Archive for the ‘Central Park Story – Book Four’ Category:

The Naming of the Gates from 1862 to 1999…Talk About a Time Lapse!

artists-gate

The various gates to the park were meant to be unobtrusive yet, at the same time, inviting.

In 1862, the NYC Board of Commissioners decided to give names to the various ‘gates’ or entrances of Central Park. Most of the names were never carved in their designated places but nevertheless persisted in subsequent maps.

There are 18 original names in all: Artisans’, Artists’, Boys’, Children’s, Engineers’, Farmers’, Girls’, The Gate of All Saints, Hunters’, Mariners’, Merchants’, Miners’, Pioneers’, Scholars’, Strangers’, Warriors’, Women’s and Woodmen’s.

Those few that were actually carved include the Scholars’ Gate at 60th Street and Fifth; the Engineers’ Gate at 90th Street and Fifth; the Mariners’ Gate at 85th Street and Central Park West; the Inventors’ Gate at 72nd Street and Fifth; the Children’s Gate at 64th Street and Fifth Avenue and the ’76th Street’ Gate at 76th Street and Fifth.

Mr. Moses, a city commissioner, added the  numerical ’76th Street’ gate to the park in the 1950s, violating an explicit proviso in the 1862 report by the park’s commissioners that clearly stated: ”The monotonous numerical system used to distinguish the thoroughfares of New York is at once felt to be unsuitable for park use.”

Mr. Moses also changed the name of Children’s Gate at 72nd Street to the Inventors’ Gate. Just beyond this gate, a statue of Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of the telegraph, was added, and a new Children’s Gate was designated further south next to the zoo.

The names that hadn’t been carved, altered, or moved, were finally added in 1999 under the direction of the Central Park Conservancy.

Since many of the names refer to professions that Olmsted actually took part in himself (eight out of eighteen, according to my count!), one assumes he had at least some input into their actual naming. Hence, I made use of the various gates in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, by having them refer to specific occupations Olmsted engaged in during his lifetime and weaving them into my plot.

 

What Did Olmsted Do Before Creating Central Park?

FrederickLawOlmsted

Frederick Law Olmsted already eyeing his next career

It might be easier to answer the question: what didn’t Olmsted do before designing Central Park?

To say he was a late-bloomer is an understatement. He bounced from one failed career to another well into his thirties. Add to that his entrenched restlessness, and you have a formula for a near endless array of attempted occupations.

I count at least eight: student (he dropped in and out of school for at least a decade), farmer (attempted twice, then abandoned altogether), sailor (all the way to China and back on a merchant vessel that almost mutinied), writer (books ranging from his travels in England to slavery in the South of the US), head of the United States Sanitary Commission (the precursor to the Red Cross that aided the wounded Union soldiers in the Civil War), mining supervisor (until the company went belly-up in a scandal) and, last but not least, landscape architect.

Since there was no profession that went by the name of landscape architecture in the mid-nineteenth century (Olmsted’s son, Rick, spearheaded the first graduate program of landscape architecture long after his father’s death) then you can add to the list of Olmsted’s occupations, artist and engineer, both wrapped into one.

To help illustrate Olmsted’s circuitous career path, I have Christopher Middleton, the main character in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, run through a similar maze of adventure that echo what Olmsted attempted during his own lifetime.

 

The The Four Seasons Restaurant: An Iconic Manhattan Destination

The Four Seasons Restaurant

The Four Seasons Restaurant sans the Rothko paintings (Rothko withdrew from his commission due to the pretentiousness he saw in the establishment)

The Four Seasons Restaurant, situated in mid-town Manhattan and designed by world-famous architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, is associated with a number of culinary milestones.

It is credited with introducing the idea of seasonally-changing menus to America. It was also the first destination restaurant to print its menus in English. Finally, it was the first restaurant in the US to cook using fresh, wild mushrooms rather than the dried offerings that were more common in the 1950s.

Just as it is know for its culinary milestones, the restaurant is also known for well-heeled clientele and its high visibility, power lunches.

I decided to highlight the restaurant in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, in order to bring out the sharp divisions between the powerful and the poor in the US.

Perhaps this is why Rothko, the famous modernist painter, when asked to create a series of paintings for the interior of the famed restaurant, said that he wanted to make “something that will ruin the appetite of every son-of-a-bitch who ever eats in that room….” And he added that he hoped his painting would make the restaurant’s patrons “feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so all they can do is butt their heads forever against the walls.”

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address–A Real Show-Stopper!

abraham-lincoln-secondinauguration

It is chilling to think that the conspirators who will kill Lincoln only a few days after his second inaugural address are present at his speech. Even John Wilkes Booth himself is visible in a panoramic shot of this same photograph!

..at least toward the end when he eloquently states:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

A few days later, Lincoln would be shot dead by an assassin’s bullet.

In my young adult adventure story, Central Park Story, I have my main character, Christopher Middleton, echo these same sentiments of forgiveness and charity after being faced with a similarly unavoidable conflict.

