Loeb Boat House
Boating has a long and rich history in Central Park. The first recorded boating concession was established in the early 1860s for a yearly sum of $1,000, and boating on the lake rapidly became a popular summer activity. By 1869 the number of patrons had risen to over 125,000 each year. A series of landings and, eventually, houses culminating in the Loeb Boat House, were built to accommodate the growing demand for the popular new pastime.
Initially, boats were moored and boarded at various landings; there were six such docks in 1865. The boats were stored in a small wood plank dock just west of Bethesda Terrace, but increased demand made the construction of a regular boat house necessary, and the idea was first aired in 1870. When the park’s landscape architects, Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) and Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) agreed that construction was needed, Vaux embarked on the $2,360 project himself.
Vaux’s boat house was a Gothic-detailed timber complex on the south shore of Bethesda Terrace, with the front façade facing the lake and terraces on the second floor. Opened in 1873, it served the public for over eighty years and offered a splendid view of the Ramble, a sprawling, hilly space dotted with trees, an aviary, and a gazebo.
By the early 1950s, with boating as popular as ever and Vaux’s original structure in a state of disrepair, a generous donation of $305,000 by investment banker and philanthropist Carl M. Loeb enabled the building of a new boat house, with the contribution of a further $110,000 from Parks. Vaux’s building was demolished and a new one constructed on the east-end of the lake. The Loeb Boat House was designed by Chief Park Designer Stuart Constable and officially opened in March 1954 at a ceremony presided by Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981).
The boat house, named in honor of the Loeb family, is a tri-partite neo-classical brick structure with a copper-hipped and gabled roof. The landside of the building includes a parking area and approaches from the east side. Loeb Boat House contains a food concession, dining terraces, restrooms, and all the necessary facilities for boat landing, boarding, and storage. It has become a popular café and event venue, and it also serves as the unofficial headquarters of birdwatchers, who record their sightings of birds in Central Park in a notebook kept on a table inside.
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