secrets of Central Park |


Central Park, Manhattan’s 843-acre oasis, is large enough that much of it is rarely seen by the public. This lamp, seen at the entrance to Central Park at Grand Army Plaza, was donated by Hamburg, West Germany in 1979 and is a replica of an ornate lamp found in Hamburg on the Lombard Bridge. The plaque reads “This Lombard lamp is presented to the people of New York and by the people of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg so that it will forever light up a bridge of friendship in human relations, exchange and commerce”. It is on the west side of Grand Army Plaza on 5th Avenue. A second replica of the Lombard lamp was donated to Chicago, which placed it in its Lincoln Square neighborhood the same year.

The Lombards, or Langobards, were a Germanic tribe that began in southern Sweden and worked their way to Italy in the early medieval period, becoming Italians in the process and giving their name to the northern Italian region of Lombardy. Their name, the Lombards, referred to their long beards.

There really is no excuse for getting lost in Central Park, if you know where to look. Cast iron lampposts designed by architect Henry Bacon (who also designed the Lincoln Memorial) in 1907 are commonplace in Central Park, as well as in city parks. They sometimes make appearances on the side streets for ambiance. For the past few years, the city has branded most streetlights in Central Park with embossed numbered metal plaques. The first two or three numbers correspond to the cross street you would be on if that street crossed the park. The post above is located where 61st Street would be.

The park’s 1960s-style octagonal flagpoles and Donald Deskey poles received the same treatment, along with a coat of green paint (unique to the city). In addition to the cross street, some of them also carry a W, a C or an E, corresponding respectively to the western, central or eastern parts of the park.

The Ramble, near the center of the park, contains a number of wooden bridges, including this one that crosses the small stream called The Gill (it’s man-made and fed by a pipe connecting it to the Central Park Reservoir). The Ramble is one of the lesser-known parts of the park, as its very isolation makes visitors vulnerable to attack from muggers. Among the Ramble’s attractions are The Cave, closed in the 1920s but still visible with a stone staircase leading up to it; Tupelo Meadow; the Humming Tombstone, a rock that hides the control boxes for the park’s streetlights; Azalea Pond, a favorite of birdwatchers; and the massive Ramble Arch.

The Swedish Cottage, West Drive near 79e Saint Transverse, was built in Sweden, in 1876. It originally appeared in Philadelphia at its Centennial Exhibition and was dismantled and reassembled in Central Park the following year, having been purchased for $1,500. It has been used as a storage shed, public toilets, insect laboratory, civil defense headquarters and, since 1947, a puppet theater. It’s just east of the Natural History Museum on Central Park West.

Once upon a time in the past it was hard to get clean, fresh milk, before the era of pasteurization. Children in the town were sickened, some fatally, from contaminated milk. In Brooklyn’s Central Park and Prospect Park, facilities were set up to allow people to obtain milk from licensed producers back when nutritionists everywhere swore whole milk was good for you.

The Central Park Dairy was designed by Calvert Vaux and built in 1870, and is the hub of the park’s children’s quarters: the zoo is to the east and the carousel is to the west. The Victorian Gothic building added coffee and sandwiches to its repertoire and was a bustling gathering place until the turn of the 20th century. Then rot set in, accelerated by the Depression; the decaying dairy was used as a storage shed in the 1950s. The Central Park Conservancy successfully restored the dairy in 1980 and today it serves as the park’s visitor center, although you have to go elsewhere in the park for milk or other drinks.

To experience another of the park’s many surprises, take a detour along the park trail that runs along the western shore of the lake. A short peninsula, known as “Hernshead”, juts out into the lake, providing stellar photo opportunities. ‘Hernshead’ is Anglo-Saxon for ‘heron head’ but according to bird watchers wading birds like herons and egrets stay away from Hernshead for the most part. A curved path takes you through a maze of flowering vegetation to the edge of the lake, which offers a good view of the huge apartment towers of San Remo, built in 1929.

The jewel in Hernshead’s crown is the Ladies’ Pavilion, which dates from 1871 and was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould. It was originally a streetcar shelter at Columbus Circle, but after years of rust and neglect (a Central Park theme), it was dismantled, repaired, and reassembled in the early 1970s. vandals are still on the attack and the pavilion had to be renovated again at regular intervals over the following years.

The Ladies’ Pavilion is so named because it replaced the former Ladies’ Shelter, which offered female skaters at the former Ladies’ Pond site the opportunity to change from shoes to skates without losing their dignity. It was probably moved to Hernshead around 1913.

The Diana Ross Playground at Central Park West and W. 81st St. was designed under unusual circumstances. After Diana Ross’ scheduled free concert in 1983 was cut short by torrential rain and wind, she returned for a second show the following night; the crowd erupted in a near riot, causing damage. Ross then funded this playground that bears his name.

—Kevin Walsh is the webmaster of the award-winning Forgotten NY website and the author of the books Forgotten New York (HarperCollins, 2006) and also, with the Greater Astoria Historical Society, forgotten queens (Arcadia, 2013)


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