A Look Back: The Creation of a Green Gem for the City of New York

Be Part Of Your Park
NEW YORK It is so naturally part of the Manhattan environment that many people may not realize it is entirely manmade.

A brief history of the Park:


At this time in city history, immigration surges caused the population to grow to more than 300,000 in the 1840s and well over 500,000 by 1850. In order to escape the busy city life, New Yorkers longed to have a place of serenity -- a park of sorts.

After public pressure from influential New Yorkers such as "Evening Post" editor William Cullen Bryant, the city's political parties jumped on board the idea of having a central public park. From 1853 to 1856, city commissioners paid around five million for undeveloped land from 59th Street to 106th Street -- between Fifth and Eighth Avenues.

In 1857, city commissioners sponsored a public competition to design the new Central Park. They finally chose the "Greensward Plan" by Designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. That plan would later become the design for the park.


The Greenswald Plan called for meadows and lakes and the land it would occupy was well suited for the various design styles of the planners. However, the area set aside for the park was rocky and swampy, a significant challenge to architects. In addition, the soil wasn't adaquetly prepared to handle trees. So 500,000 cubic feet of topsoil was brought in by horse-drawn carts from New Jersey and laid on the Park's land.

By 1873, more than 10 million loads of material -- including four million trees, plants, and shrubs -- had been hauled through the Park. In addition, 36 bridges were built, along with four manmade bodies of water. Park designers also built pathways so visitors could ride or walk through the Park.


Around 1900, the creation of automobiles and neglect placed a new pressure on the Park.

The new Central Park wasn't without other problems. There were endless political battles between the designers and Tammany Hall -- the Democratic political machine that ran New York City politics from 1850 to 1933.

In 1934, the election of Fiorello LaGuardia finally caused the downfall of Tammany Hall and put a significant amount of attention into beautifying the Park. In fact, he put the control of the park with Robert Moses -- who had built Long Island's parkways and Jones Beach.

And Moses' efforts paid off as lawns were reseeded, pathways repaved, and flowers in full bloom. Throughout the years, Central Park gained 19 playgrounds, 12 ball fields and other recreational areas.


In this time period of 20 years, Central Park saw a decline in beauty after a series of concerts, peace rallies, and protests. Lampposts were beheaded, benches were broken, grass was trampled, and graffiti was sprayed on many walls.

Nonetheless, there were some positive moments: The Public Theatre's "Shakespeare in the Park" debuted in 1962. Also, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic began their summer concert series on the Great Lawn. And then in 1964, Central Park was declared a National Historic Landmark.

However, by 1975, the Park had deteriorated so much that a task force was initiated. It was also in 1980 that the Central Park Conservancy was created.


1980 was a turning point for the Park as the Conservancy and City politicians worked hand-and-hand to restoring the park, which included various construction projects to major landmarks in the Park.

In 1998, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, and Conservancy Chairman Ira Millstein signed a contract to ensure maintenance and programming would continue for the Park. Under the contract, the Conservancy would receive an annual fee for the services in the Park -- a fee based on how well the Conservancy could raise through private funds.

Since 1980, the Conservancy brought in nearly $300 million dollars aimed at restoring and maintaining the Park.

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