When Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead designed Central Park in 1858, their “Greensward Plan” accommodated three types of visitors: pedestrians, horses with riders and carriages. By cleverly placing bridges and arches, visitors were able to move freely about the park without getting run over, by navigating the paths under and around the park’s drives and bridle paths.
While I highlighted some of my favorite bridges last year, I thought it was time to feature a few more. We’ll start on the east side of the park, head south, then up the west side and north.
This is one of my favorites, Trefoil Arch. It’s the only bridge with a different design on each side. This is the round side, facing west, covered in piles of ivy.
This is the Southwest Reservoir Bridge on a windy autumn day. It’s one of the cast iron bridges, with floral motifs on its spandrels.
There are 36 bridges and arches in the park. Each bridge is different and is designed for its location, often with ornate details and beautiful views. They fall into two classes: those made of brick, stone or rock, and cast-iron.
This is Glade Arch, near 78th and Fifth. It had to be completely renovated after a snowplow wiped out most of its balustrades in the 1980s.
Dalehead Arch, made of sandstone and brownstone.
Greyshot Arch has beautiful fleurs-de-lis on the balustrades.
This is Dipway Arch, almost petite as these bridges go. it’s granite on the outside with a red brick underpass, its original cast iron railings intact.
Here’s a real beauty, Riftstone Arch, one of the “natural” bridges (nothing in Central Park is natural, it’s all constructed and designed). It’s very wide; when you walk under it, the city seems to disappear.
This arch allows horses to pass under the drive as it exits at 72nd Street. That’s the famous Dakota apartment building just left of center in the distance, on Central Park West.
The lovely Eaglevale Bridge near 77th Street on the west side. It’s made of gneiss and was constructed in 1890.
This is Balcony Bridge, which has two little balconies on its east side for tired travelers to sit on its stone benches while enjoying a view of the Lake. You can see one of the balconies sticking out below.
Up near 103rd Street, we’re at Glen Span Bridge, with a stream running through it. Once made of wood, it was replaced with stone. It’s fantastic; every time I walk through, I wonder what’s keeping it from falling on my head. Its footpath leads to the North Woods.
And we’ll finish with one of the Park’s most secluded arches, the pretty Springbanks Arch, lost in the greenery of the North Woods.
If you’d like to see other Central Park bridges as pinholes, here’s a link to an earlier post.
Today I walked through Central Park twice. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, a relief after the long, chilly spring. The park was full in every sense — throngs of people, the road filled with runners and cyclists, branches in full blossom, the trees past the pale green of early spring, their leaves dense and bright.
I thought it would be fun to post a few Diana photos that take us from the spare days of winter through the melting waters of spring and into the lush fullness of summer. Few things are prettier in New York than Central Park in May and June.
One of the prettiest places to visit in Central Park is Bethesda Terrace. When the park was designed, the Terrace was intended as a place where people could congregate, a spot to see and be seen. It is still considered the heart of the park.
The Terrace divides into an upper and a lower level, with flanking staircases connecting the two. I was shooting the carvings in the east staircase’s balustrades here, but you can see the Terrace below with its fountain on the right. Beyond is the Lake and the woods of the Ramble.
It’s a great spot for a pinhole photo. Here we are looking south from the Terrace into the entrance of the Arcade.
What’s the Arcade, you ask? It’s the passageway under 72nd Street from the street level to the terrace. A wide central staircase descends from above and takes you down into its shadowy depths. The Arcade is amazing.
Handcrafted art surrounds you.
Bethesda Terrace and the Arcade were one of the first structures built in Central Park, begun in 1860. One of the most beautiful features of the Arcade, which is easy to miss if you’re distracted by the murals and the gorgeous architecture, is its spectacular Minton Tile ceiling. The ceiling, designed by the British architect and designer Jacob Wrey Mould, who also designed the Terrace’s decorative carvings, was installed in 1869.
The ceiling is made up of 15,000 encaustic tiles produced by England’s famed Minton Tile Company. Encaustic tiles are made by pressing individual colored clays into tiles before firing them, instead of painting on colors with glaze. Each tile is handmade. The Arcade is the only place in the world where Minton tiles are used to decorate a ceiling.
