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

Boss Tweed and the Unwinding of Central Park…What a Mess!

Boss Tweed

Boss Tweed in his prime

Though the majority of the construction of Central Park was completed during the time that ‘Boss’ Tweed was in control of the city government, few people did more damage to it in such a short period of time.

He handed out thousand of unnecessary jobs in park maintenance in return for political favors, resulting in the razing of trees and denuding of entire areas. He even planned to put in a race track in the fashionable south end and a massive zoo in the bucolic North Meadow.

Olmsted stood on the sidelines, watching in helpless agony, fired from his position as consulting architect, as both his and Calvert Vaux’s original design for the park was unwound.

If the New York Times didn’t run a successful campaign to uncover Tweed’s unusually corrupt regime, even more damage would have been done and Olmsted’s own reputation permanently damaged.

As time would have it, Tweed was dethroned and the damage contained and eventually reversed.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I have tried to recreate much of this corrupt backdrop, at least in spirit, to show my readers that just because it happened in the past doesn’t mean it won’t take place in the future.

Summerstage, New York Marathon, Rock Concerts, Shakespeare–How Much More Can You Fit Into a City Park?

New York Marathon

Feeling claustrophobic? The New York Marathon will test you to the max.

How many different free cultural activities can you fit inside a city park?

If you want to know the answer, you needn’t look any further than Central Park in Manhattan.

First, you have all of the free performing arts festivals such as Central Park Summerstage and the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, which take place every summer and are free admission.

Add to that the New York Marathon, an annual event since 1970 which has ballooned to over 50,000 participants, and traditionally ends in Central Park.

Shakespeare in the Park

Shakespeare in the Park with the Castle in the background…pretty magical, no?

Then there’s Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater which features the best of Shakespeare and has been attended by over five million spectators since its opening in 1962 (also free on a ‘first come first serve’ basis).

Speaking of the  60s, let’s not forget the many free rock concerts such as Simon and Garfunkle, Carole King, America, Elton John…the list goes on and on.

Simon and Garfunkle concert

A mere 500,000 people attended a concert bu Simon and Garfunkel in 1981!

But if you think the list ends there, think again; which is why I had to be extremely selective in deciding which free cultural events to include in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.



The Cooper-Hewitt Museum: A Nice Side Trip


The backyard of the Carnegie Mansion where his daughter presumably played to her heart’s content

I always felt a close affinity to the Carnegie Mansion at 91st and Fifth, now known as the Cooper Hewitt Museum.

My mother’s apartment was a few blocks uptown, and we would walk past it on our way to church or whenever I went for a jog around the reservoir.

Now that I’m several decades older, my curiosity about its origins has been piqued, and I looked it up online.

The mansion was built in 1901 at the request of Carnegie who asked for a plain but roomy house with a garden for his daughter to play in. Plain it isn’t. Roomy it is. It has 60 ‘roomies’, as a matter of fact!

Carnegie had just finished publishing his book, The Gospel of Wealth, a year earlier in 1900, in which he declared that to die a wealthy man was ‘to die in disgrace’ and that one’s wealth, however great or small, should be distributed beforehand to the benefit of all.

You can almost hear the echo of people screaming ‘No!’ up and down Millionaires Row on Fifth Avenue to this day. But Carnegie, if nothing else, never paid much attention to what others thought of his methods. He proceeded to give away 350 million dollars (several billion in today’s terms) until his death in 1919, leaving only a meager $30 million to be distributed afterwards.

After his wife passed away in 1946, the mansion was donated by the Carnegie Corporation to the Smithsonian Institute and, around the time I began living in the neighborhood, was renovated and converted into the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, a museum devoted to several hundred years of design innovations, which explains why I was never knew much about it.

Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, also walks past this iconic landmark, though he has other, more important things on his mind, like talking statues and cockatrices flying around Belvedere Castle!

Baseball in Central Park–a Real Home Run for the Game

Baseball in the park then...

Baseball in the park in the 50s…

It was sometimes difficult for nineteenth century baseball players to enjoy their newfangled game in Central Park due to competition from cricket players, but by the 1930s, when recreation became a top priority of the Parks Commission, the game was finally embraced.

