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Bryant Park
New-York - Bryant Park.jpg
The lawn in Bryant Park, with the New York Public Library Main Branch in the background
Type Public park
Location between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan, New York City
Area 9.6 acres (3.9 ha)
Created 1847
Designer Carrère and Hastings, Lusby Simpson
Etymology Named for William Cullen Bryant
Operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
Status Open all year
Awards Design Merit Award from Landscape Architecture Magazine
Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence (1996)
Public transit access Subway: "7" train "7" express train"B" train "D" train "F" train "M" train at 42nd Street–Bryant Park/Fifth Avenue
Bus: M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M7, M42, M55, Q32
New York Public Library and Bryant Park
Location Avenue of the Americas, 5th Ave., 40th and 42nd Sts., New York, New York
Built 1895
Architect Carrere & Hastings; Simpson, Lusby
Architectural style Beaux Arts
NRHP reference No. 66000547
Significant dates
Added to NRHP October 15, 1966

Bryant Park is a 9.6-acre (39,000 m2) public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Privately managed, it is located between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan. The eastern half of Bryant Park is occupied by the Main Branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL). The western half, which contains a lawn, shaded walkways, and amenities such as a carousel, is located entirely over an underground structure that houses the library's stacks. The park hosts several events, including a seasonal "Winter Village" with an ice rink and shops during the winter.

The first park at the site was opened in 1847 and was called Reservoir Square due to its proximity to the Croton Distributing Reservoir. Reservoir Square contained the New York Crystal Palace, which hosted the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations in 1853 and burned down in 1858. The square was renamed in 1884 for journalist William Cullen Bryant. The reservoir was demolished in 1900 and the NYPL's Main Branch was built on the site, opening in 1911. Bryant Park was rebuilt in 1933–1934 to a plan by Lusby Simpson. After a period of decline, it was restored in 1988–1992 by architecture firms Hanna/Olin Ltd. and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, during which the park was rebuilt and the NYPL's stacks were built underneath. Further improvements were made in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Even though it is owned by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Bryant Park is managed by the private not-for-profit organization Bryant Park Corporation, which was founded in 1980 and led the restoration of Bryant Park. The park is cited as a model for the success of public-private partnerships. The park is both a National Register of Historic Places listing and a New York City designated landmark.

Description

Bryant Park is located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Street, and covers 9.6 acres (3.9 ha). Although technically the Main Branch of the New York Public Library is located within the park, in design it forms the eastern boundary of the park's green space, making Sixth Avenue the park's primary entrance. Bryant Park is used mostly as a passive recreation space, and lacks active sports facilities. Bryant Park is located several steps above the surrounding streets and is enclosed throughout with a retaining wall. Granite stairs at several locations provide access from the surrounding sidewalks.

One of the park's largest features is a large lawn located slightly below the level of the surrounding walkways. Besides serving as a "lunchroom" for office workers, the lawn serves as the seating area for some of the park's major events, such as Bryant Park Movie Nights, Broadway in Bryant Park, and Square Dance. The lawn's season runs from February until October, when it is closed to make way for Bank of America Winter Village.

There are numerous walkways surrounding the central lawn. The northern and southern sides are each flanked by two flagstone walkways. Each of these walkways are bordered by London plane trees (platanus acerifolia), which contribute to the park's European feel. In addition, numerous statues are scattered throughout the park. One of the walkways contains a trapdoor, which conceals a power supply that is used to power the Winter Village. A raised terrace on the eastern side of the lawn, which dates to the construction of the NYPL's Main Branch, is paved with gray flagstones and red brick. Its centerpiece is the William Cullen Bryant Memorial, which is raised on a pedestal of its own.

A restroom structure is located at the northern border of the park along 42nd Street. A carousel, installed in 2002, is located at the park's southern border. The park is served by the New York City Subway's 7 <7>​, B D F M trains at 42nd Street–Bryant Park/Fifth Avenue station, entrances to which are located on the northern and western borders of the park, as well as MTA Regional Bus Operations' M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M7, M42, M55, Q32 routes.

History

Early history

New York Crystal Palace
Painting of the New York Crystal Palace, 1853

In 1686, when the area was still a wilderness, New York's colonial governor, Thomas Dongan, designated the area now known as Bryant Park as a public space. George Washington's troops crossed the area while retreating from the Battle of Long Island in 1776. The road upon which Washington's troops retreated, traversed the park site diagonally. The city acquired the land in 1822. Beginning in 1823, Bryant Park was designated a potter's field (a graveyard for the poor) and remained so until 1840, when thousands of bodies were moved to Wards Island.