The ceiling is divided into 49 panels, each containing 324 tiles featuring floral motifs and geometrical forms. There are only two panel designs; the difference is found in the center tile, which is either a small rosette or a large pinwheel.
How much do 15,000 tiles weigh? Oh, about 50 tons. After a hundred years, the ceiling began to fail and in 1987, the tiles were removed. Happily, the ceiling was fully restored in 2007.
In 1991, the walls of the Arcade were painted in 24 trompe l’oeil panels of Botticino marble designed to look like inlays and bas-reliefs. The compositions were inspired by the original ornamental designs of the Terrace’s staircase panels and from sketches completed by one of the Park’s architects, Calvert Vaux.
The artist who completed this work, which is now sadly deteriorating, is Lucretia Moroni, who studied under Lorenzo Mongiardino, one of the most famous decorative painters in the world. The panel below is a flat surface. Many of these murals were vandalized by graffiti artists in 2009 and subsequently cleaned, which may have weakened the paint.
What I like best about the Arcade is how well it fulfills its intention. It was designed to act as a counterpoint to the open, bright, bustling terrace outside, to serve as a quiet, ornate space. And it does. Its confines create a hushed, dim gallery, a burst of colorful art above and all around, with quiet corners full of visual surprises. It’s like briefly diving underwater, an unexpected reprieve before once again entering the busy park that surrounds it.
One of the reasons that Central Park is so beautiful is because no new buildings are permitted within its perimeters. Despite numerous proposals for restaurants and entertainment or sports venues, if they can’t be accommodated within existing structures, they are refused.
Although the original structures were built to house items as diverse as sheep, weaponry and toy boats, with the help of restoration they are still in use today, although their function may have changed.
Below is The Arsenal, which predates the construction of the Park. It was built as a munitions supply depot in 1851 and now houses the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. If you go inside, don’t miss the 1930s WPA murals in the lobby. You can even see the drawing of the original Park Plan on the third floor if you make an appointment.
This is The Dairy, which didn’t house cows, but was a source of fresh milk and snacks for children in the 19th century. It lived a brief, depressing life as a maintenance shed before restoration in the 1980s transformed it into the Park’s first visitors center.
This is the beautiful Kerbs Boathouse at the Conservatory Water, just off of Fifth Avenue at 74th Street. The original wooden boathouse, which fell apart in the 1950s, was replaced with this pretty little brick structure. It houses toy sailboats, which navigate the adjacent pond. This is where E.B. White’s mouse, Stuart Little, sailed his boat.
Although Cleopatra’s Needle isn’t a building, I’ve included it because it’s striking and unusual. Its base is held up by metal crabs, holding their arms and claws aloft. It was received as a gift from Egypt in 1881. Its sides are covered in hieroglyphics, which are sadly deteriorating from acid rain.
Throughout the Park you’ll find a handful of places to shelter from the rain, known as Rustic Shelters. They’re built to appear as if they’ve been assembled from branches and are totally charming. This one is perched on a rock outcropping just east of Fifth Avenue at 68th Street.
One of my favorite places in Central Park is the Bandshell, just south of Bethesda Terrace at 72nd Street in the middle of the park. It’s used for many events, from live opera on warm summer nights to a stage for impromptu performances. Martin Luther King gave a speech here once, and both Irving Berlin and Duke Ellington have graced its stage. You never know what’s happening at the Bandshell!
Here’s a winter shot from the other side.
I’ll finish with a shot of The Carousel, which is one of the largest carousels in the US and receives about 250,000 visitors every year. Who doesn’t love a carousel that you can ride for $3.00? This beauty is the fourth to grace the Park since 1871, two of which burned down. This 1908 treasure was found abandoned on Coney Island and transplanted here. In the picture below it’s all closed up for the day.
When it’s open, the music lures you in, along with the 57 gorgeous hand carved horses, which are considered to be outstanding examples of American folk art. One day I’ll write a post about carousel horses because they’re so beautiful!
Belvedere Castle is a charming little Gothic-style building in Central Park, perched on a rocky outcropping above Turtle Pond. It was built in 1869 as a landmark, without any real function. It eventually became a weather station, and now it’s a nature observatory.
