Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Pictorial Aside: Central Park and the Upper East Side

Outdoor tennis in Central Park officially closed today, Sunday, December 2.   By now, all of my tennis buddies have gone to indoor courts.  My last match was to have been on Thursday, but the combination of freezing temperatures and the clay courts (actually a surface called Har-Tru), which can retain quite a bit of moisture, meant that the water froze on the surface and wasn’t absorbed.

My tennis season over,  I grabbed my empty, old tournament bag, took a subway, walked west on 96th Street into Central Park to the Tennis House to empty my locker until next April.

Rather than heading straight home, however, I slung my bag over my shoulder and walked around the Central Park Reservoir, recording whatever caught my interest with a small, pocket camera.   This blog post is a record of that walk on the morning of Thursday, November 29.

New York City, Central Park, Tennis Courts
The tennis courts are located on a center axis of the park, just north of the Reservoir and south of the 96th Street transverse. Tennis was first permitted in 1884 in Central Park, on a meadow at this same location.   As an outdoor sport, it was only invented in 1873 by a British army officer and introduced, in the same year, into America by Mary Ewing Outerbridge of Staten Island.

Because of tennis’ growing popularity, hundreds of temporary courts had sprung up on flat lawn areas all over the park.  Thus, in 1911, that same meadow above the reservoir was paved and became the official location for tennis.

New York City, Central Park, Tennis House, 1930, Gustavo Steinacher
The tennis house was built in 1930 in response to a growing call for lockers and showers to complement the now thirty courts and over 5,000 permit holders.  The building, with its simplified central pediment and two vestigial Doric pilasters, was designed by the Park’s chief engineer, Gustavo Steinacher.   Its formal, classical style has met with some disfavor (particularly in the 1980s) among park “purists” who preferred something more picturesque and Victorian to blend in with the other park structures.   Still, it survives, which is more than can be said for another classical structure from the hand of Steinacher--a Doric peristyle folly of 1925 overlooking the Hudson at 190th Street and Henry Hudson Parkway: the Inspiration Point Shelter.

New York City, Central Park, Gothic Bridge, 1864, Calvert Vaux
As I made my way south from the Tennis House to the Reservoir, I passed under Bridge #28, now known as the Gothic Bridge.  Although most of the Central Park bridges are stone, this is one of several in steel and cast iron.   It was designed in 1864 by Calvert Vaux with a span of 37 feet to carry it over the bridle path on a parallel with 94th Street.  Its name comes from the decorative ironwork of its spandrels, one of which we see here with its fancifully-curved lancets sprouting floral-like crockets.  The ironwork was done by the JB and WW Cornell Ironworks, one of the best known foundries in New York City.

New York City, Central Park, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, 1858-1862
The Reservoir was renamed in 1994 after Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, whose Fifth Avenue apartment overlooked it and who used the 1.58-mile track that circumscribes it.  It was built between 1858-1862 to receive water from the Croton Aqueduct and then service the city water supply each year when the Croton water system was shut down for repairs.  It no longer serves this purpose, but it remains an important ecological sanctuary for over twenty species of waterfowl.

I took this photograph as I stood at the north edge and looked to the southwest, capturing some of the tall reed grass at the water’s edge and, on the right, some of the buildings lining Central Park West.

New York City, Central Park, view west to The El Dorado, 1929-31,  Emery Roth
The El Dorado (300 Central Park West) is a luxury housing cooperative occupying the block between West 90th and 91st Streets.   It was built between 1929-1931 and replaced a hotel of the same name that was built in 1902.  The architect of record is the firm of Margon & Holder;  however, Emery Roth, an associate in the firm, was the main designer.   Not visible in this distant shot are the many Art Deco details of the lower floors, cornices and tower finials.  Roth emigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1884 and worked for such great American architects of the late
19th century as Burnham and Root (in Chicago) and Richard Morris Hunt (in New York).  He is considered among the great apartment house designers and left a legacy of better than 250 apartments in New York City when he died in 1948.

