February 2005 - Capital Project of the Month
PARK AVENUE MALL AT 96 TH STREET
Project Team: Willem DeRonde, Lawrence Mauro, ABB
The site is located in the center of Park Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets, above the Metro-North Amtrak tunnel with railroad tracks just below, within Community Board 11, and Council District 8. This park is the northern most of the Park Avenue Malls with the railroad tracks coming out of their tunnel to be visible just to the north of the park. It is in primarily a residential neighborhood with apartment buildings to the east and west.
This “last mall” has been in dire need of reconstruction to upgrade it to the conditions of the rest of the malls in Park Avenue. A sitting area and planted garden will be added for the neighborhood and its users.
The mall will be reconstructed using traditional materials and details appropriate to the surrounding neighborhood to create an intimate green space. Historical photos of the malls were used as inspiration for the curvilinear planting beds and scoring pattern. A lush planting palette will be used including perennials, groundcovers, flowering and columnar trees, including the Pyramidal Hornbeam which is used at the start of the malls. This planting plan was especially challenging since the whole park is on a slab over the Metro North tunnel. The existing trees are actually planted in concrete boxes that are hung from the ceiling of the tunnel. The planting also enhances the wonderful unobstructed view towards the north over the train tracks.
What is now Park Avenue was originally laid out in the 1811 Commissioners' Plan as 4th Avenue. In 1832, the long, narrow strip down the middle of the island was granted to the New York and Harlem Railroad, which ran horse-drawn cars along its path starting with a run between Union Square and 23rd Street. By 1834, the service operated from Prince Street to the Upper East Side.
Though given its present name in 1888, it was the 1903 conversion from steam to electric train power and the 1913 completion of the present Grand Central Terminal that paved the way for Park Avenue's future. The previously open rail yards and tracks north of the terminal were covered over between 1921 and 1924 and the avenue's wide, landscaped center medians gave credibility to its name. Subsequently the wide malls were narrowed to their present configuration to accommodate wider traffic lanes.