I’ve always loved the Castle. What’s not to love about a castle? When I first started shooting pinhole photos, I shot it often, struggling with its squat profile, which didn’t lend itself to any foreboding or impressive castle pictures. Here’s a photo of the north side from across the pond. Because it’s built from the same Manhattan schist as it sits on, it seems to grow right out of the rock.
The castle is on the left; to the right is an open terrace and a large shelter, where I was once trapped by an unexpected thunder storm during a lackluster first date.
But I digress. Here’s a pinhole of the same view.
My first attempt was facing east from across the terrace, which made for a tough shot, with the open sky overexposing the edges of the building.
Next attempt was from the shelter. More trouble with over exposure, and do you see how stocky the castle looks? So un-castlelike.
Another shot from this side. You can see Turtle Pond to the left. But I’ve lost the tower. It looks like a lump.
Would a long shot from the terrace work? Boring, but the stones on the terrace sure look pretty. Still having problems with the bright sky.
Moving closer and further over helped a bit. Still too bright.
I’m not sure why we’re on such an angle here, but the exposure is improving.
Enough of this side, let’s try the tower side. Finally, the tower looks impressive, but the composition’s not that interesting and the mood is weak. Where’s the drama? Where’s the spooky fairy tale feel of a castle that I’m trying to capture? I know it’s in there.
I circled the castle for about a year, trying it from all sides and in all seasons. Eventually, as I began to understand the cameras and the light, I was able to figure out how to shoot more successfully. Getting closer and using the angles of the surrounding architecture made the photos more dramatic. Shooting on days with heavy cloud cover helped reduce the sky’s brightness.
My favorite part of the Castle, besides the parapets and the little flag that flutters from the turret, is the cast iron dragon over the entry door. You can’t see it here, so I’ll include a shot at the end.
And finally, my favorite castle shot, taken from the south. Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair! That’s what I was looking for!
And to finish, the little dragon over the front door. Because every castle needs a dragon.
One of the hardest things to figure out when making art is why an idea isn’t working. There’s a certain amount of stop and start when a new idea gets going and that’s an expected part of the process. It’s different when things won’t gel, when what you see in your mind’s eye isn’t within reach, despite many attempts. I ran into this problem when I began shooting the glacial formations in Central Park with my pinhole cameras.
During the Pleistocene age, several continental glaciers flowed across this region from northwest to southeast, moving across the Hudson Valley and what would eventually become the land beneath New York City. Through a combination of uplift and erosion caused by the glaciers, the bedrock, which had originally formed at depths of almost 20 miles, became exposed. Much of the rock in the southern part of the park is from the Hartland Formation, composed of sedimentary and volcanic rocks folded together, while the northern section consists of the Cambrian Manhattan Formation, more commonly known as Manhattan Schist.
When Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1858, they recognized the impressive natural beauty of these geologic features and incorporated them into their Greensward Plan.
I had long admired the rock formations and thought it would be interesting to create a set of pinholes documenting them. I worked on it for nine months, for the most part unsuccessfully. What I saw as beautiful, dramatic formations were flattened by the pinhole camera. The undulations and jagged edges of the stone disappeared, the scale didn’t translate, and the incredible presence of the formations vanished. It took me a long time to admit that my method wasn’t working. While I did take a decent photo now and then, most of them went straight into the Failure File.
However, one of the first photos in the series, of Umpire Rock (below), came out just as imagined. At first, this made me think that the ensuing duds were unusual and that fabulous photos lay ahead, enticingly within reach. Nope.
My nemesis was a formation that I called Jaggy Rock, just north of the Children’s Zoo, at about Fifth Avenue and 67th Street. A remarkable, jagged mound of stone that clearly showed the direction of the glacial flow, it was impressive. Well, in person, it was impressive. Here it is shot with my phone.
Here’s a person standing on top for a sense of scale.
In my pinholes, it looked like an puny lump.
Maybe low angle would make it more dramatic? Uh, no.
What about a close up of that amazing texture? What is this thing?
I shot it close up and from a distance, on rainy days and dry, in the winter and the spring. It didn’t matter, it was either indecipherable or uninteresting.
