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. Since Central Park was not part of the original Commissioners' Plan of 1811, John Randel, Jr., surveyed the grounds. The only remaining surveying bolt from his survey is still visible; it is embedded in a rock just north of the present Dairy and the 65th Street Transverse, and south of Center Drive. The bolt marks the location where West 65th Street would have intersected Sixth Avenue.
New York City's need for a great public park was resounded by the famed poet and editor of the Evening Post (now the New York Post), William Cullen Bryant, as well as by the first American landscape architect, Andrew Jackson Downing, 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, after an abortive attempt in 1850–1851 to designate Jones's Wood, 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 state appointed a Central Park Commission to oversee the development of the park, and in 1857 the commission held a landscape design contest. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux developed what came to be known as the "Greensward Plan", which was selected as the winning design. According to Olmsted, the park was "of great importance as the first real Park made in this country—a democratic development of the highest significance…", a view probably inspired by his stay and various trips in Europe during 1850 (he had visited several parks during these trips and was particularly impressed by Birkenhead Park and Derby Arboretum in England). The Greensward Plan called for some 36 bridges, all designed by Vaux, ranging from rugged spans of Manhattan schist or granite, to lacy Neo-Gothic cast iron; no two are alike. The ensemble of the formal line of the Mall's doubled allées of elms culminating at Bethesda Terrace, whose centerpiece is the Bethesda Fountain, with a composed view beyond of lake and woodland, was at the heart of the larger design. Execution of the Greensward Plan was the responsibility of a number of individuals, including Jacob Wrey Mould (architect), Ignaz Anton Pilat (master gardener), George E. Waring, Jr. (engineer), and Andrew Haswell Green (politician), in addition to Olmsted and Vaux.
Several influences came together in the design. Landscaped cemeteries, such as Mount Auburn (Cambridge, Massachusetts) and Green-Wood (Brooklyn, New York) had set examples of idyllic, naturalistic landscapes. The most influential innovations in the Central Park design were the "separate circulation" systems for pedestrians, horseback riders, and pleasure vehicles. The "crosstown" commercial traffic was entirely concealed in sunken roadways (today called "transverses"), screened with densely planted shrub belts so as to maintain a rustic ambiance.
In 1850, the land was occupied by free blacks and Irish immigrants who had purchased land, where they raised livestock, including goats and pigs, built churches and cemeteries, and had lived as a community for close to 50 years. Before the construction of the park could start, the area had to be cleared of its inhabitants. Rossi states that part of the impetus to schemes such as Central Park and others was to remove what they incorrectly deemed as shanty towns and their denizens, who consisted of free African Americans and English/Irish residents, most of whom were middle-class. Most lived in small villages, such as Harsenville, the Piggery District, or Seneca Village; or in the school and convent at Mount St. Vincent's Academy. Approximately 1,600 residents 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. In addition, when the commission finally deposited its report for public examination on October 4, 1855, taxpayers learned that they would be paying $5 million just for the park land, more than three times what they had been told the completed park as a whole would cost. At the same time, the portion of the bill covered by assessing adjacent landowners—$1.7 million, or one-third of the purchase price—would be considerably less than the more optimistic of the earlier estimates.
During the park's construction, Olmsted fought constant battles with the park commissioners, many of them also politicians. In 1860, he was forced out for the first of many times as Central Park's superintendent, and Andrew Haswell Green, the former president of New York City's Board of Education took over as the commission's chairman. Despite his having relatively little experience, he managed to accelerate the construction as well as to finalize the negotiations to purchase an additional 65 acres (260,000 m2) at the north end of the park, between 106th and 110th Streets, which would be used as the "rugged" part of the park, its swampy northeast corner dredged, and reconstructed as the Harlem Meer.
Between 1860 and 1873, most of the major hurdles to construction were overcome and the park was substantially completed. Construction combined the modern with the ageless: up-to-date steam-powered equipment and custom-designed wheeled tree moving machines augmented massive numbers of unskilled laborers wielding shovels. The work was extensively documented with technical drawings and photographs. During this period, more than 18,500 cubic yards (14,100 m3) of topsoil had been transported in from New Jersey, because the original soil was neither fertile nor sufficiently substantial to sustain the various trees, shrubs, and plants called for by the Greensward Plan. When the park was officially completed in 1873, more than 10 million cartloads of material had been transported out of the park, including soil and rocks, and more than four million trees, shrubs, and plants representing approximately 1,500 species were transplanted to the park. More gunpowder was used to clear the area than was used at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War.
A proposal to have ornate, European-style entrances to the park was opposed by Olmsted and Vaux, who intended for the park's unadorned entrances to signal "that all were welcome, regardless of rank or wealth." The park's commissioners assigned a name to each of the original 18 gates in 1862. The names were chosen to represent the broad diversity of New York City's trades; for example, "Mariner's Gate" for the entrance at 85th Street and Central Park West. The majority of entrances did not receive an inscription, however, until a park restoration effort in 1999.
Sheep grazed on the Sheep Meadow from the 1860s until 1934, when they were moved to Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and soon thereafter moved to a farm near Otisville, New York in the Catskill Mountains. It was feared they would be used for food by impoverished Depression-era New Yorkers. Officials were concerned that starving men would turn the sheep into lunch.
