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Central Park

Belvedere Castle

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

In 1867, Central Park designer and architect Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) created an observation tower atop Vista Rock to overlook the old reservoir that is now the Great Lawn. The Gothic-style Castle was designed as a landmark for the pedestrian park visitor. The castle’s United States flag could be seen from the Mall, drawing the walkers down to Bethesda Terrace, over Bow Bridge, and through the Ramble to the castle itself.

The original plans for the building included another elaborate two-story structure on the site of today’s pavilion, but financial concerns halted construction and left the castle in its present state. Portions of the castle are made from the same type of schist as the Vista Rock, creating the illusion of a castle rising out of the park itself. Its light colored stone trim is made of granite quarried from Quincy, Massachusetts. Its roofs are made of colored slate from Vermont, Virginia, and New York.

Belvedere Castle was once an open-air structure, with no doors or windows. This changed in 1919 when the United States Weather Bureau moved the Central Park Observatory to the castle. Until that time, weather measurements were taken from the Arsenal at Fifth Avenue and 64th Street where Dr. Daniel Draper founded a meteorological observatory in 1869. The Weather Bureau took over the operation in 1911, and moved it here eight years later, enclosing the castle and altering the turret’s shape to accommodate their scientific instruments.

In the early 1960s, the Weather Bureau replaced the lab with automated instruments and closed the castle offices. The empty building was left to deteriorate until 1983, when the Central Park Conservancy replaced the original turret, rebuilt the pavilions, and converted the castle into a visitor’s center. The Henry Luce Nature Observatory in the castle, created in 1996, provides interactive nature exhibits inside the castle as well as bird-watching kits, which can be used throughout the park.

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