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A Brief History of Central Park

Griselda .M. Lopez
Molloy College

A Brief History of Central Park
New York City has many alluring and remarkable centers of attractions. Most of these
sites are considered landmarks of New York City. Examples of these landmarks that make New
York City such a populous city and one of the most talked about places in the world are the
Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, Times Square, the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, Saint Patricks
Cathedral, and the Rockefeller Center. One magnificent and breathtaking creation that New
York City is known for is Central Park. Central Park is recognized for its beautiful gardens and
its distinctive landscape shaped through the labor of thousands of men (Rosenzweig & Blackmar,
1992). Central Park is not any ordinary park; it is a social institution and a city space for public
use. A phenomenal experiment and challenge was needed in order to make Central Park a public
space, especially to all people in a capitalist and socially divided city (Rosenzweig & Blackmar,
1992). There existed many issues that interfered in the designing and building of Central Park.
Such dilemmas included political, aesthetic, and economic conflicts (Rosenzweig & Blackmar,
1992). Central Park was a huge construction project, as big and bold as anything Robert Moses
ever did (Genzlinger, 2011, p. C.5). It is easy to take a place like Central Park for granted.
However, without the collaboration of geniuses like Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner,
Calvert Vaux (the architectures of Central Park) and Andrew Jackson Downing (Central Park
landscape designer), Central Park would have never existed or may have never appeared to look
like a romantic naturalistic park with artistic pastoral landscape providing the public with a
refreshing antidote to the citys competitive pressures and dreary buildings (Rosenzweig &
Blackmar, 1992, p. 131).
Rumors swirled across New York City about an anonymous gentleman, who recently
had returned from Europe with the vision of a great park (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). In
addition, there were three witnesses at city hearings for the proposed park that alluded to that
same mysterious gentleman. Rosenzweig and Blackmar (1992) asserted that all evidence
pointed to a wealthy merchant who invented the idea for creating a new public park in New York
City. Robert Bowne Minturn was the name of this merchant and the mysterious gentleman
people frequently spoke about. He was the leader of the fascinating project of converting Central
Park into a reality (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). However, the bright individual held
responsible for the birth of the idea and the real originator for a great park was the wife of
Robert Bowne Minturn; Anna Mary Wendell (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). According to a
privately published Memoir in May of 1848, the grandson of Mr. Minturn declared that the
agitation for establishing Central Park was initiated by her, and carried to success by her
husband (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p. 17). The idea of establishing a large park in the
center of New York City originated from the visit to Europe that Minturn and Wendell
experienced. Wendell was so delighted with the parks of London, Paris, and Vienna, that she
immediately proposed to have one of these large parks in New York (Rosenzweig & Blackmar,
1992). As soon as they returned back from their trip to Europe, Robert Minturn called together a
committee of gentleman to lobby for a public park (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). The idea
was discussed and a decision was made at once. They did not only decide on a park, but on a
large and beautiful grove on the East River, known as Jones Wood (Rosenzweig & Blackmar,
1992, p.17).
Why did New Yorkers decide that a large public park was necessary? According to the
aldermanic committee, the necessity of a park had been acknowledged for a very long time by
all social classes in the community (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). However, most of the
public discussion for a large park took place in the narrower community of politicians,
merchants, bankers, landowners, and the publishers and editors of New Yorks newspapers
(Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). The park was a project that was formed by a few gentlemen.
They saw themselves representing the public (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). These elite New
Yorkers justified a large public park on three grounds: utilitarian claims that it would promote
the citys commercial and physical health, social and moral arguments that it would improve
the disorderly classes and foster order among them, and cultural contentions that it would
display the cultivation of the leading citizens (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.23). Due to
business trips as well as pleasure visits to Europe, most of Minturns gentlemen found that New
York City was sadly deficient in the public grounds of Old World Capitals. They felt
embarrassed at its lack of refinement. Europeans that came to visit had complained of
vulgarity and barbarism of New York City (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.23). Wealthy
New Yorkers had complained about feeling tired of having everything boorish and coarse and
unfeeling called American (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.23). New Yorkers believed that
building a grand landscaped park would be one way to disprove European criticism. In addition,
it would relieve American self-doubt about the moderate and unsettledness of American society
(Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992).