The first park at this site opened in 1847, though that park was never legally named. It was called "Reservoir Square" after the Croton Distributing Reservoir, which was erected on the eastern side of the park site due to its elevated location. In 1853, the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations with the New York Crystal Palace, featuring thousands of exhibitors, took place in the park. The Crystal Palace, also known as the Great Exhibition Hall, burned down in 1858. The Latting Observatory was also constructed in the park as part of the 1853 Exhibition, and was also burned down in 1856. The square was used for military drills during the American Civil War, and was the site of some of the New York City draft riots of July 1863, when the Colored Orphan Asylum at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street was burned down.

Reservoir Square was renovated in 1870–1871, during which the modern-day park had been laid out. Several additional structures were planned for Reservoir Square, but never built. These included an 1870 plan for new armory for the 7th New York Militia, an 1880 plan for an opera house, another plan in 1881 for a New-York Historical Society building, an 1893 plan for relocating the New York City Hall building, and a 1903 plan for a general post office.

Late 19th and early 20th centuries

Renaming and library construction

In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park, to honor the New York Evening Post editor and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. Around the same time as the park's renaming, in 1883, plans emerged to build a library in Bryant Park, atop the site of the reservoir. The library would be funded by Samuel J. Tilden. This was opposed somewhat by property owners who wanted to extend the park eastward onto the reservoir site. Nevertheless, by the 1890s, the reservoir was slated for demolition. When the New York Public Library (NYPL) was founded in 1895, its founders wanted an imposing main branch building. The trustees of the libraries chose to build the branch at the eastern end of Bryant Park, along Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets, because it was centrally located between the Astor and Lenox Libraries, the NYPL's direct predecessors. The architects of the building, Carrère and Hastings, also planned to convert the western border along Sixth Avenue into a pedestrian arcade with a flower market, while the central portion of Bryant Park would have housed sculptures and statues. However, these plans were canceled as a result of opposition.

William Cullen Bryant Statue in Bryant Park, NYC IMG 1241
The William Cullen Bryant Memorial, installed 1911, includes a bronze statue of William Cullen Bryant, the park's namesake

The reservoir was torn down by 1900, and construction started on the library. In conjunction with the library's construction, several improvements were made to the park, such as terrace gardens, public facilities, and kiosks, as well as a raised terrace adjoining the library on the eastern portion of the park. Since Bryant Park itself was located several feet above the surrounding streets, an iron fence, hedge, and embankment wall were built on the north, west, and south borders to separate the park from the bordering sidewalks. Benches were also installed along the retaining walls. Bryant Park's interior was split into three lawns, divided by a pair of west–east gravel paths that aligned roughly with the sidewalks of 41st Street on the west end of the park. Four stone stairways were built: one each from Sixth Avenue's intersections with 40th and 42nd Streets, and one each from 40th and 42nd Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. In addition, 42nd Street was widened in 1910, necessitating the relocation of the fence on Bryant Park's northern border and the removal of plants there. The NYPL's Main Branch was opened on May 23, 1911.

Infrastructure and further improvements

City experiment in gardening, New York City LCCN93501876 - edited
Experimental garden in Bryant Park, 1922

Due to its central location in Midtown Manhattan, several transit lines and infrastructure projects were also built around Bryant Park. The first of these was the Sixth Avenue Elevated railway, which opened in 1878. The city's first subway line, now part of the 42nd Street Shuttle, was opened in 1904 by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT) and ran directly under 42nd Street. In the 1910s, the Hudson & Manhattan Railroad (now PATH) also planned to extend their Uptown Hudson Tubes from Herald Square to Grand Central Terminal, with intermediate stations near Bryant Park's northeast and southwest corners, though this plan was never realized.

The Catskill Aqueduct water tunnel was built under Bryant Park in the early 1910s. Once the work was complete, the affected sections of Bryant Park were restored. During World War I, Bryant Park was frequently used for patriotic rallies, and a "war garden" and a "recreation building" for Allied soldiers was erected in the park. After the end of the war in 1920, an experimental garden was placed in the park and the recreation building was destroyed. During construction of the IRT Flushing Line in the 1920s, the northern segment of Bryant Park was partly closed for four years while the subway line was constructed directly underneath. The subway tunnel ran 35 feet (11 m) below ground level with a station at the eastern edge of the park, at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. During construction, workers took precautions to avoid interrupting the flow of traffic above ground and interfering with preexisting tunnels. The Fifth Avenue station opened in 1926, while the tunnel under Bryant Park to Times Square opened the following year. In January 1927, after the section of the Flushing Line under Bryant Park was complete, plans were announced for a restoration of the park's northern section.

