Friday, February 5, 2010

The First Central Park

I came up to NYC in further search of job opportunities and to catch an obscure and wonderful 18th century French opera with friends. Few cities in the world have so much going on that it takes a 100 plus-page events magazine (Time Out New York )that is published twice a month. Fewer cities still, have anything quite like Central Park. There is no landscape quite like Central Park. Whether for a stroll by yourself, with a friend, to walk a dog or to watch nature, there is simply nothing like it. In the summer, spring or fall the park is always magnificent. In winter, with snow, it takes on magical qualities.

Designed in 1858 by the first Landscape Architect of our profession, Frederick Law Olmsted and Architect Calvert Vaux as a democratic place for the people of NY it is a marvel of concept, design and execution. It reclaimed an old marsh and trash dump into probably the premier city park in the world. Not a leftover royal park like most European green spaces, Central Park was designed for the people of NY. The Astors as much as the Smiths, Oharas, Schmidts, Rossis, Garcias or any other immigrant that came and labored in the city and would benefit from the great outdoors.

The landscape was simple yet complex. The architectural elements were designed of the best materials of the day, granite and stones. For a 150 years the efforts of these two man lasted but at a 150 years old the park has needed much by way of deferred maintenance that was not done until the Central Park Conservancy came along. Founder, Betsy Rogers, rolled-up her silk sleeves from her flat overlooking the park and bankrolled and got her friends involved and they had a lot of fun while raising a ton of money for the task of the restoration.

Today, many years into it there are marvelous restored buildings, lawns, plantings, gazebos, beautiful gardens all around the expansive 843 acre park. This is a serious landscape folks!

All this renovation has come at a price. What once was a pristine landscape of granite outcroppings, lakes, ravines, boathouse and marvelous elm trees and fountains is now littered with the gratitude that we owe a lot of people for shelling out the bucks necessary to restore this city's treasure and probable national monument!

It is not enough that people are getting a tax deduction for their donations, they have to also get a plaque that tells everyone of their beneficent magnificence! The world is not what it was. I think of John D Rockefeller Jr. who bought and donated millions of acres of what are now Grand Teton, Acadia, and Virgin Islands National Parks without ever laying claim to any naming!

There is nothing wrong in wanting to remember friends and I offer that benches with plaques sometimes give further character to great places. There has to be a difference between remembering people in the heart rather than just plastering their names, on fountains, buildings, trees, asphalt pavers, fences, walls, gates, restored park urns, balusters, and benches. Yet for a couple of hundred bucks or more you can get yourself a bench for however long the plaque lasts and in the process take something beautiful and turn it into a memorial park for benefactors! I am sorry, this is something that strikes me as vain and selfish and not for the common good. I hope we somehow overcome this period of vanity, self satisfaction and stop deluding ourselves of our mortality. The men who designed and built this park, I don't believe, have their name anywhere on it...they just did it.

Woody Allen has loved Manhattan over and over in his films. Bobby Short, late singer and spirited pianist's renditions of popular standards evoked the glamour of Manhattan nightlife. For me, I love the culture I go to experience in Manhattan, but I get my charge when I am in Central Park.

1 comment:

  1. Charming photos and very accurate observations. We're so vain! We all probably think this blog is about us.