Following completion, the park quickly slipped into decline. One of the main reasons for this was the lack of interest from the Tammany Hall political machine, which was the largest political force in New York at the time. Around the turn of the 20th century, the park faced several new challenges. Cars were becoming commonplace, bringing with them their burden of pollution, and people's attitudes were beginning to change. No longer were parks to be used only for walks and picnics in an idyllic environment but now also for sports and similar recreation. Following the dissolution of the Central Park Commission in 1870 and Andrew Green's departure from the project, and Vaux's death in 1895, the maintenance effort gradually declined. All of this changed in 1934, when Republican Fiorello La Guardia 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. Moses, about to become one of the most powerful men in New York City, took over what was essentially a relic, a leftover from a bygone era.
According to historian Robert Caro:
Lawns, unseeded, were expanses of bare earth, decorated with scraggly patches of grass and weeds, that became dust holes in dry weather and mud holes in wet…. The once beautiful Mall looked like a scene of a wild party the morning after. Benches lay on their backs, their legs jabbing at the sky...
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, whose site was transformed into the 30 acres (12 ha) Great Lawn. Major redesigning and construction also was carried out: for instance, the Croton Lower Reservoir was filled in so the Great Lawn could be created. The Greensward Plan's purpose of creating an idyllic landscape was combined with Moses' vision of a park to be used for recreational purposes: 19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields, and handball courts were constructed. Moses also managed to secure funds from the New Deal program, as well as donations from the public.
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 warm months of mid-1966, two-term mayor of New York (1966–73) 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 continues.
Despite the increasing numbers of visitors to the park, Robert Moses' departure in 1960 marked the beginning of a 20-year period of decline in its management. The city was experiencing economic and social changes, with some residents leaving the city and moving to the suburbs in the wake of increased crime. The Parks Department, suffering from budget cuts, responded by opening the park to any and all activities that would bring people into it, without adequate oversight and maintenance follow-up. Some of these events nevertheless became milestones in the social history of the park and in the cultural history of the city.
By the mid-1970s, however, managerial neglect was taking a toll on the park's condition. "Years of poor management and inadequate maintenance had turned a masterpiece of landscape architecture into a virtual dustbowl by day and a danger zone by night", in the opinion of Douglas Blonsky, a president of the Central Park Conservancy. Vandalism, territorial use (e.g. a pick-up game of softball or association football, which commandeered open space and excluded others), and illicit activities were taking place in the park. Several volunteer citizen groups emerged, intent upon reclaiming the park by fundraising and organizing volunteer initiatives. One of these groups, the Central Park Community Fund, commissioned a study of the park's management. The study's conclusion was bi-linear; it called for establishment of a single position within the New York City Parks Department, responsible for overseeing both the planning and management of Central Park, as well as a board of guardians to provide citizen oversight.
In 1979, Parks Commissioner Gordon Davis established the Office of Central Park Administrator, appointing to the position the executive director of another citizen organization, the Central Park Task Force. The Central Park Conservancy was founded the following year, to support the office and initiatives of the administrator, and to provide consistent leadership through a self-perpetuating, citizen-based board that also would include as ex-officio trustees, the Parks Commissioner, the Central Park Administrator, and mayoral appointees.
Under the leadership of the Central Park Conservancy, the park's reclamation began with modest, but highly significant first steps, addressing needs that could not be met within the existing structure and resources of the parks department. Interns were hired, and a small restoration staff to reconstruct and repair unique rustic features, undertaking horticultural projects, and removing graffiti under the broken windows theory; currently the state of the park has improved, according to Conservancy president Douglas Blonsky:
Graffiti doesn't last 24 hours in Central Park; visible litter gets carted off by 9 each morning and throughout the day. Our workers empty trash receptacles daily (at least) and maintain lawns with tremendous care. Broken benches and playground equipment get fixed on the spot.
By 1980, the Conservancy was also engaged in design efforts and long-term restoration planning, using both its own staff and external consultants. It provided the impetus and leadership for several early restoration projects funded by the city, preparing a comprehensive plan for rebuilding the park. The restoration was accompanied by a crucial restructuring of management, whereby the park was subdivided into zones, to each of which a supervisor was designated, responsible for maintaining restored areas. That year, the Dairy (which was originally designed as a refreshment stand and rest spot) was transformed into the Park's first visitors center, with the Conservancy using it to revitalize public interest in the Park through exhibits, music series and children's programs. The first landscape to be restored was the Sheep Meadow, primarily with funds provided by New York State. The next few years would see the restoration of Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, Belvedere Castle, the East Green, and Cherry Hill plaza.
First, Bethesda Fountain, which had been dry for decades, was restored in 1980–81 and the Terrace was restored a year later, its stonework disassembled, cleaned, deteriorated surfaces removed, restored and patched and reset. Resodding, and fifty new trees, 3,500 shrubs and 3,000 ground cover plants specified by Philip Winslow followed in 1986, most of which, having matured into dense blocks, were removed in 2008, to make way for plants native to the United States; meanwhile, the Minton encaustic tiles of the ceiling of the arcade between the flanking stairs, designed by Mould, were removed in 1987, cleaned, restored, completed with additional new tiles and reinstalled in 2007. Around the same time, the Belvedere Castle, which had been closed for many years, was renovated and then reopened on May 1, 1983, as the Henry Luce Nature Observatory. Cherry Hill, however, did not get fully restored until 1998.
By the following year, the Chess & Checkers House and Frisbee Hill had been restored; thousands of shrubs and flowers asserted the Park as a horticultural showpiece. To tend to those plants, more than 1,900 volunteers contributed more than 4,000 hours of work in the Park. On completion of the planning stage in 1985, the conservancy launched its first capital campaign, assuming increasing responsibility for funding the park's restoration, and full responsibility for designing, bidding, and supervising all capital projects in the park. The Conservancy launched its first fundraising campaign in 1986, mapping out a 15-year restoration plan that sought to remain true to the original design by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Over the next several years, Campaign for the Central Park Conservancy restored landmarks in the southern part of the Park – Grand Army Plaza, Shakespeare Garden, and Cedar Hill. By 1988, Conservancy volunteers logged more than 13,000 hours in the Park, with the organization's volunteer program winning a citation for excellence from the White House.
