Riverside Park is one of only eight officially designated scenic landmarks in the City of New York. Rugged bluffs and rocky outcroppings created through prehistoric glacial deposits once descended directly to the Hudson River shore. They were densely wooded until 1846, when the Hudson River Railroad cut through the forested hillside. Acknowledging the city’s expansion northward, Central Park Commissioner William R. Martin proposed in 1865 that a scenic drive and park be built on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The land between the heights and the railroad was bought by the City over the next two years.
Frederick Law Olmsted (1822–1903), renowned co-designer of Central and Prospect Parks, was commissioned in 1873 and submitted a plan two years later combining park and parkway into a synthesized landscape which adhered to the general topographical contours of hill and dale. Over the next twenty-five years park designs were developed under a succession of landscape architects, including Samuel Parsons (1844–1923) and Olmsted’s partner, Calvert Vaux (1824–1895). The result, stretching from West 72nd to 125th Streets, was a park with grand, tree-lined boulevards, combined with an English-style rustic park with informally arranged trees and shrubs, contrasting natural enclosures, and open vistas.
The development of the park encouraged the construction of mansions along the drive. At the turn of the century, the City Beautiful movement sought to promote more dignified civic architecture, and found expression in the formal neo-classical detailing of the park’s extension from the 125th Street viaduct to 155th Street. Monuments placed along the drive during this era included Grant’s Tomb (1897), Soldiers and Sailors Memorial (1902), Firemen’s Memorial (1913), and Joan of Arc (1915).
The increased rail traffic and waterfront industries founded on shoreline landfill adjacent to Riverside Park led to an outcry by wealthy residents for action against these uses. After decades of discussion, a massive park expansion plan, crafted by architect Clinton Lloyd with landscape architect Gilmore Clarke, was implemented between 1934 and 1937 under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses (1888-1981). The park was widened westward by 148 acres, and the Henry Hudson Parkway, ball fields, esplanade, 79th Street Marina, and Rotunda were added to it.
In 1980, Riverside Park was designated an official city landmark. In 1994, Council Member Ronnie M. Eldridge funded a renovation of the 79th Street Marina’s docks at a cost of $1.3 million. Council Member Eldridge also helped fund an $8 million renovation of the Rotunda, and construction is slated to begin soon.
In 2000, seven acres of land stretching from 68th to 72nd Streets was added to Riverside Park, called Riverside Park South. This section of the park, part of a proposed 25-acre, $16 million project yet to be completed, was made possible by the construction of new portions of the West Side Highway, now known as the Joe DiMaggio Highway, and Trump/New World (the site’s developers). Riverside Park South includes a soccer field, three basketball courts, and a public pier extending 750 feet into the Hudson River.
The Riverside Park Fund, a community-based volunteer organization, contributes up to $1 million each year to fund projects in the park in places such as the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza, 87th Street Dog Run, and 73rd Street Track. The group also funds salaries for park workers. Several recent and ongoing renovations have helped ensure that Riverside Park will continue to serve the two million-plus users that take advantage of this Upper West Side treasure each year.
In 1998, Council Member Ronnie M. Eldridge funded a renovation of the cantilevered riverwalk between 83rd and 91st Streets at a cost of $1.5 million. Council Member Stanley E. Michels funded a $1.4 million restoration of the path between 143rd and 148th Streets, scheduled to begin shortly. Council Member Eldridge also funded a $3.15 million reconstruction of the South Lawn, to be completed in upcoming years.
Directions to Riverside Park
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