Parks of Midtown West

Here you have the most intense, yet, diversely urban landscape on planet Earth, Midtown Manhattan. This is New York – New York’s commercial center—if you can’t find what you’re looking for here, it probably doesn’t exist. This expanse is home to the city’s tallest and most famous buildings and contains a multitude of distinct neighborhoods.

For instance, the zone bisected by Ninth Avenue and its scores of ethnic restaurants, once gritty Hell’s Kitchen (also known as Clinton north of 50th Street and North Chelsea south of 34th Street) has been gentrified profoundly, as well as currently in the midst of an ongoing building boom. (Although protected as a special Clinton Zone, between Eighth and Tenth Avenues.)

The West 50s (Manhattan’s premier international cultural hub for over hundreds of years), retains to this day its cosmopolitan ambiance: being within walking distance are the City’s finest museum, music halls (such as Radio City), world-renown restaurants and shopping, of course, the Broadway theater district.

Still a tourist Mecca, furthermore, the recent 60-plus-story condominium-tower boom morphed from Columbus Circle to Fifth Avenue, between Central Park South and West 57th Street, and it is now the densest celebrity enclave. Moreover, there are world-class parks and a dozen worthy children’s playgrounds.

Bryant Park

Between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, West 40th to West 42nd Streets

Nearby Zip Codes: 10036, 10018, 10019, 10017

Nearby Neighborhoods: Midtown East and West, Murray Hill, and Times Square

The site of winter ice skating at The Pond, free summer movies on the lawn, and endless meals and meetings at its tables, Bryant Park serves its role well as a centrally located Manhattan park. Just blocks from Times Square and the theater district and mere feet from the New York Public Library, the park is an ideal resting spot for the thousands of tourists and residents who pass by its boundaries each day.

Pull up a chair or hop on Le Carrousel to experience the charm of this Parisian-like park!

The City of New York established a potter’s field–that is, a burial place for unknown or indigent people–on the site of modern-day Bryant Park in 1823. The potter’s field continued to be used until 1840.

Around that same time, between 1839 and 1843, the Croton Distributing Reservoir was built where the New York Public Library now stands, on the east side of the park. The land of the former potter’s field became Reservoir Park in 1847. The reservoir, which was the city’s prime water source for a time, was removed in the 1890s. In 1884, the park was renamed Bryant Park for New York Evening Post editor William Cullen Bryant.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated Bryant Park a Scenic Landmark in 1974, and the park went through major reconstruction in 1988, reopening its gates in April 1992.

De Witt Clinton Park

West 52nd to West 54th Streets, between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues

Nearby Zip Codes: 10019, 10023, 10036

Nearby Neighborhoods: Midtown West, Clinton, and Hell’s Kitchen

De Witt Clinton Park is a truly family-friendly park. Because of 1996 improvements to its Erie Canal Playground, one can find play equipment, safety surfacing, painted games, swings, benches, drinking fountains, concrete play mules (named Sal, Pal, and Gal) and a frog spray shower within the play area.

Your four-footed family member hasn’t been forgotten; there are dog runs in the park for Fido to run within to his heart’s content.

Botanically-oriented families will enjoy Maria’s Perennial Garden. Featuring flowers of the 1800s, rock garden species, and plants that attract birds, bees and butterflies, it’s a peaceful spot to appreciate and learn about nature.

And finally, the competitive minded can shoot hoops, run bases, or hit a “killer” on the basketball courts, baseball fields, and handball courts.

Erie Canal Playground is located in De Witt Clinton Park, one of the few New York City parks which gave its name to a neighborhood. This area, roughly bounded by 59th Street, 8th Avenue, 34th Street, and the Hudson River, is known as Clinton, or Hell’s Kitchen. The park and playground are named for New York politician De Witt Clinton (1769-1828) and his most famous project – the Erie Canal, a 363-mile waterway that stretches from Albany to Buffalo.

De Witt Clinton was the son of Revolutionary War general James Clinton and the nephew of New York Governor George Clinton. He graduated from Columbia College in 1786 and served as a New York assemblyman (1798), state senator (1798-1802; 1806-11), U.S. senator (1802-03), New York City mayor (1803-07; 1810-11; 1813-15), and New York State governor (1817-21; 1825-28). He ran unsuccessfully for president against James Madison in 1812, with support from Federalists and Republicans. As a public servant and private citizen, Clinton improved the living conditions and as well as the defenses of New York and helped establish several charitable and cultural institutions, including the precursor of the New York Historical Society.

Clinton is best remembered for his role in planning the Erie Canal, constructed in 181725 at a cost of $8 million. Critics branded the project “Governor’s Gutter,” “Governor’s Gully,” “Clinton’s Ditch,” and “Clinton’s Folly.” By linking the Great Lakes to the Hudson River, the man-made waterway solidified New York’s position as the nation’s commercial center, and its success stimulated improvements to the interior and the Port of New York.

Parks acquired the 7.4-acre lot in Hell’s Kitchen, in 1901, and officially opened De Witt Clinton Park on November 4, 1905. Designed by landscape architect Samuel Parsons, Jr., the picturesque park featured a recreation/bathing pavilion (by Barney & Chapman Architects), gymnasium, running track, playgrounds, and a series of curving paths that led spectators to a panoramic view of the Hudson and the Palisades. The park’s centerpiece was a children’s farm garden, which operated from 1902 to 1932. It featured flower beds, observation plots, a pergola, and 356 4′ x 8′ vegetable gardens each assigned to a “little farmer.” Director Frances Griscom Parsons (no relation to Samuel

Parsons, Jr.), the city’s first female park administrator, taught local children about plant science, conservation, nutrition, and hygiene. The success of this program inspired the creation of similar farm gardens in other neighborhood parks in the 1910s-1930s and influenced the contemporary community gardens movement.

Sculptor Burt W. Johnson and architect Harvey W. Corbett designed the Flanders Field Memorial (1929) which depicts a World War I soldier or “doughboy” located in the southeast corner of the park. The monument was dedicated, in 1930, and was restored in 1997. De Witt Clinton Park was truncated on the west side by 1.5 acres in 1931 for the construction of the Miller Highway, which has since been torn down.

In 1996, the Erie Canal playground underwent a $635,000 renovation which included the installation of dog runs and play equipment, landscaping, and a colored concrete north arrow around the base of the reconstructed yardarm flagpole. A graphic on the pavement displays the words to “The Erie Canal” and the route of the famous waterway. In 2009, a $3.4 million reconstruction of the park’s ballfields, with funding allocated by Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Member Christine Quinn, included installation of synthetic turf. Part of this reconstruction features an element of green design whereby much of the water runoff will be captured within the site.

The Atlantic Flyway, at De Witt Clinton Park

The bald eagle, a national symbol of strength and freedom, was formerly listed as an endangered species. Although this majestic bird no longer nests here, it can still be seen soaring through the skies of New York City, thanks to the city’s position along the Atlantic flyway.

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 swarms of 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 was 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.

Highlights of Central Park

  • 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

Doughboy Memorial

Chelsea Park is a widely used park, with basketball courts, baseball diamonds, handball courts, multi-purpose asphalt surfaces, and space to sit down and take a break. The park has a strong place in the neighborhood. The first playground here was built in 1910 and designated as an open space for the crowded tenement district.

Throughout the 1980s, the 47th Street Block Association hosted Halloween parties, barbecues, and potluck luncheons in Hell’s Kitchen Park. The residents worked to keep the park a safe environment by installing lights on buildings nearby. In the late 1980s, New York City Parks Department built a fence, and the community’s activism continues to ensure that Hell’s Kitchen Park will remain a safe place for nearby citizens to enjoy.