Parks of Midtown East

Bellevue South Park

East 26th to East 28th Streets, Mt. Carmel Place, (between First and Second Avenues)

Nearby Zip Codes: 10010, 10003, 10009, 10016

Nearby Neighborhoods: Kips Bay, Rose Hill, Peter Cooper Village, and Stuyvesant Town

Nestled among its namesake hospital, a large apartment complex, and the Public Health hospital, Bellevue South Park serves a different purpose for each of the communities it serves. Health fanatics rely on its exercise stations and volleyball & basketball courts, hospital employees recharge while gazing at its decorative floral and animal sculptures, and children stretch and conquer its playgrounds.

The park is named after Bellevue Hospital, one of the world’s leading medical institutions for more than two centuries. The original hospital opened as an almshouse in 1736 on the lot now occupied by City Hall. In 1811, New York City purchased Belle Vue farms, which is located at 27th Street and 1st Avenue. The land became the Bellevue Institution, in effect, a community center with an almshouse, a pest house, a soap factory, a greenhouse, a penitentiary, a school, a morgue, a bake house, an icehouse, and a shop for carpenters and blacksmiths. The institution was dedicated in its entirety in1816.

Bellevue had already established a reputation for innovative medical technology by the mid-1800s, and treated soldiers from both the Civil War and the Spanish American War. Bellevue doctors pioneered the use of hypodermic syringes (1856), performed the nation’s first cesarean section (1867), and developed the first hospital-based ambulance service (1869). Specialized units holding 2,700 total beds, a variety of outpatient clinics, and four schools were founded as the hospital expanded. During World War I and II, Bellevue organized hospital units to serve overseas. Today, the hospital is affiliated with the New York University School of Medicine.

This park actually lies to the west of the hospital complex, not to its south. The misleading name stems from the fact that the original Bellevue Urban Renewal Area was located at Kips Bay Plaza on East 30th Street, and this park lies just to the south of that site. The Bellevue South Urban Renewal Project, which began in 1959, dramatically changed the face of a 17-block area on Manhattan’s East Side, running from 23rd to 30th Streets between First and Second Avenues. This project was a source of much controversy among area residents, some of whom desired rehabilitation of older structures, rather than complete razing and rebuilding. Ultimately, tenements and old factory buildings gave way to a new, vibrant community centered on a complex of eight mixed-income apartment buildings known as Phipps Plaza.

Bellevue South Park was mapped in 1966, a welcomed green space for the increasingly residential neighborhood. The park fell victim to New York City’s severe fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s and was left undeveloped for some time. In the late 1970s, the city agreed to pay for the construction of the park after Community Board Six and residents of the neighborhood promised to cover all of the expenses needed for its maintenance. The park opened in November 1979, and the Better Bellevue Association saw to its maintenance for the next seven years. The Association, a coalition of residents and nearby institutions including the Phipps Plaza Community Center, the Parks Council, the New York City Environmental Fund, and Community Board Six, organizes senior activities, lunchtime concerts, and children’s programs.

The city took control of the park after the worst of the fiscal crisis had passed, and Parks assumed jurisdiction over Bellevue South Park in 1986. A $2 million renovation sponsored by Councilman Antonio Pagan was completed in 1997, transforming the park into its current shape. Improvements included the removal of a concrete wall that had surrounded the park, a significant greening of the interior that replaced concrete and asphalt with trees and plant beds, and the installation of two new playgrounds with safety surfacing. A basketball court, numerous game tables, and new benches were added as well. Designers gave the park a lively and playful atmosphere by including fanciful sculptures of flowers, elves, turtles, and frogs, with sculpted animal tracks laid in the ground.

Central Park

Fifth Avenue and Central Park West 59th to 110th Streets

Arguably the most famous park in the world, Central Park is a manmade wonder. Not only is it the first public park built in America, but it is also one of the most frequently visited, with over 25 million guests per year.

Set in the middle of bustling Manhattan, its grounds serve as a safe haven, not only for athletes, daydreamers, musicians, and strollers, but also for teeming migratory birds each year. One can spend an entire peaceful day roaming its grounds, gazing upon nearly 50 fountains, monuments, and sculptures or admiring its 36 bridges and arches.

With recreational facilities abounding, the more energetic won’t have a problem finding a spot to skate, pedal, row, dribble, or climb to his or her heart’s delight. Although Central Park has 21 official playgrounds, we like to think of it as one gigantic jungle gym in its peak season.