New York City, Central Park, view west to the Saint Urban Apartments, 1906, Robert T. Lyons
The building in the center of this photograph, with its Mansard roof and domed corner tower, is the Saint Urban Apartment Building.  It was completed in 1906 and is located on West 89th Street and Central Park West.  Its architect was Robert T. Lyons, who designed about thirty hotels and large residential buildings in New York between 1891 and 1931.

New York City, Central Park West Reservoir Bridge, 1864, Calvert Vaux
New York City, Southeast Reservoir bridge, 1864, Calvert Vaux

Just south of the Reservoir are two more cast iron and steel bridges that span the bridle path and connect the Reservoir footpath to several walking paths and park entrances.  Of these, the Reservoir Bridge Southwest is larger, with a span of 72 feet and is also more ornate.   In the top photograph, we can see the floral scrolls of its upper railings. 

The bottom photograph shows a spandrel of the Southeast Reservoir Bridge, which is located near the 85th Street entrance to the park.  Its span is 33 feet.  These several cast iron bridges of Central Park are among the “best surviving collection of cast iron bridges in America,” in the words of historian Henry Hope Reed,  and their concurrent use of structural steel girders makes them important examples in the transition from cast iron to steel in the history of bridge design.

New York City, Central Park, Central Park Police Precinct,  1869-71, Jacob Wrey Mould
Situated between these two bridges and bordering the 86th Street Transverse Road, is the Central Park Police Precinct.   It was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould as the park’s stable complex and built between 1869-1871.  It became the home of the New York Police Department in 1936, and recent renovations to the buildings were completed in 2010.   This photograph of one section of the complex reveals some of the polychrome stone work, gabled dormer windows, hexagonal roof tiles and a tendency to asymmetry that characterizes High Victorian Gothic.  Mould also collaborated with Calvert Vaux on the original Metropolitan Museum of Art and designed the fountain in City Hall Park.

New York City, Central Park, Yoshino Cherry Trees, near East 90th Street
Having worked my way to the east, I turned north on the bridle path below the Reservoir track to see these marvellous burled tree trunks.  My cross street location is approximately East 90th Street, and I’ll be sure to visit this spot again in the early spring to enjoy the flowering of these Yoshino Cherry trees.   Originally, the ancestors of these cherry trees were a gift from Japan at the beginning of the last century, and it is estimated that some 500 cherry trees are planted in various parts of Central Park.

New York City, Central Park, Fred Lebow Statue, ca. 2000, Jesus Ygnacio Dominguez
New York City, Upper East Side, Heavenly Rest Episcopal Church, Baptistery Chapel, 1929, Mayers, Murray & Philip
A bit further to the north, at the 90th Street entrance to the park, we see a bronze statue of a man standing and looking down at a stop watch that he holds in his left hand.  This is Fred Lebow (born Fischel Lebowitz), who was the founder of the New York City Marathon and president of the New York Road Runners Club for twenty years. He died of brain cancer in 1994, and this statue was made by Jesus Ygnacio Dominguez, a professor at San Diego State University. 

Across Fifth Avenue and serving as a backdrop for Lebow is the Heavenly Rest Episcopal Church.   The church was founded in 1865 by Civil War veterans as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the war.  This plot of land was sold to the church in 1926 by the widow of Andrew Carnegie, and the neo-Gothic structure we now see was consecrated in 1929.   Although the design is attributed to Bertram Goodhue, he died before construction began, and his successor firm of Mayers, Murray & Philip assumed work on it.  Its façade has some interesting modernist relief sculptures and its interior has an intimate baptistery chapel.

