Visitors to Manhattan soon realise that unlike many other major cities, there are very few green spaces amongst the skyscrapers. One notable exception is Central Park which is often known as New York’s ‘backyard’. The park spreads over 843 acres and is located between the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, bounded by Fifth Avenue on the east, Central Park West (Eighth Avenue) on the west, Central Park South (59th Street) on the south, and Central Park North (110th Street) on the north.
Central Park took over 16 years to create in the mid-19th century and was one of the models for other urban parks around the world. However the political and financial uncertainties in New York City over the 20th century led to the park suffering severe decline especially in between the 1960s and 1980s when it was often considered a no – go area because of crime and anti-social behaviour. Since then millions of dollars have been spent on the restoration of the park and it is now the pride and joy of New York.
When you walk through the park it looks very natural, but it is almost entirely landscaped. The lakes and ponds have created artificially and the woods, meadows and lawns have been developed over the last 100 and so years.
Many of the buildings around the park have been made into visitor centres which give plenty of information about the unusual aspects of the park.
One of the features you do not expect to find in a North American park is a castle, but in the middle of the park is Belvedere Castle. Calvert Vaux, co-designer of the Park, created the miniature castle in 1869 as a bit of a folly and it is now a visitor centre. Climbing the stairs inside the castle take you to a number of vantage points that give some of the best views of the Park and the surrounding cityscape.
Another feature of the park is the Bethesda Terrace and Bethesda Fountain with the Angel of the Waters statue on top. The fountain commemorates the water system, which first brought fresh water to New York City in 1842. Not to be missed under the terrace is the arcade that features a Minton tile ceiling, the ceiling is made up of 49 panels, the ceiling features with over 16,000 patterned tiles, handmade by Minton and Company in England.
The Sheep Meadow is a large expanse in the south of the park, if you think it is a fanciful name, you may be surprised to know that from 1864 to 1934, a flock of pedigree sheep grazed in the Meadow. From Sheep Meadow, we made a slight detour to the Dakota building which is Central Park West.
It was outside the Dakota building where Beatle John Lennon was murdered in 1981, a part of the park was created as a living memorial to the singer. Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono Lennon helped to create Strawberry Fields with a large mosaic created by Italian craftsmen bearing the word ‘ Imagine.’ It is now a popular tourist stop and after the 10th rendition of ‘Imagine’ by the buskers in the gardens we decided was time to leave and move back into the park.
Unfortunately we could not enter the Great Lawn area because there was an event taking place later in the week. We did walk over to the large wooden area called the Ramble and the Central Park Zoo.
Feeling peckish, we made our way to the Boathouse which has quite a large café and settled down for a refreshment break. It was here that Mrs Nice remarked that it was wonderful to escape the heat of the city streets and relax away from the fumes and noise. For many New Yorkers and visitors, Central Park is an important sanctuary away from the madness of the city and although people visit in large numbers, it never seems particularly crowded and it is easy to find that quiet corner to watch the world go by.
A couple of little known facts about Central Park, it receives approximately 35 million visitors annually, and is the most filmed location for movies in the world.
Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.
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