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In 1873, Frederick Law Olmsted was asked to examine a section of the Hudson River shoreline and to propose a method to build a park and roadway. Olmsted inevitably devised an elegant solution which enhanced the natural beauty of the location. He designed a sinuous drive to curve around the valleys and rock outcroppings by combining the land available for the avenue with the land for the park. This cost effective design was created to enhance the existing topography, views and vegetation. Olmsted believed the boulevard should have been shaded by rows of Elm trees and overlook the steep topography of the park thus providing dramatic views of the Hudson River. Olmsted's concept for Riverside Park was adopted by the park's commissioners, but the park was not designed under his supervision. Instead, a series of designers from 1875 to 1910 took over; most, including Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons, shared Olmsted's regard for the English Gardening ideal. Although these design philosophies were employed in the park design, Olmsted's concept was not entirely adhered to. He was upset his vision had been mangled and that a comprehensive plan had never been developed. The inside of Riverside Park was laid out with paths and planting in the English Gardening style to enhance the beauty of the setting and to provide a sequence of picturesque views. Meadows opened to the river prospects and encouraged the illusion that the park was an extension of the Hudson River Valley landscape. The railroad, however, which had always separated the park from the river, began to attract coal bins, storage yards and forbade dumps, and so destroyed this illusion. In the early 1900's, after the beginning of the City Beautiful movement. Riverside Park began to serve as a repository for monuments and sculptures which exalted the City's heroes and the virtues they represented. Grant's Tomb and the Soldiers and Sailors monument are the most noteworthy examples. The park was also extended north, bridging the Manhattan valley from 125th Street to 135th Street with a decorative viaduct of filigreed steel work. The drive once again curved around topographical difficulties; it was supported by grand castle-like retaining walls and entry ensembles evocative of a heroic civilization. The early 1900's also produced many controversial proposals to cover the railroad and remove its blighting influence. McKim, Mead and White prepared plans to remove grade crossings, enclose the railroad in a tunnel, and incorporate a new highway into an expanded park. This plan was under construction in 1934 when Robert Moses became commissioner of a unified five-borough Parks Department. Moses discarded the plans on the grounds that the highway was impractical and poorly designed. In 1935, under the direction of Robert Moses, Gilmore D. Clarke and Clinton Lloyd developed new plans to use the top of the railroad tunnel for park land and put the highway on a landfill. With the advent of the family car and pleasure driving, it had become desirable to design this highway as a scenic drive along the Hudson River and to link it to outskirts of the city. The Henry Hudson Parkway was designed to enhance the pleasure of driving. Speed and uninterrupted forward movement was made possible by grade separations and access ramps. By 1937 this new graceful "parkway" was built to the terrain and merge with the landscape, orchestrating views to the river and into the park for the curious automobile passenger to follow. The innovative design created 132 new acres of park land on fill which accommodated the new, active recreational needs of the city. Basketball and tennis courts, ballfields, playgrounds, a marina and performance areas were integrated into the new topography and coils of the highway. The tunnel wall, covered by planted berms or punctuated by grand arcaded openings and sweeping stairs became the backdrop for the parkway and the playgrounds. Grand terraces overlooked the river, the "79th Street grade elimination structure" was created to serve as a traffic circle, parking garage and public terrace overlooking the marina. Sailboats and yachts docked at the 79th Street marina, the city's front door for visiting ships and marine dignitaries. The rotunda and marina became a "river gate" grand enough to welcome and accommodate the yachts of the world. The bold architectural and land form changes which were required to accommodate these additions necessitated a change in the original Olmstedian sections of the park. These changes included the removal of many of the original paths, stairways and plantings. The whole park was replanted and attempts were made to integrate the new paths with the remaining Olmstedian paths. The plans for the new horticulture and paths were influenced by English Gardening ideals and were sympathetic to the original park design; however, the new design was much more regularized than the original. The paths were designed with regular curvatures rather than irregular alignments, the plantings were homogenous in character rather than diverse and unpredictable. The park was no longer a rustic expression of a natural environment where nature represented the ideal landscape. It now included an expression of civilization and technology where nature was shaped according to man's will and architecture symbolized the ideal environment. Plans for the park, from 145th Street to 155th Street, developed by other park department designers in 1939 were much more pragmatic. This section of landfill employed a simplified version of the architecture and playground arrangements