers and in 1853 the New York legislature settled upon a 700-acre (280 ha) area from 59th to 106th Streets for the creation of the Park, at a cost of more than US$5 million for the land alone.
The Park was established in 1857 on 778 acres (315 ha) of city-owned land and a Central Park Commission held a landscape design contest. In 1858, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824–1895), a landscape architect and an architect respectively, won the design competition, to improve and expand the park, with a plan they titled the “Greensward Plan”.
Andrew Jackson Downing was friend and mentor to Olmsted, and Vaux was his architect collaborator. After Downing died in July 1852, Olmsted and Vaux entered the Central Park design competition together. Vaux had invited the less experienced Olmsted to participate in the design competition with him, having been impressed with Olmsted’s theories and political contacts. The design of Central Park embodies Olmsted’s social consciousness and commitment to egalitarian ideals. Influenced by Downing and his own observations regarding social class in England, China, and the American South, Olmsted believed that the common green space must always be equally accessible to all citizens, and was to be defended against private encroachment. This principle is now fundamental to the idea of a “public park”, but was not assumed as necessary then. Olmsted’s tenure as park commissioner in New York was a long struggle to preserve that idea.
Construction began in 1858 and the park’s first area was opened to the public in the winter of the same year. Construction continued during the American Civil War farther north, and was expanded to its current size of 843 acres (341 ha) in 1873.
Central Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.
Today, the park is maintained by the Central Park Conservancy, a private, not-for-profit organization that manages the park under a contract with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.
While planting and land form in much of the park appear natural, it is in fact almost entirely landscaped. The park contains several natural-looking lakes and ponds that have been created artificially, 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. In addition there are 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 6 miles (9.7 km) of drives within the park are used by joggers, cyclists, skateboarders, and inline skaters, especially when automobile traffic is prohibited, on weekends and in the evenings after 7:00 pm. The park has its own NYPD precinct, the Central Park Precinct, which employs both regular police and auxiliary officers. In 2005, safety measures held the number of crimes in the park to fewer than one hundred per year (down from approximately 1,000 in the early 1980s).
Central Park’s size and cultural position, has served as a model for many urban parks. The park, which receives approximately 35 million visitors annually, is the most visited urban park in the United States. It is also one of the most filmed locations in the world.
Advise and Consent is a 1959 political novel by Allen Drury (1918–1998) that explores the United States Senate confirmation of controversial Secretary of State nominee Robert Leffingwell, who is a former member of the Communist Party. The novel spent 102 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1960 and was adapted into a successful 1962 film starring Henry Fonda.
Sources/More to Read:
Wikipedia: Central Park
Wikipedia: Andrew Jackson Downing
Wikipedia: Frederick Law Olmsted
Wikipedia: Calvert Vaux
Central Park Conservancy
Wikipedia: Advise and Consent
Wikipedia: Allen Drury

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