Fascinating fact: New York City may not seem to be the most practical place to study geology, but the city’s rocky floor is one of the most exposed and excavated in the country. Excavations for subway and water tunnels, buildings and railroads have brought the rocks and minerals beneath the city into the hands of many happy geologists.
Another subject was Umpire Rock, one of the biggest and most spectacular natural exposures in the park. It has beautiful folds, areas where the rock resembles frozen liquid, and gorgeous glacial troughs at the northwest corner, where meltwaters once carved their way. Here they are, again shot with my phone. Look at these incredible grooves!
I tried to photograph the glacial troughs. As usual, I placed my camera on the ground, since I don’t use a tripod. This is the strange pinhole that resulted. I still can’t figure out what we’re looking at.
Some photos sort of worked when I used the rock as a feature of the landscape, but the stone’s drama is M.I.A.
Pow! This is what it’s really like.
This is one of the folds in the rock. Not a showstopper, but finally, some texture.
In person the surface looks more like this.
The grooves in the rock are caused by sand, pebbles and boulders embedded in the base of the glacier as it flowed over the slopes of the rocky hills. Most of the glacial formations have these grooves, lending a beautiful texture to the stone, which you wouldn’t know from the pinhole photos.
After months of frustration, I realized that this was no different than problems I encountered while painting. If a task is painfully difficult, if the technique should work but doesn’t, if I can imagine something but can’t bring it to fruition, then the first thing to do is to determine if I’m using the right tool. Instead of trying of force an outcome, it’s time to rethink the method. The details of these rock formations are better served by working with a different camera.
Eventually I began shooting the formations with a Diana camera. Suddenly, the texture, mood and drama were right there. What a difference!
Lesson learned: Sometimes an idea is sound, but the tools need to change in order to bring it to life.
It seems that no matter how long I live in New York City, one thrill never stops: seeing the city from above. If I have a camera with me, I always feel compelled to take a shot. Thanks to my decorative painting clients, I often find myself in apartments with stunning views, most often of Central Park.
Here’s a mix of pinhole photos, Diana shots, iPhone pictures and even a few from my digital Nikon illustrating my fascination with this beautiful city and its biggest, most beloved park.
Starting on the East side, here we are looking west at about 74th Street on a foggy spring morning.
This pinhole is shot facing west from the Trump building on Third Avenue and 69th Street. Because of the distortion caused by the wide angle, the park looks far away.
It’s actually quite close, as you can see from the digital pinhole below, shot from the same building. I shot a series of digital pinholes last year, but never quite got the hang of it. Or said another way, I don’t think the photos are all that interesting! Handmade black and white pinholes are more my speed.
This is another pinhole from Fifth Avenue facing west, shot one winter morning around 9 a.m. The shadows from the apartment buildings are being thrown onto the snow as the sun moves higher in the east. Shadows on the ground like this are seen only in the winter, since foliage prevents them in the summer.
Here’s a photo of a typical street on the Upper East Side. When people think of NYC, they may often imagine a concrete jungle, but many of the streets are thickly lined with trees. I like to look at all of the secret terraces and gardens on the rooftops that aren’t visible from the street below.
Now here’s the view of my dreams. Both photos below are shot from the same place, a narrow terrace fronting an apartment on Fifth Avenue in the mid 60’s. The first shot faces northwest, with the buildings on Fifth Avenue marching north on the right; the second faces southwest with a full view of Central Park South and Central Park West. Look at the park, spread out like an enormous, lush carpet at our feet! So beautiful.
Now we’re heading over to the West side, starting at Columbus Circle.
This pinhole is shot from the highest apartment that I’ve ever visited, the top residential floor at the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. That dark square in the foreground is the park. We’re facing east.
Here’s part of a contact sheet shot from the living room of an apartment just north of Columbus Circle, at 61st and Central Park West.
This is a print from the series above. The buildings of Central Park South are clustered on the right, facing north into the park. The park is so pretty in the winter.
I love glimpses of the park like this shot below. If you were selling this apartment, it could be described as “with views of Central Park!” A buyer would imagine open views to the horizon, then arrive to find this sliver. Which is pretty great, actually! We’re still on Central Park West, looking east.
