A Brief Overview of Riverside Park
Riverside Park is a strip of land found on the edge of the Upper West Side neighboring the Hudson river. It’s modern day beauty derives from its many amenities that include playgrounds, sports facilities, sidewalks, a boat and a dock, all combined in one setting. However, this seemingly natural park was not always so well put together. Manhattan residents owe the creation of Riverside Park to a combination of historical leaders.
Riverside Park in the Industrial Age
When examining Riverside Park in the early 1800s, it is worth noting the purity that existed in this slice of land. It was a “heavily forested and rocky landscape” that offered the most relaxing scenic view (Day, 2007). From modern day’s Broadway Avenue, one could observe the river view while riding a horse carriage. But in 1846, the Hudson River Railroad was constructed to deliver freight from Manhattan to Albany. The once natural area had now been industrialized and the Hudson river’s beauty was lost within the smoky haze (Grimm and Shroede, 2007).
Soon however, Central Park Commissioner William R. Martin suggested the million dollar idea of a park by the Hudson River. But in order to proceed with this plan, William Martin had to offer a more convincing argument to the state government beyond environmental reasons. And that meant money. The clever man Martin argued that there would be tax savings with its construction and with this idea in mind, Albany approved. At a cost of $7,250,000, a whole lot of pocket change, the first plot of land made up of 89 acres was acquired for the park in 1872. (Grimm and Shroeder, 2007). The park would later expand to greater lengths but until then, the search was on for the park’s designer.
Frederick Olmsted was eventually selected for the position and he is today the individual generally accredited for the park’s design. However, this recognition is disputable as his initial design of 1875 was later built upon and expanded by other contributors after his departure (Cromley, 1984). Olmsted initiated the park design from 72nd to 125 street and he is responsible for the smooth Riverside drive. His designs created the upper terrace of the park where the pedestrians walk and the trees line the roads (Day, 2007). The visibility of the river was of utmost importance to Olmsted and his stubborness regarding tree plantation eventually led to his release in 1878 by the park’s department (Grimm and Shroeder, 2007).
The Following Park Contributors
After Olmsted, a wealth of ideas and designs from other leaders were combined to build upon his groundwork. Some of the notable contributors include Calvert Vaux, Julius Munkwitz, and Samuel Parsons. Together these individuals and various others combined their efforts to finish the park up until 125th street over the next 35 years (Grimm and Shroeder, 2007). The park finally opened to the public in 1910 and was widely used by the residents of the Upper West side (Dunwell, 2008).
- But soon we wanted More, Bigger, & Better: Paging Robert Moses
A while after its completion the park began to appear a lackluster because of the absence of maintenance and the disturbing railroad tracks that still remained in sight. Up until now, the designers had only worked to conceal the tracks but not eliminate them. Park commissioner Robert Moses took it upon himself to rid the area of the tracks and create a new shoreline. The process would involve landfill to extend the water’s edge (Barnard, 2002).
Architects Gilmore D. Clarke and Clinton Lloyd were the master minds behind the planning of the recreational area. In constructing the park, Clarke and Lloyd implemented a combination of 19th century architecture, which focused on urban planning by landscape gardening and city planning, and 20th century architecture, which modernized and made visually appealing structures out of natural resources, that contributed to the innovative beauty of Riverside. Their work eventually led to the extension of the park to its modern size of up until 152nd street. The amenities of the park at the time included ballparks, playgrounds, the marina, monuments and developing the lower sector of the park (Dunwell, 2008). With these new innovations, the park was looking more like it does today and the Upper West Siders were very pleased with the results.
Riverside Park Makes Further Strides Forward
- 1980: The New York Landmarks Preservation Committee named Riverside Park and Riverside Drive city landmarks (Cromley, 1984).
- 1981: The Garden Association was created to maintain the very noteworthy garden found at 91 street in Riverside Park (Day, 2007) .
- 1986: The Friends of Riverside Park group was formed by neighborhood activists who wished to preserve and maintain the park (Day, 2007). This group is now known as Riverside Park Fund.
Expansion of Riverside Park South
With the help of one very powerful socialite, Riverside Park South was constructed. In 1985, Donald Trump bought out the Penn Central rail-yard between 59th and 72nd Streets. His objectives were nowhere near building a park, rather from his business perspective; his goal was to build a skyscraper. However, the city government did not allow him to do so. Instead, the city of New York agreed to grant Trump approval as long as he built several smaller buildings and a public park. The public park that was put into place is Riverside Park South, 7 acres of land from 72nd to 68th Street. This was known as Phase I of Riverside Park South.
Phase II of Riverside Park South stretches along the river from 70th Street down to 65th Street. The design of Phase II includes a natural riprap shoreline.
Phase III of the park was opened in August of 2006. It is another waterfront section of the Park that starts at 65th Street and continues to 62nd Street.
Phase IV, the southernmost waterfront section of the Park, opened in 2007. This section features a train locomotive that serves as a reminder of the site’s history as a former train yard. The train displayed is “No. 25”, a 64 year old, 95-ton engine at 62nd Street.
And so, it is concluded that Riverside Park is the work amassed from numerous architects and designers. It was a combination of many efforts and tedious decision making processes that led to its beauty and intricate organization. We can only begin to wonder what the future holds for this park. Until then, we must work to preserve its natural state and maintain its purity.