In the early 1990s, the Conservancy announced a $50 million Capital Campaign to focus on improvements to the northern end of the Park. Efforts culminated in the restoration of the Mall and Concert Ground, Harlem Meer, and the Ravine in the North Woods. The Conservancy's work on the Meer and the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center was subsequently honored with three awards: the 1994 New York City Landmarks Preservation Award, the American Society of Landscape Architects' Design Merit Award and the Victorian Society's Citation of Merit. In 1996, the Conservancy embarked on its single most ambitious landscape restoration: the overhaul of the 55 acres (22 hectares) including and surrounding the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond (formerly the Great Lawn and the Belvedere Lake). The project was the centerpiece of the Conservancy's three-year Wonder of New York Campaign, which raised $71.5 million and also helped restore southern and westside landscapes, as well as the North Meadow. The Great Lawn project was completed in 1997, featuring new amenities to encourage both passive and active recreation and nature appreciation.
Citywide budget cuts in the early 1990s, however, resulted in attrition of the park's routine maintenance staff, and the conservancy began hiring staff to replace these workers. Management of the restored landscapes by the conservancy's "zone gardeners" proved so successful that core maintenance and operations staff were reorganized in 1996. The zone-based system of management was implemented throughout the park, which was divided into 49 zones. Consequently, every zone of the park has a specific individual accountable for its day-to-day maintenance. Zone gardeners supervise volunteers assigned to them; these volunteers commit to a consistent work schedule and are supported by specialized crews in areas of maintenance requiring specific expertise or equipment, or more effectively conducted on a park-wide basis. In 2007, there were 3,000 volunteers compared to just under 250 paid workers in the park.
Renovations continued through the early 2000s. The Conservatory Water opened after a six-month restoration effort, with a $4 million project beginning on the 59th Street Pond, one of the Park's most visible and heavily used landscapes. A new Reservoir fence was installed in 2003 under a $2 million capital project that replaced the old chain-link fence with a replica of the 8,000-foot steel and cast-iron one that had enclosed the Reservoir in 1926. The new fence, along with removal of invasive trees and shrubs, restored the panoramic views of the Park and Manhattan skyline.
Another ambitious restoration effort began in 2004, when Conservancy staff and contractors worked together to refurbish the 15,876 Minton tiles that hang on the ceiling of the Bethesda Arcade. Originally designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, the ceiling of the Arcade is lined by 15,876 elaborately patterned encaustic tiles. Made by Minton and Company, a leading 19th-century ceramic manufacturer in England, the ceiling tiles are divided into 49 panels, each containing 324 tiles. Salt and water infiltration from the roadway above had badly damaged the tiles, leaving their backing plates so corroded they had to be removed in the 1980s. The tiles sat in storage for more than 20 years until the Conservancy received a generous private donation for their restoration. The Conservancy embarked on a $7 million restoration effort to return the Minton tiles to their original luster in 2004. A team of seven conservation technicians cleaned and repaired more than 14,000 original tiles by hand. Only three panels of replica tiles were needed to replace those that had been damaged beyond repair. For those recreations, the Conservancy decided to commission Maw and Company, Minton's successor in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The completed Bethesda Terrace Arcade was unveiled to much fanfare in March 2007. In 2006, the Conservancy completed a nine-month renovation of the Mall in a project that returned the landscape to its original character and ensured the protection of its great American Elms.
The Lake was the last of Central Park's bodies of water to be renovated by the Central Park Conservancy, in a project to enhance both its ecological and scenic aspects. In the summer of 2007 the first phase of a restoration of the Lake and its shoreline plantings commenced, with replanting using native shrubs and understory trees around the northern end of the Lake, from Bank Rock Bay— a narrow cove in the northwest corner that had become a silted-up algae-covered stand of aggressively invasive Phragmites reeds— to Bow Bridge, which received replicas of its four original Italianate cast-iron vases, overspilling with annuals. In the earliest stages, invasive non-native plants like Japanese knotweed were eradicated, the slopes were regraded with added humus and protected with landscaping burlap to stabilize the slopes while root systems became established and leaf litter developed.
During the same time, Bank Rock Bridge, also called Cabinet Bridge, across the mouth of the cove was recreated in carved oak with cast-iron panels and pine decking, its original materials, following Vaux's original design of 1859–60. The cascade, where the Gill empties into the lake, was reconstructed to approximate its dramatic original form, inspired by paintings of Asher B. Durand. Sections of the Lake were dredged of accumulated silt — topsoil that has washed off the surrounding slopes — and the island formerly in the lake, which gradually eroded below water level, was reconstructed in the summer of 2007 with rugged boulders along its shoreline, graded wetland areas and submerged planting shelves for water-loving native plants, like Pickerel weed.
Oak Bridge, the major entrance to the Ramble from the Upper West Side, which spans Bank Rock Bay in the Lake's northwest corner, is a picturesque feature and was recreated in 2009 based off Calvert Vaux's original drawings. The bridge, built in 1860 of white oak with decorative openwork panels of cast iron, has been recreated in steel clad in ornamental cast iron facings, with a wooden deck. Restoration of further sections of the Lake's shoreline landscapes was undertaken, and the first renovated sections were opened to visitors in April 2008.
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.