prevalent in the southern section of the park. The train was left in the open and the highway was supported on an elevated platform. Consequently, pedestrian access to the park was constricted and views of the original park along the drive were blocked. The park became an expression of economy, not of ideal nature or civilization. Once 1940, there have been very few planned changes in the park. New playgrounds, comfort stations an tennis courts have been constructed. None of these additions, however, attempted to advance the 1937 plan for the park through the use of an established palette of materials or landscaping concepts, and instead were located in areas designated for scenic enjoyment. The volunteer plant growth began to overtake many areas, crowding out desirable plants. Vandalism and neglect caused deterioration, while disrepair invited further destruction and disrespect. Riverside Park is an amalgam of 19th and 20th century park designs. It is the result of a progression of cultural development rather than one discrete period. It is the result of the evolution of the English Gardening ideal as interpreted by Olmsted and his followers in the late 1800's, and as extrapolated by Gilmore D. Clarke and his team in the 1930's. The changes in the 1930's effectively converted most of the park from an English picturesque landscape into today's twentieth century, regularized French romantic landscape. Olmsted's original concept, however, is still intact and the contrast between the remaining Olmsted and Clarke designs is one of the park's essential components. Even the City Beautiful monuments can be interpreted as evocative structures in an English landscape. These aspects should be preserved, but the additions to the park since 1938, which were not sensitive to the established palette of materials or the scenic quality of their settings, should be considered for removal or reconstruction. The goal of this office is to restore and maintain the park. We do not have any of the original Olmsted drawings to show what was originally planted. We have the original survey from the 1920's which shows existing vegetation, the original drawings from the Moses addition and we know what Olmsted addition and we know what Olmsted liked from what he used in Central Park. We are therefore left with a somewhat sympathetic reconstruction of the Olmsted park by the Moses team. The original Moses design team of dark and Rapuano used a lot of raw dirt cover up, indicating the planting design largely called for a need to stop raw erosion. Of course we still have erosion on both the Olmsted slopes and the Moses slopes, but the site conditions have changed--mainly reduced light due to the mature tree canopy. One of our biggest challenges is to stop the erosion on these slopes. Another challenge is the transition between the various design eras. For instance, where the Olmsted section meets the Moses section at 99th Street, the Olmsted parcel is very thin. In an attempt to extend the Olmsted feeling, while still staying within the Moses section, I have used Primus Serrula, Red Barked Cherry, as the small under story tree. Moses used many Cherry and Crab apple trees while Olmsted used more native plants. The Primus Serrula therefore fills the need for a Cherry tree in the Moses landscape and includes the looser feel of a more native plant. Many times, I will use the same plants in both sections, but in different styles-- Olmsted plantings are more freely distributed and less formal, while Moses' landscapes utilize larger groups and massings. I added more variety of plants to the Olmsted landscapes. At this time, the whole park has been replanted with moderate alterations. Even though our goal of restoration is our top priority, on occasion we do not compulsively follow the original design; rather, we use the original intent of the design. I can't always replace original plants, such as the Rosa nitida that Moses used by the thousands, nor the plants they used for their quick ability to control soil erosion. Most of the time I don't want to because sometimes there is not enough sun, trash is harder to pick out, it can become a pest plant, homeless can set up a house in the mature plants, and it does not have much seasonal interest. One of my personal goals is to diversify the plant community, while still staying within the original design intent. Riverside Park's Deputy Administrator, David Bruner, RLA, shares his creative approach to remaining faithful to one of 'New York's historic landscapes while rising to the challenge of modern needs and today's limited funding. DURING THE ROBERT MOSES ERA, IN 1937, MANY CHERRY AND CRAB APPLE TREES WERE USED INSTEAD OF OLMSTED'S MORE NATIVE PLANTS. NEW YORK'S SOLDIERS AND SAILORS MONUMENT WAS CONSTRUCTED AFTER THE BEGINNING OF THE CITY BEAUTIFUL MOVEMENT. BOLD ARCHITECTURAL AND LANDFORM CHANGES NECESSITATED NEW PATHWAYS TO ACCOMMODATE THE CHANGING TOPOGRAPHY IN THE ORIGINAL OLMSTEDIAN SECTIONS OF THE PARK. DURING THE CITY BEAUTIFUL ERA, THE PERIOD FROM 1890 TO 1930, NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF ALL MONUMENTS WERE INSTALLED CITY-WIDE. SAILBOATS AND YACHTS HAVE HISTORICALLY DOCKED AT NEW YORK'S 79TH STREET MARINA (LEFT), THE CITY'S FRONT DOOR FOR VISITING SHIPS AND MARINE DIGNITARIES. CONTINUOUS LANDSCAPE IMPROVEMENTS ENCOURAGE LEISURELY STROLLS (RIGHT) AND BIKE RIDES THROUGHOUT THE BIG APPLE'S ALTERNATIVE TO CENTRAL PARK. All photos provided courtesy of the City of New York Department of Parks and Recreation.

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June 17, 2019, 8:47 am PDT

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