New York City, Central Park, John Purroy Mitchel Monument, 1928, Adolph Alexander Weinman
New York City, Central Park (5th Avenue), William Thomas Stead Monument, 1920, George James Frampton
Axially centered on the 90th Street entrance to the park [top photograph] is this pedimental temple frame in stone containing a gilded bust of John Purroy Mitchell.  Mitchell was known as “The Boy Mayor of New York,” and, as mayor from 1914-1917, had a short but notable career as a leader of reform politics.  He died in an accident in the waning months of World War I while serving in the Army Air Corps.  The Mitchell Memorial was dedicated in 1928, and the bust was sculpted by Adolph Alexander Weinman. For those of us who might be coin collectors, Weinman was the designer of the Mercury Dime, minted in 1916.

Just a bit further up 5th Avenue is another monument placed in the boundary wall of the park. The William Thomas Stead Monument is a copy of the original in London by the sculptor George James Frampton and was dedicated in 1920.   Stead was a journalist, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and founder of the Review of Reviews.   More importantly, he also was a pioneer of the idea of using the press to influence public opinion in what was termed “government by journalism.”  He died in 1912 aboard the Titanic.

Although these monuments may well be close to each other purely by accident, they also deserve their proximity.  Both celebrate men whose efforts challenged to political status quo;  both men died through unfortunate accidents;  and the stone background of both sculptures was designed by the same architectural firm--Carrère and Hastings, the architects of the New York Public Library. 

U.S.A Currency, Mercury Dime, 1916 ff, Adolph Alexander Weinman
Finally, besides blooming cherry trees, another reason to visit this location--the east side of Central Park around 90th Street--in the early spring is that those three volunteers you see sitting in front of the Mitchel Monument are planting hundreds of daffodil bulbs.  I’m sure those daffodils will provide a color explosion to match Mitchel's gilded portrait and the nearby Yoshino Cherry Trees. 

New York City, Central Park (5th Avenue), Boundary Wall, Frederick Law Olmsted
New York City, Upper East Side, 5th Avenue, Japanese Maple
I couldn’t resist capturing the moss and small ferns growing out of the boundary walls of Central Park.  This photograph and the one below of the Japanese Maple branches are somewhere around 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue.   I think that Central Park has over seven miles of these brownstone boundary walls, and they have withstood 150 years of moss, fern, lichen, water, ice and falling tree branches quite well.  We all should be happy that Olmsted and Vaux managed to talk the Commissioners out of going with the much cheaper spiked iron fencing.  It would never have lasted, even a century.  Also, as Olmsted remarked, quoting John Ruskin, “An iron railing always means thieves outside or Bedlam inside.” 

The Japanese Maple is self-evident: a fiery shaft, a gesture that caught my eye and lured me across Fifth Avenue for a closer look.

New York City, Upper East Side, Madison Avenue Armory, 1893-1895, John R. Thomas
New York City, Upper East Side, Madison Avenue Armory, Motto of Squadron A
As I made my way north and east, heading toward the Lexington subway stop at 96th Street, I walked up Madison Avenue to get a distant shot of the Squadron A Armory, a.k.a. the Eighth Regiment Armory. a.k.a. the 94th Street Armory.  Only its western wall remains.  The rest of the block has been redesigned to serve as the Hunter College High School. 

The Armory was built between 1893-95.  Its architect was John R. Thomas, who designed over 100 churches, state prisons, public and college buildings.  The Surrogate’s Courthouse near City Hall is also his design.   

Imbedded in the west wall of the Armory is the Squadron Motto, “Boutez en Avant,” which could be translated as “Push Forward,” or, more simply, “Charge!”

New York City, Upper East Side, K & D Wines and Spirits, 1366 Madison Avenue
My final photograph is a clandestine shot (taken furtively, as I did not ask permission) of a part of the wine displays at K&D Wines and Spirits.  I had heard of the store but had never patronized it before.   I was particularly impressed with their selection of French wines and of Italian wines from Tuscany.  I definitely will return later to make some purchases when I’m not burdened with all of my tennis equipment. 

So, that’s it: a little tour of a section of Central Park and the Upper East Side. 

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