Since the 1960s, there has been a grassroots campaign to restore the park's loop drives to their original car-free state. Over the years, the number of car-free hours has increased, though a full closure is currently resisted by the New York City Department of Transportation. Legislation was proposed in October 2014 to conduct a study to make the park car-free in summer 2015. In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the permanent closure of West and East Drives north of 72nd Street to vehicular traffic as it was proven that closing the roads did not adversely impact traffic. The law was to take into effect permanently north of 72nd Street.
Central Park, which has been a National Historic Landmark since 1962, was designed by landscape architect and writer Frederick Law Olmsted and the English architect Calvert Vaux in 1858 after winning a design competition. They also designed Brooklyn's Prospect Park. 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. Only Fifth Avenue along the park's eastern border retains its name; the other streets bordering the park (110th Street, 59th Street, and Eighth Avenue, respectively) change names while they are adjacent to the park. The park, with a perimeter of 6.1 miles (9.8 km), was opened on 770 acres (3.1 km2) of city-owned land and was expanded to 843 acres (3.41 km2; 1.317 sq mi). It is 2.5 miles (4 km) long between 59th Street (Central Park South) and 110th Street (Central Park North), and is 0.5 miles (0.8 km) wide between Fifth Avenue and Central Park West. Central Park also constitutes its own United States census tract, number 143. According to Census 2000, the park's population is eighteen people, twelve male and six female, with a median age of 38.5 years, and a household size of 2.33, over 3 households. However Central Park officials have rejected the claim of anyone permanently living there. The real estate value of Central Park was estimated by property appraisal firm Miller Samuel to be about $528.8 billion in December 2005.
Central Park's size and cultural position, similar to London's Hyde Park and Munich's Englischer Garten, has served as a model for many urban parks, including San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Tokyo's Ueno Park, and Vancouver's Stanley Park. 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.
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, in which the president of the Conservancy is ex officio Administrator of Central Park. Today, the conservancy employs 80% of maintenance and operations staff in the park. It effectively oversees the work of both the private and public employees under the authority of the Central Park administrator (publicly appointed), who reports to the parks commissioner, conservancy's president. As of 2007, the conservancy had invested approximately $450 million in the restoration and management of the park; the organization presently contributes approximately 85% of Central Park's annual operating budget of over $37 million. The system was functioning so well that in 2006 the conservancy created the Historic Harlem Parks initiative, providing horticultural and maintenance support and mentoring in Morningside Park, St. Nicholas Park, Jackie Robinson Park, and Marcus Garvey Park.
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). The New York City Parks Enforcement Patrol also patrols Central Park. There is also an all-volunteer ambulance service, the Central Park Medical Unit, that provides free emergency medical service to patrons of Central Park and the surrounding streets. It operates a rapid-response bicycle patrol, particularly during major events such as the New York City Marathon, the 1998 Goodwill Games, and concerts in the park.
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.
Visitor attractions include:
A total of 29 sculptures by sculptors such as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Emma Stebbins, and John Quincy Adams Ward have been erected over the years, most donated by individuals or organizations. Much of the first statuary placed was of authors and poets, in an area now known as Literary Walk. Some of the sculptures are:Alice in Wonderland Margaret Delacorte Memorial (1959), a sculpture of Alice by sculptor José de Creeft, landscape architect Hideo Sasaki, and designer Ferando Texidor at the Central Park Conservatory Pond (40.77504°N, 73.966543°W)
Angel of the Waters at Bethesda Terrace by Emma Stebbins (1873), the first large public sculpture commission for an American woman
Balto (1925), a statue of Balto, the sled dog who became famous during the 1925 serum run to Nome
Duke Ellington Memorial (dedicated in 1997), by sculptor Robert Graham, near Fifth Avenue and 110th Street, in the Duke Ellington Circle
King Jagiello, a bronze monument on the east end of Turtle Pond
Cleopatra's Needle is a red granite obelisk. The "Cleopatra's Needle" in Central Park is one of three; there also is one in Paris and one in London, which is one of a pair with the New York obelisk. Each obelisk is approximately 68–69 feet tall and weigh about 180 tons. They originally were erected at the Temple of Ra in Heliopolis in Ancient Egypt around 1450 BC by the pharaoh Thutmose III. The hieroglyphs were inscribed about two hundred years later by pharaoh Rameses II to glorify his military victories. The obelisks were all moved during the reign of Roman emperor Augustus Caesar when Ancient Egypt was under the control of Rome. They were brought to Alexandria and erected as tribute to Julius Caesar, in front of the Caesarium, a temple originally built by Cleopatra VII of Egypt in honor of Mark Antony, thus the name "Cleopatra's Needle".
There are two versions of how the Central Park Cleopatra's Needle made its way to Central Park: either it was a gift from the Khedive of Egypt, Isma'il Pasha, or it was stolen through the machinations of William H. Vanderbilt who paid the tab to have the obelisk shipped to New York and erected. The obelisk arrived in New York in July 1880; it took thirty-two horses hitched in sixteen pairs to pull the obelisk to the park. It was erected in an official ceremony on January 22, 1881.
Strawberry Fields: On October 9, 1985, on what would have been John Lennon's 45th birthday, New York City dedicated 2.5 acres (1.0 hectare) to his memory. Countries from all around the world contributed trees, and Italy donated the iconic Imagine mosaic. It has since become the sight of impromptu memorial gatherings for other notables and, in the days following the September 11, 2001 attacks, candlelight vigils were held there.