Here’s a pinhole shot from a terrace at the San Remo apartments, on Central Park West at 74th Street. Love the detail of the adjacent building’s rooftop. Central Park is visible in the distance.
Here’s a straight digital shot of the park on a fall morning. Look at all of those taxis jammed in the park! One more good reason to walk everywhere. We’re looking northeast from Central Park West in the 60s.
One more Diana camera contact sheet series, shot from the same apartment, where you can see how hard it is to get a photo that’s exposed correctly with this finicky little camera.
And we’ll finish with a picture from my own living room window on a cold, blustery day. Not as impressive as Central Park, but it makes me smile anyway. Happy holidays, everyone!
Central Park has a charming little zoo near 65th Street, just off of Fifth Avenue. I love the sea lions who zoom around their tank with effortless grace, flying out of the water and splatting precisely onto boulders when their caretakers appear with big buckets of fish. The zoo is also home to penguins, polar bears, snow leopards, monkeys and other exotica.
But my favorite animals in the Park aren’t in the zoo. Central Park is prime property for finding all kinds of fauna; they just happen to be in the form of sculpture, some in prominent spots, others tucked into corners. Here’s a little tour.
These three bronze bears, creatively titled “Group of Bears,” protect a small playground near Fifth Avenue and 79th Street. Kids love climbing onto them and rubbing their bronze fur. They were sculpted by Paul Manship, cast in 1960 and unveiled in 1990, a gift from Samuel Friedman in memory of his wife, Pat. I like them because they have a soft, rounded, teddy bearish quality, yet at the same time are realistic enough to seem fierce.
This dog with his bow hunting companion are foraging just northeast of the Carousel. The sculpture, by John Quincy Adams Ward, is called “The Indian Hunter” and made the artist’s reputation. It’s not hard to understand why. Both figures have an amazing energy, radiating the intensity of their focus, every perfectly defined muscle and tuft of fur engrossed by the hunt. It was placed in 1869, the first sculpture by an American to be sited in the Park.
“The Falconer” sits high on a stone outcropping on the south side of the 72nd Street transverse road, just west of Bethesda Terrace. It’s the work of the British sculptor George Blackall Simonds and was dedicated in 1875. The Falconer has been a popular target for mischief. It almost fell over in 1937 before it was shored up, its falcon was replaced in 1957 and after further abuse, the sculpture was removed all together. In 1982, it returned with a new arm and yet another falcon, then was repatinated in 1995. Whew! That’s one beloved statue. It reminds me of the real hawks and other raptors who live in the Park and sometimes silently swoop by.
This is the famous Balto, who helped run a diphtheria vaccine to Nome, Alaska through a raging blizzard. The story goes like this: in January 1925, Alaskan doctors were worried that a diptheria epidemic was going to spread to the children in Nome, and had to find a way to get the medicine from Anchorage, nearly a thousand miles away. Because trains didn’t run that far north and the only available airplane had a frozen engine, more than 20 teams of sled dogs were coordinated to make the trip in treacherous conditions. Balto lead the final team, and became a national hero.
His sculpture, by animal sculptor Frederick Roth, is slightly larger than life size and was installed in Central Park less than a year later. Little kids love to climb onto his back for their photo. His ears, tongue, tail and back are bright and shiny thanks to their attention.
These beautifully formed birds are part of the stairway at Bethesda Terrace. There are dozens of animals carved into the stonework of the Terrace, many found in the panels and pillars flanking the stairs.
The decorative elements for the Terrace, which depict seasonal and wildlife motifs, were designed by English-born Jacob Wrey Mould and carved from soft sandstone. As you can see above and below, the stone is heavily weathered in areas; the Central Park Conservancy actually has a sculptor who cares for the carvings. What a cool job! You can see in the photo below where the snout of the deer has been repaired.
In some of the stone pillars, carvings represent the passing day. The crowing rooster symbolizes morning while the owl, who has a little stone bat flying out to his right, symbolizes night.