1930s restoration

At New York, USA 2017 086
Looking east

By the 1930s, Bryant Park was suffering from neglect and was considered disreputable, as the Sixth Avenue elevated literally overshadowed the park. Over a period of ten years, about 100 separate plans for Bryant Park's renovation were proposed, but never enacted. In an attempt to revitalize the park, the George Washington Bicentennial Planning Committee and Sears filed plans for a replica of lower Manhattan's Federal Hall in early 1932. During the construction of the replica, part of the park was fenced off. The Dr. Marion Sims and Washington Irving statues were removed; the statues were later found under the Williamsburg Bridge. The replica was opened to the public in May 1932, charging an admission fee for entry. That November, Manhattan parks commissioner Walter R. Herrick formally notified Sears that the replica had to be torn down, because he did not approve of its proposed conversion into a Great Depression relief center. By the next year, the Bicentennial Committee's funds had been exhausted. The replica was torn down in mid-1933.

In an attempt to engage unemployed architects, the Architects' Emergency Committee held a competition for the redesign of Bryant Park in 1933. The winning design was submitted by Lusby Simpson, of Queens. However, due to a lack of funding, the winning design was not implemented immediately. In February 1934, under the leadership of newly appointed parks commissioner Robert Moses, work was started on Simpson's plan. The renovated park featured a great lawn, as well as hedges and later an iron fence that separated the park from the surrounding city streets. Two entrances each were added from 40th and 42nd Streets. As part of the project, 270 trees were placed around the park. Moses also placed the park's statues along 40th and 42nd Streets so as to block sight lines from these streets. To save money, the project hired workers from the Civil Works Administration, an unemployment relief program. The renovation was complete by late 1934, and after a short postponement, the park reopened that September 15.

Parts of the park were closed in the late 1930s due to transit changes on Sixth Avenue: the elevated was torn down in 1938, and the construction of the underground Sixth Avenue subway line occurred around the same time. The Sixth Avenue subway opened in 1940. A New Yorker article remarked in 1936 that during the prior fourteen years, "Bryant Park has been closed to the public [...] for half that time."

Features

Art and monuments

Sculptures

Notable sculptures in the park include or have included:

  • Statue of William E. Dodge (1885), a standing figure located on a pedestal at the park's northern border
  • J. Marion Sims (1894), removed in the 1930s
  • Washington Irving (1894), removed in the 1930s
  • William Cullen Bryant Memorial (1911), a standing figure located on a canopied pedestal at the park's eastern border
  • Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain (1913), located at the park's western border; the fountain collects about $3,000 to $4,000 in coins each year, from dozens of countries
  • Bust of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1932), a bust located at the park's southern border
  • Statue of José Bonifácio de Andrada (1954, dedicated 1955), a standing figure located on a pedestal at the park's southwestern corner
  • Statue of Gertrude Stein (1992), a sitting figure located at the park's southeastern corner
  • Statue of Benito Juárez (2002), a standing figure located on a pedestal at the park's northwestern corner

Other memorials

Nikola Tesla Corner (in front of Bryant Park), W 40th St, Manhattan, New York City (2017-10-16 08.35 by Kazuhisa OTSUBO)
Nikola Tesla Corner

The northwest corner of Bryant Park, at Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street, contains the Heiskell Plaza, a stairway and entrance plaza paved with flagstones. It was placed in 1993 in honor of Andrew Heiskell, a cofounder of the BPC.

The southwest corner of Bryant Park, at Sixth Avenue and 40th Street, is known as Nikola Tesla Corner. Tesla, an inventor, lived in the nearby New Yorker Hotel in his later years, and would feed pigeons in the park. The placement of the sign was due to the efforts of the Croatian Club of New York in cooperation with New York City officials, and Dr. Ljubo Vujovic of the Tesla Memorial Society of New York.

Carousel

Bryant Park Carousel jeh
Le Carrousel designed by Marvin Sylvor

Bryant Park contains a carousel called Le Carrousel Magique, located in the southern section of the park. The carousel was designed by Marvin Sylvor, created by the Fabricon Carousel Company, and installed in 2002. The company was selected after a carousel installation in Bryant Park was approved in 1997. The carousel has a diameter of 22 feet (6.7 m), weighs 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg), and contains 14 animal casts, of which 12 are capable of moving vertically. In keeping with the French theme of the park, it plays French music. It underwent a restoration in 2009. The carousel also has a ticket booth, measuring 7 feet (2.1 m) tall and 4 feet (1.2 m) wide, which was constructed in 1928 and was relocated from Paragon Park in Hull, Massachusetts. As of August 2019 each ride costs $3, and a 10-ride ticket costs $20.

