Celebrating Greensward: The Plan for Central Park
On April 28, New York City will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the design for Central Park. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Central Park today is one of America’s most important works of art and a treasured New York landmark. On April 28, 1858, the Board of Commissioners of Central Park chose the Greensward plan submitted by Olmsted and Vaux. In honor of this anniversary, the Central Park Conservancy and the Parks Department are planning a series of public events and activities.
Commemorative events and activities include:
• “Creating Central Park” panel discussion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: Saturday, April 26, 2:30 p.m.
• “Celebrating Greensward” exhibition in the Arsenal Gallery: April 23 through June 19
• Behind-the-Scenes free walking tours of Central Park led by Central Park Conservancy staff: Sunday, April 27, 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
• Renaming the 72nd Street Cross Drive as “Olmsted & Vaux Way” at an unveiling ceremony at Bethesda Terrace on Monday, April 28 at 11:30 a.m.
The story of Central Park’s design begins with a young British architect, Calvert Vaux, who moved to America in 1850 to create homes and estates for the Hudson River clientele of landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. Downing had promoted the idea of a large New York City park in his magazine, The Horticulturalist. After the accidental death of Downing, Vaux moved to New York City to establish his architectural practice.
The Bank of New York played a crucial role in the design of Central Park, when Bank Director John A.C. Gray, on the advice of Calvert Vaux, convinced fellow Park Commissioners to hold a design competition for the Park. In honor of this historic connection, The Bank of New York Mellon will support some of the events and activities during the anniversary celebration.
Vaux approached Park Superintendent Frederick Law Olmsted to enter the design competition with him. Their winning design plan named “Greensward,” comes from the English term for “unbroken stretch of turf or lawn,” and was seen as innovative and visionary, something they knew had never been seen before.
The massive landscape of the Park is entirely man-made with the exception of the rock cutouts seen throughout the Park. The majority of the large meadows within the park were created by draining the swamp and filling them with tens of thousands of cartloads of soil. The lakes within the Park were filled by the same running water that fills the bathtubs and kitchens sinks throughout New York City. Today, Olmsted and Vaux are considered to be the founders of the profession of landscape architecture in America.
One of the principal reasons why the Greensward plan won the competition was its unique approach to addressing the need for at least four east/west traffic crossings. Ahead of their time, Olmsted and Vaux proposed to sink these transverse roads. This technological innovation - combined with strategically placed vegetation - creatively screens out the cross-town traffic from public view, freeing Park visitors of the noise and bustle of the City, thus creating what the designers’ referred to as “a single work of art.”
When the Greensward plan was selected in 1858, 106th Street was the northern terminus of the future Park, but it was modified in 1863 to add the land up to 110th Street. The landscapes of the Park were completed in 1873.
QUOTATION FOR THE DAY
“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.”
(1819 - 1875)