Your Arsenal

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006 | All Things

The Young Friends of The New-York Historical Society arranged a private tour of the Central Park Arsenal at 64th Street, off Fifth Avenue — not to be confused with the nearby Park Avenue Armory. It is the second oldest structure in the Park (the oldest being the Blockhouse at the north end), built between 1847 and 1851 as a munitions supply depot for New York State’s National Guard, and actually predates the Park’s existence. It was designated an official New York City landmark in 1967.

Architect Martin E. Thompson designed the building, originally stuccoed, to resemble a medieval fortress. Over the past century and a half, the Arsenal has survived periods of neglect, and been employed as an armory, a museum (in fact, the precursor to the American Museum of Natural History), the Municipal Weather Bureau, the 11th Police Precinct, and a Gallery of Art. It also served as a makeshift zoo until 1871 (after which the interior cages were moved outside for safety and olfactory reasons) and is currently home to New York City Parks & Recreation, the Central Park Administrator, the City Parks Foundation, the Historic House Trust, the New York Wildlife Conservation Society, the Parks Library and the Arsenal Gallery.

Central Park Arsenal

The two-story Arsenal lobby murals, depicting scenes of old New York, a montage of park scenes and troops in military formation, were painted in the mid-1930s as part of the federal works program under the direction of artist Allan Saalburg.


The crown jewel of the Arsenal is the “Greensward Plan” — the original blueprint for Central Park submitted by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux — which hangs on the wall of a third floor conference room. Interestingly, the original plan predated the Manhattan street grid system and extended only to 96th Street. This detail shows the location where Conservatory Water (better known as the Model Boat Pond) now sits. The original design proposed a conservatory (which gives the pond its name) and flower garden. Ground was broken for the project, but funding fell through, and the large, dug hole was reconfigured for its current use.

Plan detail

The other highlight of the tour offered access to the Arsenal rooftop and its views — generally not accessible to the public, but available for private event rental, though not advertised as such. One of the quirks of the Arsenal’s current use — and a testament to the preciousness of Manhattan commerical real estate — is the conversion of the corner turrets into individual office space. Notice the mounted silver box outside for interoffice mail delivery.

Arsenal Rooftop

Arsenal Rooftop

Arsenal View

Above the main rooftop, there is actually one more half level, accessible only by metal ladder. No offices there, but those few who make the trek are rewarded by spectacular views and are entitled to sign the official New York City ledger mounted on one of the edges.

Arsenal View


Afterwards, we returned to the Arsenal Gallery for a wine and cheese reception among the photographic exhibit of New York City’s WPA pools.

There's 1 comment so far ... Your Arsenal

August 3, 2006

I’m being totally serious when I say, you do so many cool things. And you know so much. Such a smarty! 🙂

Go for it ...