The Gates: For sixteen days in 2005 (February 12–27), Central Park was the setting for Christo and Jeanne-Claude's installation The Gates. Although the project was the subject of very mixed reactions (and it took many years for Christo and Jeanne-Claude to get the necessary approvals), it was nevertheless a major, if temporary, draw for the park.
George Delacorte Musical Clock, a gift George T. Delacorte dedicated in 1965 that is mounted above the arcade between the Wildlife Center and the Children's Zoo in Manhattan's Central Park
Geographic features include:
There are four different types of bedrock in Manhattan. In Central Park, Manhattan schist and Hartland schist, which are both metamorphosed sedimentary rock, are exposed in various outcroppings. The other two types, Fordham gneiss (an older deeper layer) and Inwood marble (metamorphosed limestone which overlays the gneiss), do not surface in the park. Fordham gneiss, which consists of metamorphosed igneous rocks, was formed a billion years ago, during what is known as the Grenville orogeny that occurred during the creation of an ancient super-continent. It is the oldest rock in the Canadian Shield, the most ancient part of the North American tectonic plate. Manhattan schist and Hartland schist were formed in the Iapetus Ocean during the Taconic orogeny in the Paleozoic era, about 450 million years ago. During this period the tectonic plates began to move toward each other, which resulted in the creation of the supercontinent, Pangaea.
Cameron's Line is a fault zone that traverses Central Park on an east-west axis.
Various glaciers have covered the area of Central Park in the past, with the most recent being the Wisconsin glacier which receded about 12,000 years ago. Evidence of past glaciers are visible throughout the park in the form of glacial erratics (large boulders dropped by the receding glacier) and north-south glacial striations visible on stone outcroppings.
One such outcrop is Rat Rock at 40.769361°N 73.977655°W / 40.769361; -73.977655, named after the rats that used to swarm there at night but also known as 'Umpire Rock'. Located near the southwest corner of the park, the outcrop is roughly circular, about 55 feet (17 m) wide and 15 feet (4.6 m) tall with different east, west, and north faces. Boulderers usually congregate there, possibly as many as fifty per day, with some being regulars, and others being tourists; the quality of the stone is poor and the climbs present so little challenge that it has been called "one of America's most pathetic boulders". The park police formerly ticketed climbers who climbed more than a few feet up the rock, but the City Climbers Club approached the park authorities and, by working to provide safety features such as wood chips around the base, they were able to legalize climbing there.
Central Park is home to seven bodies of water, all artificial. The main lake is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, so named since 1994. Its construction lasted from 1858 to 1862. Covering an area of 42.9 hectares (106 acres) between 86th and 96th Streets, the reservoir reaches a depth of more than 40 feet (12 m) in places and contains about 1 billion US gallons (3.8 billion litres) of water. The Reservoir is best known to New Yorkers for the jogging track around it. The Reservoir is by far the largest lake in Central Park, surpassing the other three artificial lakes.
The Ramble and Lake south of the Great Lawn covers nearly 7.3 hectares (18 acres). Built on a former swamp, it was designed by Olmsted and Vaux to accommodate boats in the summer and ice skaters in winter. The Lake was opened to skaters in December 1858, while the rest of the park was still under construction. At the northern end of the park, at 110th Street, the Harlem Meer, named in honor of one of the first communities in the region, covers nearly 4.5 hectares (11 acres). A wooded area surrounded by oak, cypress, and beech trees, it was built after the completion of the southern portion of the park. Harlem Meer also allows visitors to fish, provided that they release the fish later. In the southeast corner is the Pond, with an area of 1.4 hectares (3.5 acres). The Pond is located near one of the busiest entrances to Central Park, but still provides an atmosphere of calm and solitude.
Central Park, home to over 25,000 trees, has a stand of 1,700 American elms, one of the largest remaining stands in the northeastern U.S., protected by their isolation from the Dutch elm disease that devastated the tree throughout its native range.
A partial listing of the tree species found in Central Park, both natives and exotics, includes:Birds:
The first official list of birds observed in Central Park was drawn up by Augustus G. Paine, Jr. Paine was an avid hobby ornithologist and, together with his friend Lewis B. Woodruff, drew up a list of birds counting 235 species. This was regarded as the first official list and was published in Forest and Stream on June 10, 1886. An article in The New Yorker on August 26, 1974 calls attention to this early list. Over the decades the list has been updated and changed.
The park is frequented by various migratory species of birds during their spring and fall migration on the Atlantic Flyway. Over a quarter of all the bird species found in the United States have been seen in Central Park. One of these species is the red-tailed hawk, which re-established a presence in the park when a male hawk known as Pale Male for his light coloration, nested on a building on Fifth Avenue, across the street from the park in 1991. He became a local media celebrity and a prolific breeder.
Central Park was the site of the misguided unleashing of European starlings in North America, a native of Eurasia which has become an invasive species. In April 1890, eighty birds were released by Eugene Schieffelin, and the following March another eighty; these one hundred and sixty birds are the progenitors of the flocks which now span the United States and parts of Canada.
Raccoon (Procyon lotor): nocturnal tree dwellers that come down to ground level to feed at night, have become extremely common in Central Park in recent years, prompting the Parks Department to post rabies warnings around certain areas.
Eastern gray squirrel, or grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis), is a tree squirrel in the genus Sciurus native to the eastern and midwestern United States.
Eastern chipmunk (Tamias striatus): although not commonly sighted, there are chipmunks in Central Park.
Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana): a nocturnal marsupial that rests in trees during the day and searches for food on the ground at night.
Arthropods: In 2002 a new genus and species of centipede (Nannarrup hoffmani) was discovered in Central Park. At about 0.4 inches (10 mm) long, it is one of the smallest centipedes in the world.