Restrooms

Bryant Park contains a Beaux-Arts granite restroom structure on the northern border, along 42nd Street. There are two facilities, one for men and women, both of which are 315 square feet (29.3 m2). These were built in 1911 along with the NYPL Main Branch, but due to the park's landmark status, they cannot be expanded. The exterior of each building contains a frieze with garland motifs. After being closed in the mid-1960s, they were restored by Kupiec & Koutsomitis and reopened in 1992. The restrooms have been described as being among the city's best. A subsequent renovation in 2006 solidified their status as, in the words of then-New York City Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, "the gold standard for park comfort stations." The restrooms were renovated again in 2017. Following the 2017 renovation, the restrooms contained rotating artworks selected from a collection of 225 works, as well as fresh flowers, classical music, attendants, and automatic toilets and faucets.

The original Reading Room was founded in August 1935 to entertain unemployed workers during the Great Depression. Started as an initiative by the New York Public Library, the Reading Room provided the jobless with a place to interact and share ideas without having to pay money or show identification. Despite this, the library was well-used, being used by 50,000 people by its first anniversary. Theft was low, with only 34 publications being lost in the library's first year. By its third year, 400 books and 1,000 magazines were in circulation and were being perused by 70,000 people per year. Books from the NYPL, and donations of magazines and trade publications from publishers, contributed to the success of the open-air library. The tradition of Reading Rooms halted in 1944 due to a staff shortage during World War II.

The Reading Room tradition was revived in 2003 with HSBC as its first sponsor. Oxford University Press, Scholastic Corporation, Mitchell's NY, Condé Nast Publications, Time Inc., Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., and Rodale, Inc. were among the companies who donated books and publications. In addition to the complimentary reading materials, in 2004 programming was added to Reading Room's content. The Reading Room features readings and book sales by contemporary writers and poets, plus book-related special events such as book clubs, writers workshops and storytelling for kids.

Bank of America Winter Village

BofA Winter Village at Bryant Park
The Rink at Bank of America Winter Village, with seasonal Christmas tree and the rear of the main building of the New York Public Library in the background

Modeled on Europe's Christkindlmarkt, in 2002 Bryant Park introduced the Holiday Shops in an effort to liven up the park space during the winter. Initially slow to gain traction, the Holiday Shops became a fixture of the Manhattan holiday scene in 2005 by expanding into an all-encompassing seasonal destination with the addition of New York's only free-admission ice skating rink. The Shops also include a Norway Spruce tree, as well as a standalone dining and event space.

Sponsored by Bank of America, Winter Village can be set up within two weeks. It has transformed the park into a year-round destination. In September 2016, Bryant Park Corporation announced market makers Urbanspace as the new operator for the Holiday Shops, which grew from 80 boutiques in 2002 to over 170 in 2018. In 2018, Urbanspace also took over management of the rinkside eatery, rebranding it as The Lodge.

Programming

Anna Sui Fall-Winter 2010 267
A model walks the runway at the Anna Sui show in Bryant Park, 2010

Numerous events are hosted on the lawn at Bryant Park. Bryant Park Movie Nights, begun in the early 1990s, take place on Monday evenings during the summer. Various free musical performances are sponsored by corporations during months with warm weather, including Broadway in Bryant Park, sponsored by iHeartMedia and featuring performers from current Broadway musicals, integrated with content provided by event sponsors.

The park has various activity areas open all day long, including board games, chess and backgammon, a putting green and Kubb area, an Art Cart, ping pong tables, and Petanque courts. The parks also offer free classes in juggling, yoga, tai chi, and knitting. In the 40th Street plaza of the park, there is a station called Bryant Park Games where visitors can borrow an array of games, including Chinese chess and quoits. In addition, chess and table tennis can also be played at Bryant Park.

Food and drink are served at four park-operated concessionary kiosks. There are two additional kiosks on Fifth Avenue, bringing the total of concessionaires near Bryant Park to six.

Former programming

Formerly, Bryant Park hosted New York Fashion Week (NYFW) shows, which took over the park for two weeks in the winter and late summer each year. NYFW, which moved to Bryant Park in 1993, was forced to set fees for its shows after Manhattan Community Board 5 disapproved of a free fashion show on the grounds that three-fourths of profits would go to BPC and only one-fourth to NYC Parks. Dan Biederman of the BPC had called the profits from NYFW "a million dollars I would happily do without," and lamented the fact that NYFW took over the park at two high-traffic periods: late summer and late winter. NYFW moved from Bryant Park in 2010 after disagreements with the BPC.

Landmark designations

Bryant Park and the New York Public Library Main Branch were jointly listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) in 1966. Its listing on the NRHP is distinct from the "New York Public Library" on the same day, which covered just the main branch building. In addition, in 1974, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the park as an official scenic landmark.

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