Bergdorf Goodman: Not Your Typical Department Store

Bergdorf_Goodman

Bergdorf Goodman, at 58th Street and Fifth…talk about location!

Situated at 58th Street and Fifth just opposite Central Park, Bergdorf Goodman is about as iconic a store as you could imagine.

Just prior to the purchase of the property by Mr. Goodman, it was the Cornelius Vanderbilt estate, whose massive gate now graces the entrance to the Conservatory Garden at 106th Street.

bergdorf_goodman_window_display

A typically modest window display at Bergdorf’s

So many references in films have been made to this famous store, they could probably be turned into a movie themselves.

For that reason, as well as the fact that it is located a block from Central Park, I make it a preferred shopping oasis for Ashley Ferguson, one of the main characters in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

 

Famous Revolutionary War Uniforms

georgewashingtonuniform

General Washington’s uniform. Size 60 long perhaps?

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, Christopher Middleton, the main character, introduces some revolutionary ideas into his new school.

Picking up on the idea, his clothes-minded girlfriend decides to design a uniform that he can wear. Naturally, she turns to General George Washington for inspiration.

As you can see from the picture on the right, Washington’s uniform is a far cry from the uniforms of revolutionaries like Lenin or Mao!

Mixing Potassium Permanganate and Ethanol…Better Think Twice!

As Christopher Middleton’s chemistry teacher learns in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, it’s probably best not to mix potassium permanganate and ethanol or you might experience the following:

 

European Parks vs. Central Park . . . A World Apart!

Hyde Park

Hyde Park in London, though still on the regal side, comes closer to what Olmsted had in mind for Central Park than its other European counterparts.

European parks had their not-so-humble origins as playgrounds for royalty. Olmsted visited many of these parks on his overseas tours and took voluminous notes of what he saw. Much of what he saw he tried to avoid in his design of Central Park.

Rather than massive fountains, overbearing statues, and cleverly manicured gardens, he and his partner, Calvert Vaux, allowed for only one simple, but beautiful, fountain, one beautiful but elegant statue (the Angel of the Waters on the Terrace) and zero manicured gardens (the Conservatory Garden at 106th Street was only added after Olmsted and Vaux had passed on).

The result was a striking degree of relaxed elegance through naturalistic beauty and simplicity. Their goal throughout was to let nature be the central focus. After all, wasn’t it nature and our natural resources that made our country stand out from its European counterparts?

Throughout my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have tried to underline the unique vision that Olmsted and Vaux brought to the idea of a public park.

the Jardin du Luxembourg

..like the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris.

 

Olmsted and Vaux’s Three Separate Ways: Their Greatest Innovation

Arch at 110th Street.

An arch at 110th Street that allows cars (or carriages) to pass over pedestrians

Probably the most influential innovation in the Central Park design was the “separate circulation” system for pedestrians, horseback riders, and carriages along with the sunken traverse roadways that allowed commercial traffic to pass to the other side of the city unnoticed.

The overpasses along the traverses allowed visitors to walk from south to north end of the park without being aware of the traffic that made its way from east to west, while the three separate circulation systems allowed visitors to pass one another without getting in each others way. This allowed one and all to spend their time enjoying the serenity and beauty of nature which was the sole purpose of creating the park in the first place.

Gothic Bridge

…and another next to the reservoir that allows pedestrians to cross over horses

Calvert Vaux designed 36 unique bridges and arches, no two alike, that would allow this clever circulation system to work.

He could have designed them according to the same basic template. Instead, he came up with an array of designs, from stone to iron, to massive boulders, that boggle the imagination.

Try coming up with 36 unique designs for bridges yourself, and you will see what a genius he was.

Emerson’s ‘Nature’ and it’s Subtle Influence on Central Park

emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the inspiration behind Transcendentalism
in the US.

“Nature” is an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, published in 1836. In it, Emerson put forth the foundation of Transcendentalism, which suggests that the divine, or God, suffuses nature, and that reality can only be understood by studying nature.

Emerson explains that to experience the “wholeness” with nature for which mankind is naturally suited, we must be separate ourselves from the flaws and distractions imposed on us by society. He believed that solitude is the single most important mechanism through which we can fully engage with the world of nature.

Whether Olmsted ever read “Nature” is impossible to know (Olmsted’s education was sporadic and piecemeal, at best), but his design of Central Park certainly acts as a living illustration of Emerson’s philosophy of Transcendentalism.

Olmsted’s goal was to suffuse nature back into the soul of each visitor to the park by creating a sense of nature’s wholeness that was completely separate from the distractions of the surrounding city. He did so by creating inspiring vista after inspiring vista, as if one were walking down a gallery of paintings, until one made contact with the inner genius of nature herself.

If Emerson brought the philosophy of Transcendentalism to the intellectual world of his day, it is fair to say that Olmsted brought it to the urban world.

In my own, lesser way, I try to bring it to the world of teenagers in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.