150 years’ worth of visitors have enjoyed and recommended Central Park; don’t you think it’s your turn? And here’s how this wonder came about…

Late in the 1840s, socialites Anna and Robert Minturn led New York’s upper-crust civic movement to create a landscaped public park to rival the best that Paris, London, and Vienna offered. After the research of appropriate sites ended, in 1853, like-minded groups had two choices: Jones’ Wood, a tract along the East River in the 60s and 70s, or a rocky, mid-island tract, including Harlem Common, viewed as an unlikely development site because of its brackish swamps and irregular bluffs. After contentious wrangling—with more than a few interventions involving New York state legislators—the city council selected the first park commissioners, as well as the central site.

This expanse, from Fifth to Eighth Avenues, spanning 59th to 105th Streets, was already host to a handful of permanent structures—most prominently, the Sisters of Charity Mount St. Vincent Convent and School, an already aged facility built nearby the colonialera McGowan’s Pass Tavern site, at 107th Street near Fifth Avenue. Others included those within Seneca Village, an African-American community with a population of 1,600, at West 82nd Street near Eighth Avenue (among them, several wood-frame churches and a school), and shanties, occupied by Irish pig-keepers and German gardeners, from Lenox Hill to Highland of New York (now Carnegie Hill), nestled between sporadic swamps, ponds, and rocky protrusions.

While this land was being cleared of its inhabitants (and what a saga the displaced dwellers wrought!) a newly appointed committee announced a competition that would determine the designer of the forthcoming first American landscaped urban park. After extensive backroom deals and intrigues, Park Superintendent Frederick Law Olmsted and British architect and landscapist Calvert Vaux’s Greensward Plan was selected, which envisioned decidedly English romantic, pastoral expanses. The commissioners, however, would add their own stamp, through budget revisions and spending proposal paperwork

The physical creation of Central Park began in 1857 and continued throughout 1858, and then opened, in stages, over a period of 15 years (it initially encompassed 700 acres, but was expanded to 110th Street, in 1863, to a total of 843 acres). Along the way 10 million cartloads of muck and mire were removed, three million cubic feet of earth and stone were hauled in, and 20,000 laborers (prison chain gangs among them) were utilized. Ultimately, a half-million trees and shrubs were planted, offsetting a handful of manmade lakes and ponds and 40 graceful bridges.

Immediately received as truly wondrous, Central Park’s grand, sprawling, open spaces drew New Yorkers from every walk of life, and within five years more than seven million visitors, both to and from the city, were exploring it annually. While Olmstead and Vaux’s engineering feat was unarguably seminal, more important for Manhattan was the overall park design concept, with its far northern portion’s open and rolling meadows— highlighted by nearby hills and bluffs—contrasting and yet harmonizing with its southern portion’s formal dress grounds and promenades. At the same time, rougher grounds to the north, complete with Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battle sites (and a single still-intact fort) were left undisturbed, to retain part of the island’s rugged character, while, to the south, the creation of the Great Lawn, Sheep Meadow, and what is now called the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir helped to reflect the more rural nature the park’s surrounding blocks once were.

But perhaps most notable among the park’s impacts is its own most notable structure, accomplished through the efforts of a group of wealthy art aficionados who maintained that the City would benefit from a museum displaying their collective treasures. With sufficient clout at Tammany City Hall, these prominent citizens lobbied for and won approval for what was to become the largest building within Central Park: the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Work began in 1870, with designs by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, and the institution opened in 1877, continuously expanding and reflecting the work of many remarkable architects.

At the same time, the appeal of living due south of the new park was diminishing, and the blocks below 59th Street saw widespread conversion to commercial spaces. New

Yorkers yearning for prestigious addresses were moving farther and farther north, and throughout the 1870s an eruption of mansions began along Fifth Avenue, first in the East 60s; within three decades the swells had moved as far north as 96th Street, inspired by the completion of the Carnegie urban estate.

The park’s western border, Eighth Avenue (renamed Central Park West in 1884, the same year as its most illustrious apartment house, the Dakota Apartments, welcomed its first residents), found itself opposite Fifth Avenue’s Millionaires’ Row—in more ways than one. The avenue developed in a more commercial vein, due to its proximity to many nearby theaters and low-rise multiple-family dwellings, resulting in tenements and boarding houses standing among early innovative apartment houses and luxury apartment hotels. But like its sister avenue across the park, Eighth Avenue became host to another of the city’s most revered collections—the American Museum of Natural History, also designed by Vaux and Mould, and completed in 1877 (the subsequent Theodore Roosevelt Memorial entrance opened in 1936). This institution found a new neighbor, in 1908, in the York & Sawyer and Walker & Gillette–designed New York Historical Society.

Eighteen blocks down, the park’s southwest corner anchors Columbus Circle. More than a major traffic hub (where Broadway intersects both Eighth Avenue and its cross street Central Park South), this plaza is home to the Maine Monument, a 44-foot Beaux Arts, limestone, marble-and-gilded-bronze pylon, (donated by William Randolph Hearst) in memory of the sailors aboard the U.S.S. Maine; Merchants’ Gate, the most imposing Central Park West park entrance; and—at its epicenter—the celebrated statue of Christopher Columbus, which commemorated the 400-year anniversary of his discovery of America.

