Day: October 8th, 2006

Lost in the Ramble

Sunday, October 8th, 2006 | All Things, NYC History

Sunday marked the second and final day of the fourth annual openhousenewyork weekend (October 7 & 8, 2006). As in year’s past, more of the interesting sites were only open to the public on Saturday, but I didn’t get out of work nearly early enough the night before to take advantage. Still, I had reserved a spot on the first Sunday morning architect’s tour of the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park. It was to be an early start to the day, and my first site of OHNY 2006… only things didn’t work out quite that way.

The Boathouse is located on the East side of the Park, around 74th Street, so after meeting at my apartment, we figured the quickest way there would be to cut across through the West 72nd Street entrance. Even at that early Sunday morning hour, the Park was abuzz with activity. This morning: the 22nd Annual Central Park Biathlon, the final event of the New York Triathlon’s season, a race consisting of a 2-mile run, 12-mile bike and 2-mile run.

Biathlon

We made it to The [unnamed] Lake, which is the second largest body of water in the Park, after The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, about ten blocks to the North. We could not help but pause for a bit to take in the beautiful view. I never grow tired of it, after all these years. Here, the distinctive twin spires of The San Remo, flanked by The Langham (to the South/left) and The Kenilworth (to the North/right.)

In the late 1920’s, real estate boomed on Central Park West and spawned the four twin-towered apartment buildings that loom over the Park: The Century (between 62nd and 63rd Streets) and The Majestic (between 71st and 72nd Streets) — both developed by Irwin S. Chanin and Jacques Delamarre; The San Remo (the first, and located between 74th and 75th Streets) and The Eldorado (between 90th and 91st Streets) — both designed by Emery Roth. The Eldorado, built in 1929, was as far north as twin-tower builders were able to develop on Central Park West before the Depression.

San Remo

The picturesque Bow Bridge, which links the architectural landscape of Cherry Hill with the wild, sprawling woods of the Ramble, was so named for its resemblance to an archer’s bow. The Bridge, completed in 1862, was one of the seven original cast iron bridges built in Central Park during the years 1859-1875. Two of the seven were subsequently destroyed under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.

Bow Bridge

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux generally preferred bridges and arches crafted from natural materials, such as brick and stone, to harmonize with the Park’s “natural” setting. Such designs, however, were expensive, as they required skilled stonemasons and stonecutters. Cast-iron designs eliminated those labor costs, and were therefore much more cost-effective.

The ironwork was done by the firm Janes, Kirtland & Company, which also did the ironwork for The Capitol Dome in Washington, D.C. Original plans for the Bow Bridge abutments note the presence of hidden cannonballs as movable bearings at the north (Ramble) end of the bridge, to allow the cast iron to expand and contract 2-3 inches with the changing New York City temperatures.

Over the Bridge and into the 36-acre Ramble — Olmsted and Vaux’s untamed counterpart to the more formal design of Bethesda Terrace. Although seemingly wild, virtually every feature was carefully designed to give the illusion of untouched, completely natural woodland. Along the winding, curving paths, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves far removed from the usual visual cues of the surrounding Park buildings. As the minutes ticked by, past the start time of the Boathouse tour, we resigned ourselves to missing out on that segment of the morning. Our disappointment, however, was fleeting among all this natural (albeit carefully planned) beauty.

To be continued…

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