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Central Park

Lehman Gates

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

This striking gateway, designed by Edward Coe Embury (1906 -1990) with sculpture by Paul Manship (1885-1966), was created as part of Central Park’s children’s zoo which opened in 1961.  The zoo was first known as the Lehman Zoo for Children, as funds for its construction were given by former New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman (1878-1963, governor 1933-1942)  and his wife Edith on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary.

The most notable feature of the gateway is the bronze tableau that straddles three piers made of Swenson green granite.  Manship’s fanciful sculpture shows a boy prancing with goats, to the music of panpipes played by two smaller boys seated at either end. Birds roost on the stylized vine that arches over the two entrance portals.

Paul Manship was a notable 20th- century sculptor, whose aesthetic was inspired by many artistic traditions from archaic Greek classicism to Near Eastern art.  His most famous work in New York City is the Art Deco - styled, gilded Prometheus at Rockefeller Center, completed in 1934.  For the New York World’s Fair of 1939-40 at Flushing Meadows, he created an enormous sundial entitled Time and the Fates as well as four fountain sculptures called Moods of Time.  Manship’s Armillary Sphere created for the World’s Fair of 1964-65 was bequeathed as a permanent feature of Flushing Meadows Corona Park only to be stolen in 1980 in one of the most brazen acts of vandalism in a New York City park.

Elsewhere in the city’s parks Manship also left his mark.  The elaborate Rainey Gates were installed in 1934 at the north entrance of the Bronx Zoo.  They show a menagerie of animals, some of which Manship modeled after inhabitants of the zoo in the late 1920s. His life renderings of bears led him to execute several versions of varying scale – those on the piers at the Rainey Gates, as well as a posthumous large-scale casting placed in 1990 at the Pat Hoffman Playground in Central Park at East 79th Street.

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Manship created the sculptural flagstaff base for the Alfred E. Smith Playground, which again adopted the artist’s common motifs of deer, birds and bears.  In 1953 Manship sculpted ornate gates on the theme of Aesop’s Fables for the William Church Osborn Playground (now the site of the Metropolitan Museum’s Temple of Dendur).  Later vandalized, and long in storage, the gates were restored by the Central Park Conservancy and reinstalled in 2009 at the entrance to the Ancient Playground at Fifth Avenue and 85th Street.

In 1997, the landscape of the 1960’s-era children’s zoo -- perhaps best remembered for the larger-than-life play features of Jonah’s Whale and Noah’s Ark -- was replaced with a more naturalistic woodlands design by Quennell Rothschild. The redesigned zoo was named for Laurence A. Tisch, who sponsored its construction.  

The sculptural gateway has remained throughout these changes, as compatible with the new zoo design as with the previous one, and serves as an enduring example of the power of Manship’s art to inspire and delight many generations.

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