A second plaza, no less architecturally significant, is stationed three blocks across town, at Central Park’s southeast corner. Grand Army Plaza, Manhattan’s only split semicircular plaza (and the park’s only external landscaped entrance) was designed in homage to Paris’s Place de la Concorde and is best known for its outdoor art. The north portion boasts a statue of Union general William Tecumseh Sherman; the south, an Italian Renaissance–inspired statue of Pomona, the Roman goddess of bounty (and the Pulitzer Fountain’s centerpiece). And rotating sculptures, installed biannually by the Public Art Fund, grace the adjacent Doris C. Freedman Plaza. All share one of the city’s most elegant backdrops, designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh in the French Renaissance–château style: the world-renown (and aptly named) Plaza Hotel.

Central Park Highlights

  • The Pond, and the Hallett Woods nature preserve, Grand Army Plaza, 59th to 61st Streets, at Fifth Avenue
  • The Central Park Zoo, 62nd to 65th Streets, at Fifth Avenue
  • The Dairy, at 63rd Street
  • The Arsenal, at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue
  • The Carousel, at 65th Street
  • The Mall and Summer Stage, 65th to 71st Streets
  • Sheep Meadow, 65th to 70th Streets
  • Strawberry Fields, at 72nd Street and Central Park West
  • Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, at 72nd Street
  • The Lake, and Boathouse, 72nd to 75th Streets
  • Conservancy Water, at 73rd Street and Fifth Avenue
  • The Ramble, 75th to 79th Streets
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and its Roof Garden, 80th to 84th Streets, at Fifth Avenue
  • Cleopatra’s Needle, at 81st Street
  • Belvedere Castle, Turtle Pond, and Delacorte Theater, at 82nd Street
  • The Great Lawn, 82nd to 85th Streets
  • The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, and Upper Reservoir jogging track,

85th to 94th Streets, from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West

  • Engineer’s Gate, at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue
  • The East and North Meadows, 97th to 99th Streets
  • The Conservancy Gardens, with the Vanderbilt Gates, at 105th Street and Fifth Avenue
  • The Blockhouse, McGowan’s Pass, 106th to 108th Streets
  • Harlem Meer, 108th to 110th Street, at Fifth Avenue

Central Park Gates

  • Merchant’s Gate, at Columbus Circle
  • Artisan’s Gate, Central Park South and Seventh Avenue
  • Artist’s Gate, Central Park South and Avenue of the Americas
  • Scholar’s Gate, at Grand Army Plaza
  • Children’s Gate, Fifth Avenue and 64th Street
  • Inventor’s Gate, Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street
  • Miner’s Gate, Fifth Avenue and 79th Street
  • Engineer’s Gate, Fifth Avenue and 90th Street
  • Woodman’s Gate, Fifth Avenue and 96th Street
  • Vanderbilt Gate, Fifth Avenue and 102nd Street
  • Pioneer’s Gate, Central Park North and 110th Street
  • Farmer’s Gate, Central Park North and Lenox Avenue
  • Warrior’s Gate, Central Park North and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard
  • Stranger’s, Gate Central Park North and Central Park West
  • Boy’s Gate, Central Park West and 100th Street
  • All Saints’ Gate, Central Park West and 96th Street
  • Mariner’s Gate, Central Park West and 86th Street
  • Naturalist’s Gate, Central Park West and 77th Street
  • Woman’s Gate, Central Park West and 72nd Street

The Trestle

Peter Detmold Park

Nestled along the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive, between East 49th and 51st Streets and below a sheer cliff, therefore, hidden from street level, this is an isolated, pleasant, oasis. With views across the East River and a pedestrian bridge leads to a small section of the East River Promenade, south of 60th Street to 38th Street. There is a dog run directly underneath the footbridge.

Seven Pocket Parks

PALEY PARK, on East 53rd Street, off Fifth Avenue

Waterfall at Daybreak

520 Madison Avenue, at East 53rd Street

Remnant of the Berlin Wall

601 Lexington Avenue, at East 53rd Street

A Seven-story Atrium

GRAND CENTRAL PLAZA, East 40th Street at Third Avenue

Above the Fracas

TUDOR CITY GREENS, East 42nd Street between Second and First Avenues

Originally an Intended Putting Green

GREENACRE, East 51st Street between Second and Third Avenues

A Peaceful Respite

SUTTON PLACE PARK, at East 57th Street and the East River

Alongside One Sutton Place’s Private Garden