Beetle infestation: Since the late 1990s, the Central Park Conservancy, the United States Department of Agriculture, and several city and state agencies have been fighting an infestation of the Asian long-horned beetle, which has been reported in Long Island and Manhattan, including some parts of Central Park. The beetle, which likely was accidentally shipped from its native China in an untreated shipping crate, has no natural predators in the United States, and the fight to contain its infestation has been very expensive. The beetle infests trees by boring a hole in them to deposit its eggs, at which point the only way to end the infestation is to destroy the tree. Several thousand trees were infected in the city and later removed, including 2 trees that have been removed from Central Park; all trees in the park were examined for signs of the disease in 2002 and these two trees were removed at that time.
A wooded section of the park, called the Ramble and Lake, is popular among birders. Many species of woodland birds, especially warblers, may be seen in the Ramble in the spring and the fall.
Rowboats and kayaks are rented on an hourly basis at the Loeb Boathouse, which also houses a restaurant overlooking the Lake. As early as 1922, model power boating was popular on park waters.
New York City has had carriage horses since they were revived in 1935. The carriages have appeared in many films, and the first female horse and carriage driver, Maggie Cogan, appeared in a Universal newsreel in 1967. As such, they have become a symbolic institution of the city. After the September 11 attacks, in a much-publicized event, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani went to the stables himself to ask the drivers to go back to work to help return a sense of normality.
Some activists such as NYCLASS, as well as politicians, have questioned the ethics of this tradition. The history of accidents involving spooked horses has come under scrutiny with recent horse deaths. Protests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and celebrities including Alec Baldwin, Alecia Beth Moore and Cheryl Hines have raised the issue's profile. Additional media accounts have corroborated some charges, but they have also shown that the standards vary from stable to stable.
Both activists and horse owners, who pride themselves on humane conditions, agree that part of the problem is lack of enforcement of the city code. Supporters of the trade say it needs to be reformed, not shut down, and that carriage drivers deserve a raise, which the city has not authorized since 1989. Paris, London, Beijing, and several U.S. cities have banned carriage horses. Replacements for the carriage horses may include electric vintage cars.
Pedicabs operate mostly in the southern part of the park, the same part as horse carriages. Such vehicles have more recently offered visitors a more dynamic way in which to view the park; covering three to ten times the distance of a typical Central Park horse carriage ride, pedicabs have become very popular with visitors and New Yorkers alike in the last five years; also, they are being eyed as another replacement for the carriage horses.
Park Drive, just over 6 miles (9.7 km) long, is heavily used by runners, joggers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and inline skaters.
Most weekends races take place in the park, many of which are organized by the New York Road Runners. The New York City Marathon finishes in Central Park outside Tavern on the Green. Many other professional races are run in the park, including the recent, (2008), USA Men's 8k Championships. Baseball fields are numerous, and there are also courts for volleyball, tennis, croquet and lawn bowling. The park is home to several competitive running clubs, including Central Park Track Club.
Central Park has two ice skating rinks, Wollman Rink and Lasker Rink; during summer, the former is the site of Victorian Gardens seasonal amusement park, and the latter converts to an outdoor swimming pool.
The park drives are used as the home course for the Century Road Club Association's racing series. The CRCA is a USA Cycling sanctioned amateur cycling club.
Central Park's glaciated rock outcroppings attract climbers, especially boulderers; Manhattan's bedrock, a glaciated schist, protrudes from the ground frequently and considerably in some parts of Central Park. The two most renowned spots for boulderers are at Rock and Cat Rock; others include Dog Rock, Duck Rock, Rock N' Roll Rock, and Beaver Rock, near the south end of the park.
The current Central Park Carousel, installed in 1951, is one of the largest merry-go-rounds in the United States. The fifty-eight hand-carved horses and two chariots were made by Solomon Stein and Harry Goldstein in 1908. The carousel originally was installed in Coney Island in Brooklyn.
The Central Park Zoo is part of a system of four zoos and one aquarium that is managed by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The zoo is home to an indoor rainforest, a leafcutter ant colony, a chilled penguin house, and a polar bear pool.
Central Park has twenty-one playgrounds for children located throughout the park; the largest, at 3 acres (12,000 m2), is Heckscher Playground named for August Heckscher.
Swedish Cottage Marionette Theatre is located in the Swedish Cottage. The building was originally a model schoolhouse built in Sweden. Made of native pine and cedar, it was disassembled and rebuilt in the U.S. as Sweden's exhibit for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Frederick Law Olmsted moved the cottage to its present site in 1877.
Central Park is home to two indoor restaurants.
The famed New York City restaurant Tavern on the Green is located on the park's grounds at Central Park West and West 67th Street. It was originally the sheepfold that housed the sheep that grazed Sheep Meadow, built to a design by Calvert Vaux in 1870. It became a restaurant as part of a 1934 renovation of the park under Robert Moses, New York City's Commissioner of Parks. In 1974, Warner LeRoy took over the restaurant's lease and reopened it in 1976 after $10 million in renovations including the addition of a glass-enclosed Crystal Room overlooking the restaurant's garden (one of several dining rooms), which doubled the seating capacity to 800. In August 2009, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation announced that it had declined to renew the restaurant's license, and a month later, the restaurant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, citing the Great Recession and the loss of the restaurant's operating license. On December 31, 2009, the restaurant closed its doors in what was expected to be a permanent closure, but it reopened on April 24, 2014 after a major renovation.
The Loeb Boathouse restaurant is the other indoor restaurant in Central Park. Located at the Loeb Boathouse on The Lake, it was designed in 1874, destroyed in 1950, and rebuilt in 1954 on the East Side between 74th and 75th Streets.
