When landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1858, their Greensward Plan included a grand formal area that they called the Mall or the Promenade. Modeled on the formal allées of the great European parks, like Versailles, it was designed to be the great walkway where the parade of parkgoers, dressed in their “Sunday best,” would come to see and to be seen.
The elaborate flower display at the southern end of the Mall, known as the Olmsted Bed, was created in 1972 to memorialize the 150th anniversary of Olmsted’s birth. The lower end of the Mall is known informally as Literary Walk or Poets’ Walk, as four of the five statues memorialize poets and writers: William Shakespeare (1870), Robert Burns (ca. 1880), Sir Walter Scott (1871), and Fitz-Greene Halleck (1876); the fifth represents Christopher Columbus (1892).
In the Greensward Plan, the designers intended the Mall to be the only straight pathway in Central Park. Since the Mall was one of the first areas of the park to be constructed, the landscape architects were eager to plant large trees in order to provide visitors with a broad canopy of shade as soon as possible. They used American elms, which were the trees chosen to line almost every Main Street and college campus in the country in the 19th century. Unfortunately the large elm trees proved much too large to survive transplantation. Most did not survive their first year. Nonetheless, two English elms to the east and west of the Mall did survive and date from that time. The wall of straight trunks resembling columns and the arabesque branches overhead create an architectural space fit for ceremonies and processions.
The second planting of much smaller trees grew and thrived until the turn of the century. The trees had been planted in poor soil and began to show signs of decay in the 1920s. The elms you see today were planted by 1920 and other trees have been replaced as needed. The elms also line the perimeter of the park on Fifth Avenue. During the Dutch elm disease season of June and July, the Central Park Conservancy tree crew monitor on a weekly basis; symptoms of the disease are identified and treated promptly.
The elms on the Mall have been endowed through the Tree Trust of the Central Park Conservancy’s Women’s Committee, which provides funds for the proper care and maintenance of Central Park’s 26,000 trees. The paving stones embedded at the southern end of Literary Walk commemorate specific trees endowed all over the park. For information about the Tree Trust and endowing a tree or grove of trees in Central Park, please consult the Conservancy’ s website, www.centralparknyc.org.
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