In the 1830s and 1840s, health reformers in England affirmed that parks would serve as
lungs for the city (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.24). There were campaigns that were
launched for new public grounds as an antidote to the illnesses of industrial society
(Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.24). New York editors and politicians were greatly
influenced by the findings of the health reformers in England urging the healthful benefits of
parks for fresh air and exercise. There were many New Yorkers that naturally viewed fresh air
and tree-filtered breezes as a primary source and certainly the symbol of physical well-being
(Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.24). The Minturns and their circle associated parks with an
appreciation of landscape aesthetics, which had come to represent a measure of cultural
accomplishment similar to enjoying fine art, music, and literature (Rosenzweig & Blackmar,
1992, p.28).
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux were the mind-blowing architectures that made
history for their design of Central Park. The design that Olmsted and Vaux created for Central
Park was named The Greensward Plan. The Greensward Plan was established in May of
1858 (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). Because of this dynamic partnership, Central Park was
designed in a spectacular way that it is considered to be an extraordinary creation (Rosenzweig
& Blackmar, 1992). Central Park is beautifully divided into sections that integrate nature, views
of water, charming paths through the Ramble, bridges, boathouses, and pavilions (Rosenzweig
& Blackmar, 1992). According to one historian, Vaux handled all of the structures of the park
such as the boathouses, bridges, and pavilions (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). Olmsted on the
other hand, took care of all of the areas of aesthetic decisions. This was how the actual design
work of Central Park was created (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). The key to Olmsted and
Vauxs design was to give viewers a visual sequence and a great selection of landscape effects
that provided much details of the view (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992). The placement of trees
and shrubs on the park are examples for creating landscape effects that both of these men
understood would give favorable outcomes to the viewers (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992).
Nature was a very important feature that both of the designers wanted to include in creating
Central Park. Vaux believed that the most pure and beautiful arts came from nature. He felt
that park goers could realize the capacity to see and fully appreciate the beautiful and the
sensation of freedom (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.135). Vaux asserted that nature
provided people with a sense of joy by distracting their minds to their ideal life and setting aside
their utilitarian cares and strivings (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.134). Olmsted was
highly impressed to the complexity of the Rambles planting. He thought it would inspire a
sense of the superabundant, creative power, infinite resource and liberality of Nature
(Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.135). Olmsted believed that the intricacy of the Ramble
would offer feelings of rest, tranquility, deliberation, and maturity (Rosenzweig & Blackmar,
1992, p.135). Olmsted and Vaux projected qualities that appeared to be absent from their own
society onto nature. They believed that by discovering these qualities in the park, visitors
would revive weary imaginations (Rosenzweig & Blackmar, 1992, p.135).
The impact of the enchanting Central Park on New York City is enormous. Central Park
has impacted New York City on all types of aspects, especially economically. The first
economic study that was performed in June of 2009 showed that the park brings more than $1
billion a year in direct and indirect revenue to the Big Apple (Central Perk, 2009). The study
also took into account 1,679 full-time jobs and $135.5 million in economic output for
concessions and other businesses operating in the park (Central Perk, 2009). Examples of these
businesses include the Tavern on the Green and the Central Park Zoo. The park is used as a
venue for films, TV and professional photography. According to the economic analysis firm,
Appleseed, Central Park generates $135.6 million from these activities mentioned above (Central
Perk, 2009). Interestingly, the park has more than 4,000 days of movie shoots a year.
Furthermore, city tax revenues and the rise of real estate values around the park total more than
$656 million to New York City and to the Central Park Conservancy (Central Perk, 2009).
Central Park is a beautiful historic landmark to New York City. Millions of visitors from
outside of New York City come to visit Central Park annually (Central Perk, 2009). New
Yorkers should feel lucky and proud to have Central Park within their home. It is a wonderful
place to go for a romantic walk, to take ones mind off of everyday stressors, and find serenity
within its nature. Most importantly, the park has gone through seasons of germination and
drought . . . but the people who have fought over its creation, design, use, maintenance, and
restoration are what make the history of Central Park so complex and compelling (Rosenzweig
& Blackmar, 1992, p.11).

Crains New York Business.(2009). Central Perk. Retrieved July 8, 2014, from
Genzlinger, Neil. (2011, April 20). The genius who built central park. The New York Times, pp.
Rosenzweig, R., & Blackmar, E. (1992). The park and the people: A history of central park.
Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

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