The oldest free classical music concert series in the United States, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts – founded in 1905 – presents concerts in the park's only neo-classical building, the Naumburg Bandshell on the Concert Ground, each summer. Today, the concerts feature promising new talent and promote the professional development of young composers and conductors.
With the revival of the city and the park in the new century, Central Park has also given birth to other arts groups dedicated to performing in the park, notably Central Park Brass, which performs an annual concert series, and the New York Classical Theatre, which produces an annual series of plays.
Each summer, there are several events happening in the park. The Public Theater presents free open-air theatre productions, often starring well-known stage and screen actors. The Delacorte Theater is the summer performing venue of the New York Shakespeare Festival, where most, although not all, of the plays presented are by William Shakespeare, and the performances are generally regarded as being of high quality since its founding by Joseph Papp in 1962. The New York Philharmonic also gives an open-air concert on the Great Lawn yearly during the summer. City Parks Foundation has offered Central Park Summerstage since 1985, a series of free performances including music, dance, spoken word, and film presentations around this time of year as well, often featuring famous performers; the Summerstage facility also has non-free concerts that are branded under different names. Since 1992, local singer-songwriter David Ippolito has performed almost every summer weekend to large crowds of passers-by and regulars and has become a New York icon, often simply referred to as "That guitar man from Central Park". From 1967 until 2007, the Metropolitan Opera presented two operas in concert each year.
Many popular one-time concerts have been given in the park including Barbra Streisand, 1967; The Supremes, 1970; Carole King, 1973; Bob Marley and The Wailers, 1975; America, 1979; Elton John, 1980; the Simon and Garfunkel reunion, 1981; Diana Ross, 1983; Paul Simon, 1991; Garth Brooks, 1997; Sheryl Crow, 1999; Dave Matthews Band, 2003; Bon Jovi, 2008; and Andrea Bocelli, 2011. Central Park was the location of the largest concert ever on record when country superstar Garth Brooks performed a free concert in August 1997, to which about 980,000 had attended, according to FDNY. Its attendance would have been exceeded by a concert in the summer of 1985 by Bruce Springsteen, planned to hold a free outdoor concert on the Great Lawn; however, the idea was scrapped when it was purported that any free show held by Springsteen would bring an estimated 1.3 million people, crippling the park and the nearby neighborhoods.
The New York City Subway's IND Eighth Avenue Line runs along the western edge of the park, with a transfer station to the IRT Broadway–Seventh Avenue Line at Columbus Circle. In addition, the IRT Lenox Avenue Line has a station at Central Park North and 110th Street. From there the line curves southwest under the park, and heads west under 104th Street, and the BMT Broadway Line has a station at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
Central Park is surrounded by four roadways: Central Park North, Central Park South, Central Park West, and Fifth Avenue. There are four plazas, one on each corner of the park: Frederick Douglass Circle on the northwest, Duke Ellington Circle on the northeast, Columbus Circle at the southwest, and Grand Army Plaza at the southeast. There are also four transverse roadways: 65th–66th Streets, 79th–81st Streets, 86th Street, and 96th Street. The park has three roadways that travel it vertically: West, Center, and East Drives (see below).
West Drive is the western of the park's three vertical "drives". The southbound-running road is described as "... concealed in sunken roadways and screened with densely planted shrub belts, creating a country-road feel in the center of the city." In the early 1900s, the drive was a popular place for carriage rides. A famous painting by Gifford Beal shows a picture of West Drive depicted with a horse and buggy. However, the drive is also dangerous; in 2014, a 0.5-mile (0.80 km) stretch of West Drive was considered to be "the most dangerous section of Central Park" for pedestrians, with bike crashes along the drive leaving 15 people injured.
Center Drive (also known as the "Central Park Lower Loop") connects northbound traffic from Midtown at West Drive and Sixth Avenue near the 65th Street Transverse. The street generally goes east and then north forming the bottom part of the Central Park loop. The attractions along this street include the Victorian Gardens Amusement Park, the Central Park Carousel and the Central Park Mall.
East Drive, the easternmost of the three drives, connects northbound traffic from Midtown to the Upper West Side at Lenox Avenue. The street is renowned for its country scenery and free concerts. It generally straddles the east side of the park along Fifth Avenue. The drive passes by the Central Park Zoo around 63rd Street and the Metropolitan Museum of Art around the 80th to 84th Street area. The drive is also one of the legs of the New York Marathon. It is known as the "Elite Carriage Parade", because at the time of the park's opening, only 5 percent of the city was able to afford the carriage; of this, Walt Whitman said that the carriage parade was "an impressive, rich, interminable circus on a grand scale, full of action and color", a quote written by Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar in The Park and the People.
Central Park was once a very dangerous place, especially after dark, as measured by crime statistics. The park is considerably safer in the 21st century, though during prior periods it was the site of numerous muggings and rapes. Well-publicized incidents of sexual and confiscatory violence, such as the notorious 1989 Central Park jogger case, dissuaded many from visiting one of Manhattan's most scenic areas. Fear was also directed to the gay community after WWII from a panic of sex crimes. As crime has declined in the park and in the rest of New York City, many of the negative perceptions have begun to wane. Safety measures hold the number of crimes in the park to fewer than one hundred per year, down from approximately 1,000 in the early 1980s. However, in 2013, the number of crimes temporarily spiked again with six rapes and six burglaries, compared to no rapes and one burglary in 2012, causing some fear according to one source.