In 1934, it was formally announced that the informal playing fields in Central Park´s North Meadow would be constructed with permanent bases and backstops. Tournaments would also held for both baseball and softball throughout the 1930s.

Baseball in Central Park

…and now

Today, over twenty baseball fields are distributed more or less evenly over three principal meadows from the south to the north end of the park.

It’s hard to know what Olmsted and Vaux would have thought of their original design being usurped by a game that was barely known at the time. Probably they would have balked, since their intention was to provide a series of unobstructed vistas to reconnect the viewer with the genius of Nature, not the spirit of Babe Ruth. But time and tide bow to no man, and baseball is now a permanent fixture in the park.

In my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I pay homage to sports in the park by including a baseball game where Christopher Middleton flies in the air and catches a ball (Book V).

Bow Bridge: A Symphony in Stone

Bow Bridge

It is as if a piece of music suddenly took on a physical form.

Bow Bridge, named for its graceful shape, is reminiscent of the bow of an archer or violinist. This handsomely designed bridge spans the Ramble Lake, linking Cherry Hill with the woodlands beyond. When the park was in its initial planning stages, the commissioners requested a suspension bridge (yikes!). Calvert Vaux, the designer of the 36 bridges in the park, objected and a compromise was struck with this refined, low-lying bridge.

Bow Bridge

I cannot imagine a more beautiful bridge, can you?

Today, Bow Bridge is a muse for photographers and writers alike. Rising from the bridge are eight cast-iron urns, installed by Central Park Conservancy in 2008 as replicas of the originals that disappeared in the 1920s.

The bridge appears in many episodes of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story.

The Frick Museum–What a Gem!

Frick Museum

A more stunning building than the Carnegie mansion, with an equally stunning art collection, to boot!

The Frick is one of the pre-eminent art museums in the United States, with a high-quality collection of old master paintings and fine furniture housed within the former residence of Mr. Frick himself. It also happens to be my favorite museum in the city because of  its delightful blend of a spacious home with a knock-your-socks-off art collection. You could be looking at a Holbein the Younger portrait of Sir Thomas More in one gallery and turn the corner and come face to face with a stunning Vermeer in another.

Frick was an avid art collector throughout his business career and his daughter enhanced the collection after his death. He even planned that his house, completed in 1914 where he lived until his death in 1919, would become a museum to display the art that he’d acquired.

Since the main character, Christopher Middleton, in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, lives a block away from this iconic museum, I have included it in several passages in my books.


American Museum of Natural History–More Than You Bargained For

American Museum of Natural History

Here’s the museum entrance–gateway to 32 million artifacts!

The American Museum of Natural History that sits beside Central Park at 81st Street and Central Park West, is one of the largest museums in the world. The complex comprises 27 interconnected buildings housing 45 permanent exhibition halls, in addition to a planetarium and a library. Its collections contain over 32 million specimens of plants, humans, animals, fossils, minerals, rocks, meteorites, and human cultural artifacts and occupies 1,600,000 square feet. As if that wasn’t enough, the museum also has a full-time scientific staff of 225, sponsors over 120 special field expeditions each year, and averages about five million visits annually. A bit more than you expected in a museum, right?

It didn’t always used to be that way. In 1874, the cornerstone was laid for the Museum’s first building, which is now hidden from view by the many buildings in the complex that occupy most of Manhattan Square. The original building, which was opened in 1877, was designed by Jacob Wrey Mould who also designed the arcade and the staircases leading to the Bethesda Fountain.

Rose Center for Earth and Space

If the main part of the museum is too much for you to handle, you can always escape to outer space in the Rose Center for Earth and Space!

Although I avoided adding the museum in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, I had a curious experience there as a teenager. I had shown a rare bird to a man who happened to be walking by in Pelham Bay Park with his wife. That man turned out to be Gardner Stout, the president of the museum at the time. Impressed by the bird that I’d shown him, he invited me to his office and gave me a tour of their extensive research area. He led me to a terrarium in the back and said that inside was the deadliest creature on earth. I couldn’t see anything but some tiny jewel-like frogs. Apparently these pretty little creatures had recently been discovered in the Amazon and emitted a poison that could kill large mammals on contact. Not so pretty after all! I guess that made me and Mr. Stout even because he excused himself, saying he was late getting ready for a trip to Africa…The only thing I remember after that was wishing I could have joined him!


