The Museum of the City of New York has put on public display the rarely seen Greensward Plan for Central Park – the original 1858 design by Central Park superintendent and future leading landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and English-born architect Calvert Vaux that won a public design competition to improve and expand the park.
This four-by-twelve-foot map depicting Central Park’s framework in pen and ink has permanently left its imprint on the park and the visitor experience. On loan from the New York City Parks Department, the Greensward Plan for Central Park is now on view at the City Museum through January 2015.
In 1856 New York City purchased over 750 acres of rocky and swampy land (later expanded to 843 acres) for a public park that would replace the gridiron pattern of streets established by Manhattan’s 1811 master plan. Complex motivations, from developing New York into a world capital to improving public health, lay behind this innovative, daring and controversial act of civic ambition, and the City moved quickly to make the park a reality, announcing a design competition in 1857. Olmsted and Vaux’s winning design was based on a romantic landscape aesthetic popular with 19th-century European sites, such as the Bois de Boulogne in Paris and Birkenhead Park in Liverpool, England. As a result, the Greensward Plan’s artistically composed scenery and agreeable variety of structures and nature evoke the ambiance of an English park.
The construction of Central Park was shepherded by a state appointed Board of Commissioners of Central Park between 1857 and 1869. Bringing the intricate Greensward Plan for the man-made park into reality required an immense effort, including excavation, land grading and a massive outlay of materials and labor. At the peak of construction, over 3,500 workers were needed to finish the plan’s pastoral, picturesque and formal landscapes. While changes were made to the initial Greensward Plan – including additional acreage, over 30 bridges to ensure safety and a more extensive bridle path – Central Park was built out by 1873, costing more than $10 million.
Founded in 1923 as a private, nonprofit corporation, the Museum of the City of New York celebrates and interprets the city through exhibitions, school and public programs, publications, and collections. Visit www.mcny.org for more information.
Illustration: A map of the proposed Central Park from 1863.