On June 11, 2000, following the Puerto Rican Day Parade, gangs of drunken men sexually assaulted women in the park. Several arrests were made shortly after the attacks, but it was not until 2006 that a civil suit against the city for failing to provide police protection was finally settled.
Permission to hold issue-centered rallies in Central Park, similar to the be-ins of the 1960s, has been met with increasingly stiff resistance from the city. During some 2004 protests, the organization United for Peace and Justice wanted to hold a rally on the Great Lawn during the Republican National Convention. The city denied application for a permit, stating that such a mass gathering would be harmful to the grass and that such damage would make it harder to collect private donations to maintain the park. Courts upheld the refusal.
During the 2000s and early 2010s, new towers have been constructed or planned for the southern end of Central Park. According to a Municipal Art Society report, such buildings will cast shadows over the southern end of the park. There has been a little controversy over this.William Merritt Chase painted a portrait of Central Park in 1889.
Pierre Alechinsky represented the Mall in Central Park in a 1965 acrylic painting.
Maurice Prendergast represented Central Park in several paintings.
The photographer Elliott Erwitt took photographs of dogs in Central Park in 1974.
In 1967, the Canadian poet Leonard Cohen sang in public in Central Park in the company of Judy Collins.
The writer Evan H Rhodes published The Prince of Central Park, a 1975 novel that describes the life of an 11-year-old in the park.
In the book The Catcher in the Rye, the main character, Holden Caulfield, often wonders what happens to the ducks and fish in Central Park when the ice begins to form in winter. He also spends time in the Park in parts of the novel.
Central Park, as a universal symbol of the city, appeared and continues to appear in numerous film productions, as well as in numerous television series. Among its most famous appearances:In 1908, the first ever film to feature Central Park in a scene was Romeo and Juliet and since then there have been three hundred and five films to feature the famous park. This makes it the most filmed location ever for films many Academy Award winning films feature a scene in the park
In 1960, early in the Academy Award-winning film The Apartment, Bud is seen sleeping on the park benches after being denied access to the apartment.
In 1976, the John Schlesinger film Marathon Man shows the hero training in Central Park.
In 1984, the film Ghostbusters has Rick Moranis in the part of Louis Tully running through Central Park, while being chased by a Terror Dog.
In 1986, the film The Park Is Mine features Tommy Lee Jones, in the role of a Vietnam veteran, who takes the park hostage. The film is based on the novel Central Park by Stephen Peters.
in 1991 the film The Fisher King has scenes of Central Park.
In 1992, the film Home Alone 2: Lost in New York has some scenes in Central Park.
In 1993, in the animated film We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story, the dinosaurs find themselves in Central Park.
In 1994, the miniseries The Stand depicts the park as part of an abandoned city in the wake of a world-ending plague.
In 1994, in the animated film A Troll in Central Park, the titular troll is banished to Central Park.
In 1995, Die Hard with a Vengeance by John McTiernan had Bruce Willis run through the park driving a taxi.
In 1995, in the animated film Balto, there are live-action sequences at the beginning and end of an elderly woman and her granddaughter visiting the Balto sculpture in Central Park.
In 1996, James and the Giant Peach by Henry Selick, James and his friends insects settle in the Giant Peach in Central Park.
In 1999, Stuart Little, an American family comedy film directed by Rob Minkoff with Geena Davis and Hugh Laurie.
In 2002, Maid in Manhattan by Wayne Wang with Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes.
In 2002, Prince of Central Park was released.
In 2002 in The Time Machine, the hero offers her engagement ring in Central Park.
In 2003, in Elf has many scenes that take place in Central Park.
In 2005, in the animated film Madagascar, the protagonists live in the Central Park Zoo.
in 2007, in the film August Rush, Evan played by Freddie Highmore performs his last concert in Central Park
In 2007, in the film Enchanted, the musical number "That's How You Know" takes places in several parts of Central Park.
In 2007, in the animated film Bee Movie are scenes of Central Park.
In 2008, in the film Cloverfield, the last part of the film takes place in Central Park, where Rob and Beth take shelter under the Greyshot Arch, just before "Hammer Down Protocol" wipes down the island of Manhattan.
In 2008, Central Park is ground zero for the epidemic in The Happening.
In 2011, in the thriller film Limitless with Bradley Cooper, Robert De Niro and Abbie Cornish. Multiple shots showing Cornish's character running through Central Park.
In 2011, in the last episode of Glee.
In 2012, The Avengers, one of the last scenes happens in Central Park.
In 2015, Love Live! The School Idol Movie features several locations within Central Park.
In 2016, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander and Jacob Kawolski track one of Newt's animals to the Central Park Zoo, and then chase it through Central Park, trying to recapture it.
The series Sex and the City, where several scenes take place in Central Park.
In the series Gossip Girl, which takes place in the Upper East Side, multiple scenes take place in Central Park.
The TV series Central Park West was set on Central Park West and several scenes take place in Central Park.
Various episodes of Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent feature scenes in the park.
Numerous concerts have been hosted in the park, mentioned above.
Central Park in the Dark, composed in 1906, is one of the most famous works of American composer Charles Ives.
The first album by Nina Simone, Little Girl Blue, has a song titled Central Park Blues.
A John Coltrane song is called "Central Park West".
Steve Hunter released a blues guitar instrumental titled "Sunset in Central Park" on his 2013 CD The Manhattan Blues Project
In the 2008 videogame Alone in the Dark, most of its action takes place in Central Park.
In the 2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game, the last level, which features the mausoleum of Ivo Shandor, takes place in Central Park.
In the 2016 videogame Tom Clancy's The Division, Central Park is nearby the Dark Zone.