I’m not going to dwell on the obvious when it comes to the design of the Central Park Mall.
Probably you are already familiar with the concept of its being an open air cathedral buttressed by elms with the Naumberg Bandshell acting as a choir loft in the apse and the Bethesda Fountain and the angel as its altar and its god. These are all points that you will read about in most descriptions of Vaux’ design and which I have previously covered in my blog.
Instead, I’d like to mention some of its subtler aspects that you probably aren’t so aware of–aspects that I toy with in my book, Central Park Story.
The first is that the length of the Mall itself doesn’t run parallel to Fifth Avenue as it might appear, but rather diagonal to it. This is because it was designed to point due north while the city itself was on a slightly different grid. When I was visiting the Mall a year or two ago, I checked it out to be absolutely sure this is the case, and yes, the Mall does in fact point due north.
North is, of course, where the north star is located–the star by which navigators used to sail. It remains the only still point in the night sky. In that sense, it can be viewed as the innermost soul or ‘genius’ of nature, if you will, which is what Olmsted and Vaux sought to capture in their design of the park itself.
Another interesting aspect of the Mall is that if you stand at the foot of the promenade and look due north at the Angel of the Waters and the Bethesda Fountain, it appears as if she were standing on the promenade itself. The fountain is invisible from that perspective, and it doesn’t take much of an imagination to visualize her walking among the pedestrians as if she had joined us mortals on earth.
Vaux, the designer of the terrace and the Mall, suggested the statue be dedicated to Love, making it a powerful symbol, indeed: the descent of Love on earth from the center of our universe.
As you will discover for yourself should you read Central Park Story Book Two, I play on these themes as Christopher Middleton, the main character, uncovers the park’s deepest secrets!