New York City - Around And About Central Park
( Originally Published 1940 )
Central Park, a beautifully landscaped tract of 840 acres, stretches two and one-half miles long from 59th to 10th Streets, and half a mile wide from Fifth to Eighth Avenues. It is a favorite playground for children, and a favorite outdoor retreat for their parents. The Park is well kept, and if it looks shabby in spots, it is the shabbiness of hard use, rather than of neglect.
The roads through the Park are now "one way," north-bound traffic using the east drive, and southbound traffic the west. To drive around the Park inside the walls, a thing which is well worth doing, you will have to use either your own car or a hired conveyance. To get an idea of the great extent of the Park at small expense, take a northbound No. 3 or No. 4 Fifth Avenue bus. This will take you along the eastern and northern boundaries of the Park. At I 10th Street and Central Park West, change to a southbound 8th Avenue bus (no transfer, and you will have to pay two fares—10 cents on the Fifth Avenue bus and 5 cents on the Eighth Avenue bus), which will bring you back to 59th Street at Columbus Circle. The south-ern boundary, where 59th Street becomes Central Park South, is a long line of tall apartment houses and hotels, which, when seen from the Park, make a typically New York skyline, but offer no great interest otherwise.
As the easiest way to see the Park is to follow the route of traffic through it, let us begin at the entrance at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Here in a small rectangle between 59th and 58th Streets stands the PULITZER MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN, with a figure by Karl Bitter. Facing it, at the entrance to the Park itself, is St. Gaudens' magnificent bronze equestrian STATUE OF GENERAL SHERMAN, one of the finest works of art in New York.
Just within the Park is a small lake where a refuge and feeding station for migratory and other water fowl has been established, and only a bit further north, at Fifth Avenue and 64th Street, is the CENTRAL PARK MENAGERIE. This menagerie, recently reconstructed, has been called "the story book zoo," and it does look oddly like a toy. It is far from large, but has a well-rounded collection of animals, a fascinating pool of sea lions as its central feature, and is the delight of many a child who lives so far away from the greater zoo in the Bronx that a visit there would be difficult. The largest building in the zOO is the "Arsenal," originally used as its name indicates, built long before Central Park was set aside as a playground, and now the headquarters of the park department. A plaque on the Fifth Avenue side of the building gives a resume of its history.
If you are traveling north on Fifth Avenue, rather than through the Park itself, there are many buildings overlooking the Park that may interest you. At the corner of Fifth Avenue and 65th Street stands TEMPLE EMANU-EL. This early Romanesque structure is the third largest religious edifice in the city.
The FRICK MUSEUM is at the corner of 70th Street and Fifth Avenue. If you enter the Park at the 72nd Street entrance, you will have on your right the little pond dedicated to the sailing of model yachts, and by following the signs straight ahead, you will come to the MALL. This was designed to be the landscape feature of the Park. A broad asphalt path leads north from about 67th Street to the band-stand, where free concerts are given in the summer, and to the TERRACE, leading by flights of elaborately carved steps down to the BETHESDA FOUNTAIN, and the principal lake of the park.
The METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART is at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, and in the park just behind it is the OBELISK called "Cleopatra's Needle." This once stood be-fore the Temple of the Sun at Heliopolis, where it was erected in 1600 B. C. It was re-erected in Central Park in 1881. The New York climate does not agree with it, and it has suffered much from erosion—hence the metal cap.
Just north of the Obelisk is another large lake, this time a practical one, it being one of the reservoirs of the city's water supply. To the south of the reservoir, seen across a great play meadow, is the granite tower of the Belvedere.
At 90th Street and Fifth Avenue stands one of the largest residences overlooking the Park, the great, brick CARNEGIE MANSION, and opposite it is the beautifully simple CHURCH OF THE HEAVENLY REST. In the neighborhood of moth Street is a small but pretty Botanical Garden, and at 110th Street the Park ends.
This is the southern boundary of HARLEM, and a walk or ride through is an experience. Since 1900, when the first Mulatto family is said to have moved into this district, some 300,000 Negroes have packed themselves into about three square miles, producing one of the most horrible slum problems in New York, if not in the world. Although there are a few wealthy Negroes living expensively on Sugar Hill, the great majority are bitterly poor, or on relief. Yet in spite of their real misery, these Negroes in Harlem somehow give an impression of gayety. The streets are jammed, night and day. Harlem, like Times Square, seems always to be awake.
The visitor will see little of the real life of Harlem. He will probably pass through the streets, chuckle at the wild dancing in the SAVOY BALLROOM at Lenox Avenue and 140th Street, or at the GOLDEN GATE BALLROOM, at Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street, and never see the single block where 4,700 Negroes live, eighty per cent of them said to be on relief.
Central Park West, the last lap of your journey 'round the Park, consists almost entirely of great apartment houses, luxurious, expensive, and somewhat monotonous to the eye. There is little to call to your attention except the HAYDEN PLANETARIUM at 81st Street, the AMERICAN MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY at 79th Street (see page 78), and the building of the NEW YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY at 77th Street.
At the southwest corner of Central Park, where Broadway crosses Eighth Avenue and 59th Street, is COLUMBUS CIRCLE. It must be confessed that notwithstanding the rather common-place COLUMBUS MONUMENT erected in 1894, the really beautiful U.S.S. MAINE MEMORIAL at the entrance to the Park, and a splendid new apartment house at the corner of Central Park South, Columbus Circle is just a little shoddy. The Maine Memorial, which is its best architectural feature, is the work of H. V., B. Magonigle. Over a million people subscribed small sums to defray its cost of $175,000. The names of the sailors who perished in the disaster to the Maine at Havana, 1898, are inscribed on the pedestal.