Just south of the Terrace, if you walk towards the Sheep Meadow, you’ll pass these two huge eagles squabbling over an unlucky goat. This is the bronze “Eagles and Prey,” designed and created by Christophe Fratin, cast in 1850 and placed in 1863, making it the oldest known sculpture in any New York City park. The detail on the birds is incredible; every single feather is perfectly defined, giving the birds a spirit of power and strength. You can practically hear the wind whistling as they beat their huge wings.
This plump eagle is part of a monument just north of the sculpture above. I couldn’t find any information about him, but I like his stoic demeanor and carefully rendered feet.
This beautiful, whimsical bear is just north of the Zoo. Created by the same artist who sculpted Balto and named “Honey Bear,” he dances on his hind legs as he licks at the invisible bees buzzing around his ears.
My favorite part of this sculpture? Honey Bear is part of a fountain! A basin sits beneath him, perfect little frogs spewing water at his feet.
Here we are at the famous Alice in Wonderland statue, next to the Conservatory Water at 74th Street and Fifth Avenue.
Of course, Alice is from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic story, and here she sits on a giant mushroom next to the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit and the Dormouse, inviting children to climb on up, which they enthusiastically do, polishing the surface smooth.
The bronze sculpture is eleven feet tall, commissioned by George Delacorte and designed by Jose de Creeft in 1959, based on John Tenniel’s Victorian illustrations from the first edition of the book. Alice’s face is based on Creeft’s daughter, Donna. The Mad Hatter is a caricature of Delacorte.
Such beautiful surface texture. The most playful part of the work is its placement within plaques on the surrounding terrace, inscribed with lines from a grab bag of Carroll’s fanciful poems. The finest is “The Jabberwocky,” a fantastic poem of linguistic acrobatics. “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: all mimsy were the borogoves and the mome raths outgrabe.” Try getting that past auto-correct!
Just a few steps away from Alice is Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling.” This adorable sculpture, which, correct me if I’m wrong, doesn’t look anything like the baby swan he’s supposed to be, is also rubbed bright and shiny by happy hands. The sculpture marks the spot for children’s story telling hour on summer Saturday mornings. Yes, I’ve gone. It’s great!
We’ll finish up with my all-time favorite, the sculpture that inspired this blog, a gorgeous life-size bronze cougar called “Still Hunt.” Sculpted by the famous American artist Edward Kemeys, she sits on a high rock outcropping on the west side of the East River drive as it ascends Cedar Hill, tucked against the foliage, so realistic that she startles unsuspecting runners puffing their way northward. She was placed in 1883, her sinuous tail stolen in 1974. Happily, the tail was replaced in 1988 and she continues to stare down from her perch.
So the next time you’re walking through the park, take a look around. A bronze animal just might be watching you!
Something I’ve found helpful in my photography is returning to the same places over and over again.
When I photograph while traveling, I’m energized by new landscapes and subjects. At the same time, though, I’m mildly frustrated by what feels like the superficial nature of my pictures. I shoot whatever catches my eye and then move on, lacking the time to return to the same spots repeatedly to get to know them better. It’s like snorkeling along the surface without ever taking a dive, or like trying to take a portrait of a stranger. I can make a pretty image, but I don’t know if I’ve captured the true character of my subject, while I do know that with more time, I could find a real connection.
In Central Park, on the other hand, I can take my time. Bow Bridge, probably the most famous bridge in the park, is a favorite spot. I’ve spent years photographing it, in all its seasons and moods.
By coming back to Bow Bridge over and over again, I lose the pressure of trying to take one perfect picture and gain the luxury of time. I know when it will be crowded and when it will be empty, how its reflection will change, how far away I need to be to get the entire span of the bridge into the shot, when the morning sun will light up its eastern side and when the setting sun will leave it in shadow.
Revisiting a spot is like developing a friendship. I’ll start off a bit reserved, observing from a distance, but then a short while later I’m scrambling over rocks while hanging onto tree branches to get a closer look at a different angle.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve shot in Central Park so much that there’s nothing left to shoot, but of course that isn’t true.
If I think of Bow Bridge as a living thing, bright and cheerful one day, somber and dark another, crowded with boisterous tourists on a Sunday afternoon, empty and still at dawn, I realize that I could shoot it forever because it is ever changing.