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Theodore Roosevelt Park

Theodore Roosevelt Park

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

This Upper West Side park surrounding the American Museum of Natural History is named to honor Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). Roosevelt served as New York City Police Commissioner, Governor of New York State, Vice-President under William McKinley, and following McKinley’s assassination, the youngest man to serve as President of the United States.

Americans most often remember him as the aggressive politician who advised the nation to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” but the only native of New York City to sit in the Oval Office was also a scholar of natural history and a devoted environmentalist. As president, he was instrumental in the creation of the National Zoo, the formation of 51 national bird sanctuaries, and the preservation of 18 natural wonders including the Grand Canyon. The magna cum laude Harvard graduate (Class of 1880) and Nobel laureate (Peace Prize 1906) wrote three dozen books, ranging in subject from Charles Dickens to African big game hunting. The Museum contains specimens that Roosevelt shot and collected during his family’s visit to Egypt in 1872.

In 1807, the City of New York mapped this land as a public park but did not officially own it until it was acquired by condemnation in 1839. It was later assigned to the Board of Commissioners of Central Park (a precursor to the Department of Parks, which was not established until 1870) who controlled it as an annex of Central Park. Before the Museum was built here, planners considered using the site for a zoo or a botanical garden. The Museum, founded in 1869, was temporarily housed in what is now Parks’ headquarters, the Arsenal at 64th Street and 5th Avenue in Central Park, before it moved to the West Side.

In the late 1860s, financiers abandoned a museum project only months after it began on the site that now houses Tavern on the Green. Molds of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals remain buried there to this day. Construction for the American Museum of Natural History began on this site in 1874 under the direction of Calvert Vaux (1824 -1895) and Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886) and the Museum opened in 1877. Even after the Museum took up permanent residence, a group of evangelical ministers proposed to build a large tabernacle here in 1916. Fortunately for the ever-expanding Museum, their proposal was rejected.

In 1929, the State obtained access to the land facing Central Park West for a Theodore Roosevelt Memorial. In 1936, many public officials, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), gathered to dedicate the indoor portions of the monument. In 1940, the State added a bronze statue by sculptor James Earle Fraser (1876-1953) intended to depict a bold, progressive Roosevelt symbolically uniting the races of America. Distinguished architect John Russell Pope (1874-1937) designed the neoclassical granite pedestal. The park was known as Manhattan Square until 1958, when a local law renamed it “Theodore Roosevelt Park.” Neighborhood residents have traditionally referred to the parkland as “Museum Park” or “Dinosaur Park.”

Since 1990, the dog run has been a boon to the community, providing a safe haven for dogs and their owners. It is one of the largest dog runs in the Parks system. Parks maintains Roosevelt Park with help from the Friends of Museum Park, a neighborhood group. The renovation of the park areas adjacent to 81st Street and Columbus Avenue in 2000 included the relocation of the dog run, as well as improvement of the drainage and irrigation systems, the renovation of the lawn and paths, and the addition of new benches and fencing. The dog run, once called Teddy’s Dog Run, was renamed Bull Moose Dog Run after Roosevelt’s Progressive Party. Today, Theodore Roosevelt Park pays tribute to a dedicated conservationist and serves as a place of rest and recreation for local residents and museum visitors alike.

Directions to Theodore Roosevelt Park

Theodore Roosevelt Park Weather

  • Thu
    Showers
    60°F
  • Fri
    Mostly Cloudy
    66°F
  • Sat
    Mostly Sunny
    67°F
  • Sun
    Breezy
    63°F

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