Monday, May 15, 2017

Central Park - from Hallett to Belvedere

I could spend an entire NYC vacation in Central Park and it wouldn’t get old. Every time we visit, I get a new perspective of the 842-acre refuge: sometimes seasonal, other times depending on the area we visit or the company we bring. We returned to southern border of Central Park on this particular visit, but skipped the crowded paths for a visit to the newly-opened Hallett Nature Sanctuary – read about it here.

View from 5th Ave Subway Station stairs

From the Sanctuary we headed north past the Dairy Visitor Center and Gift Shop, one of the Central Park Conservancy's five visitor centers. Park architect and designer Calvert Vaux originally created this Victorian cottage as a retreat for children and their parents, the Dairy becoming a source of fresh milk and snacks in the 19th century. By the 1950s the neglected building was an eyesore, and the Parks Department tore down the loggia and turned it into a maintenance shed. In 1979 the building was restored and became the Park's first visitor center, and in 1980 the loggia was recreated from historic photographs.

After crossing Center Drive we found ourselves on the Central Park Mall. The Mall, a quadruple row of American elms, is one of the largest and last remaining stands of American elms in North America. The majestic trees form a cathedral above the Park’s widest pedestrian path, the only straight line within Central Park. At the south end of the mall lies the Literary Walk, with statues of well-known figures such as William Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. At the north end of the mall is Bethesda Terrace (see my post Central Park, Mussels and More). The stretch provides some of the best people watching in the entire park. In addition to the visitors out for a stroll, you’ll find vendors and entertainers of all sorts; we stopped to watch a student from Japan advertising haircuts with a sign indicating that his goal is to cut hair in 100 countries. He quickly found a taker and soon had a line of customers, not to mention the crowd that established to watch him work.

Once we reached Bethesda Terrace it was just a matter of finding a seat at the fountain for more people watching. The fountain sculpture was the first major public commission for a major work of art in NYC to go to a woman, Emma Stebbins. A bronze, winged angel carries a lily in one hand, and with the other hand blesses the water below which flows from an upper basin to the pool surrounding the four cherubs, Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace. Also called the Angel of the Waters, the statue refers to the Gospel of John, where there is a description of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda, giving it healing powers.

The arcade in the lower passage features Minton tile ceiling, the only known example of Minton encaustic ceramic tiles used in a suspended ceiling. The majority of the nearly 16,000 tiles had been in storage for more than 20 years before the 2007 unveiling of a $7 million restoration by the Central Park Conservancy.

Adjacent to Bethesda Terrace is Cherry Hill fountain, a Victorian-era stone water fountain. It was the perfect time to visit as the cherry trees were in full bloom, and among all the visitors taking photos was a couple taking their wedding photographs. From this vantage point there is also a great view of The Lake and Bow Bridge, the 60ft cast iron bridge with a walkway constructed of ipe, a South American hardwood that turns a deep red when wet.

We ended up doubling back to The Mall for a short spell, and the boys found a performance artist with a tub full of soapy water and enormous bubble wands. If you ask them, it was probably a highlight of our visit.

Passing through Bethesda Terrace once more, Lauris spotted a man writing personalized poems and got his very own literary souvenir of the day in Central Park. Not a bad way to spend a day – sitting on the terrace and writing poems for tips...

Past the Boathouse is the border of the formal gardens with The Ramble, 38 acres of winding pathways through what was described by creator Frederick Law Olmsted as a "wild garden." Famous for urban bird watching opportunities (approximately 230 species have been documented), visitors can find a secluded spot for a picnic, listen to the gurgle of the man-made stream, or just enjoy a stroll through the woods. Or, if you're like us, take a break in  a grassy area to test dozens of paper airplanes...

North of 79th Street is Belvedere Castle overlooking Turtle Pond. Named for the Italian meaning "beautiful view," the panoramic views of the Delacorte Theater, the Great Lawn, Turtle Pond and the Ramble are exceptional.

The 1869 castle was originally designed to be a Victorian Folly, a structure without a real purpose. However, in 1919 the National Weather Service began taking measurements from the tower, and the castle is still used for this purpose today. Rainfall, wind speed & wind direction are recorded and sent to the weather service's forecast office at Brookhaven National Library on Long Island.

From Belvedere we headed west through the 4-acre Shakespeare Garden, where spectacular blooms and landscaping are accompanied by plaques featuring quotes from the garden’s namesake. The garden features plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s poems and plays (such as columbine, primrose, wormwood, quince, lark’s heel, rue, eglantine, flax and cowslip), and is designed to resemble the Bard’s native English countryside.

Fritillaria imperialis, a charming fence, and snowdrops

We emerged from the park at the Museum of Natural History, and although the boys would have loved to stop at the Diana Ross playground, we still had a subway ride back to Brooklyn ahead of us. Having settled for a snack, we descended to the subway (with its mosaic depicting the nighttime constellations), tired but in wonderment of all that we had seen that day. The next day we would be celebrating Easter, our final day in New York before returning home.

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