NYC Resources311Office of the Mayor

Central Park

Vista Rock & Tunnel

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

Vista Rock is the second highest Manhattan schist outcrop in Central Park (the highest being the 137.5 foot Summit Rock at Central Park West and 83rd Street). At a height of 130 feet, Vista Rock is named for its excellent views of the entire park. When the Board of Commissioners of Central Park held the park design competition in 1858, their rules stipulated that each entry include four transverse roads to carry cross-town traffic through the park. The winners, Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and Calvert Vaux (1824-1895), proposed to sink these transverse roads below the grade of the park; this brilliant idea was one of the distinguishing features of their winning Greensward Plan and one likely reason for their success. Vista Rock was a major impediment to the construction of the 79th Street transverse road. Creating a tunnel required a major feat of engineering, and blasting had to be done with gunpowder, as dynamite had not yet been invented.

Clarence Cook described the tunnel in his 1869 book A Description of New York Central Park: "Under that portion of the rock that lies just south of the Belvedere is the tunnel, constructed at great expense, for carrying the second of the traffic-roads...This tunnel was completed in January 1861, and, after a careful examination, the roof was found to be sound and firm. The length of the tunnel is one hundred and forty-six feet, and the height of the roof above the center of the roadway is seventeen feet ten inches. Its width of forty feet is the same as that of the road it spans, all traffic-roads having the same dimensions."

The tunnel so delighted 19th century park visitors that builders added steps leading to the transverse road, a feature unique among the park's roads. The rock dome of the tunnel still inspires visitors to appreciate the difficulties builders faced working with limited technology in the creation of Central Park.

Directions to Central Park

Central Park Weather

  • Thu
    Chance Rain
    70°F
  • Fri
    Mostly Sunny
    71°F
  • Sat
    Rain
    69°F
  • Sun
    Sunny
    65°F

7-day forecast

Was this information helpful?