The Museum of the City of New York: the Forgotten Museum

The Museum of the City of New York

The Museum of the City of New York–nothing to write home about, or is it?

Located between 103 and 104th Street on Fifth Avenue, the Museum of the City of New York sits at the northernmost end of Museum Mile, so by the time you make it there, assuming you do, you’ve probably had your fill of museums.

There was talk of relocating it to the Financial District, probably to garner more traffic, but Mayor Bloomberg nixed the plan, and I think it showed foresight on his part.

First of all, the museum sits opposite to one of the most charming spots in Central Park: the Conservatory Garden–a series of beautiful gardens that everyone should visit. Second, the north end of Fifth Avenue has fast become a trendy spot to live. (I used to live a few blocks south of the museum and have been following changes in the neighborhood ever since).

Third and finally, the north end of Central Park itself has a totally different character than the more frequented south. Olmsted originally designed it to be reminiscent of the Adirondack region of Upstate New York, and it retains that same atmosphere of wildness to this day. There are also some intriguing artifacts that attest to the long history of the city, such as the Blockhouse at 110th Street and Central Park West, as well as vestiges of Fort Clinton a few hundred yards west of the museum itself.

Hence, leaving the museum where it will shine on its own unique way in the midst of other reminders of New York City’s past was, in my opinion, a display of foresight.

Although I didn’t include the museum in the first five books of my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, when I read about its collection of over 1.5 million items, including paintings, drawings, prints, including over 3000 by Currier and Ives, as well as costumes, decorative objects and furniture, antique toys, ship models, rare books and manuscripts, marine and military collections, police and fire collections, and a theater collection which documents the golden age of Broadway, it got me thinking seriously about how to include this forgotten museum in the grande finale of the series.

Museum Mile…A Mile of Culture

The dozen or so museums located on Museum Mile represent one of the most concentrated areas of culture in the world.

In my blog, I cover most of the major museums along its length, starting with the Met at 82nd Street and ending with the Museum of the City of New York at 104th Street, a mile uptown. However, there are some smaller museums in between, such as the Neue Galerie, the Jewish Museum, and the National Academy Museum, that are worthy of attention as well.

For instance, The Neue Galerie, devoted to German and Austrian art in the 20th Century, contains one of the most famous paintings in the world, Klimt’s painting Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, purchased from Maria Altmann for a mere US$135 million. But who’s counting?

Even the buildings in which they are housed, most of them dating back to the Gilded Age of robber barons, are worthy of a visit.

Though these smaller museums aren’t featured in my young adult adventure series, Central Park Story, they form a part of the background that help make the books so colorful. Here are just a few…


The Neue Galerie at 86th Street and Fifth–a fitting home for the Lady in Gold

The Jewish Museum

The Jewish Museum at 92nd Street and Fifth located in the delightfully whimsical Warburg Mansion


And the National Academy Museum and School, also on 86th Street and Fifth, opposite the Neue Galerie


The Rose Center for Earth and Space: a Way of Leaving the City Without Actually Leaving

If you’ve read the beginning of  Central Park Story Book One, you’ll know that Christopher stops to look at The Rose Center for Earth and Space en route to his new school.

Built in 2000 and made to look like a space station, the building is one of the most impressive in the city and sure to catch almost anyone’s attention–let alone Christopher who isn’t very keen on going to school in the first place.

I used to feel the same way when I passed what was then known as the Hayden Planetarium on my own way to school.

Here’s a shot of it that gives an idea of how amazing the building appears on first glance. It almost looks like the sphere inside is about to take off into outer space, doesn’t it?

Rose Center for Earth and Space.jpg
Rose Center for Earth and Space” by Work of Spheroide – Work by specified author – original page at English language Wikipedia. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.