Riverside Park (Manhattan) in New York City
Riverside Park is a scenic waterfront public park on the Upper West Side of the borough of Manhattan in New York City, operated and maintained by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The park consists of a narrow four-mile (6 km) strip of land between the Hudson River and the gently curving rise-and-fall of Riverside Drive. When the park was first laid out, access to the river was blocked by the right-of-way of the New York Central Railroad West Side Line; later it was covered over with an esplanade lined with honey-locusts. Riverside Park also contains part of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway which encircles Manhattan's waterfronts, with car-free bike routes.
Frederick Law Olmsted
The 191 acre of land which form the original area of the Park (from 72nd – 125th Street) were undeveloped prior to construction of the Hudson River Railroad, built in 1846 to connect New York City to Albany. The first proposal to convert the riverside precipice into a park was contained in a pamphlet written by William R. Martin, a parks commissioner, in 1865. In 1866, a bill introduced into the Legislature by commissioner Andrew Green was approved, the first segment of park was acquired through condemnation in 1872, and construction began.
The conceptual plan for a new park and road was drawn by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of the nearby Central Park. Subsequently, a series of designers set out to devise the new landscape, incorporating Olmsted’s idea of a park with a tree-lined drive curving around the valleys and rock outcroppings and overlooking the river. From 1875 to 1910, architects and horticulturalists such as Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons laid out the stretch of park between 72nd and 125th Streets according to the English gardening ideal, creating the appearance that the Park was an extension of the Hudson River Valley. Primary construction was completed in about 1910.
In the 1930s, Robert Moses completed the "Westside Improvement Project" to transform the park, which had become a haven for squatters. Moses's project added new landfill west of the tracks, covered the New York Central rail line, and constructed the Henry Hudson Parkway. The park and the parkway were done so skillfully that the public is generally unaware that the Freedom Tunnel rail tunnel now used by Amtrak is underneath. The project, which cost more than $100 million in the 1930s, was twice as big as the Hoover Dam project.
Moses' biographer Robert Caro envisaged Moses surveying the area before his project, finding:
- "a wasteland six miles (10 km) long, stretching from where he stood all the way north to 181st street...The 'park' was nothing but a vast low-lying mass of dirt and mud. Unpainted, rusting, jagged wire fences along the tracks barred the city from its waterfront...The engines that pulled trains along the tracks burned coal or oil; from their smokestacks a dense black smog rose toward the apartment houses, coating windowsills with grit...[a stench] seemed to hang over Riverside Drive endlessly after each passage of a train carrying south to the slaughterhouses in downtown Manhattan carload after carload of cattle and pigs."
Donald Trump and the Civic Coalition
In the 1980s Donald Trump owned the 57 acre of land just south of Riverside Park that had been the Penn Central freight rail yard. Inspired (or goaded) by six civic groups (Municipal Art Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Yorkers for Parks, Regional Plan Association, Riverside Park Fund, and Westpride), which all opposed his massive development plan, Trump agreed in 1990 to a scaled-down plan that would also expand Riverside Park by 23 acre. This new Riverside Park South, stretching between 72nd and 59th streets, is the central element of the Riverside South development, which even down-scaled is the biggest private real estate venture currently under construction in New York City. Portions of the former rail yard, such as the New York Central Railroad 69th Street Transfer Bridge are incorporated into the new park.
With the addition of Riverside Park South and Hudson River Park, created between Battery Park and 59th Street as part of the 1990s West Side Highway replacement, a continuous waterfront right-of-way for pedestrians and bicyclists now stretches the length of Manhattan from north to south.
The most used sections of Riverside Park are on the tiered slopes between the Hudson and Riverside Drive from 72nd Street to 125th Street. Riverside Park South extends from 72nd to 59th Street on the former Penn Central yard, with an old locomotive on display. Riverside Park South leads to Hudson River Park which goes all the way south to the tip of Manhattan. There is also a northern section of the park from 135th St. to 155th St. and adjacent to Riverbank State Park. Paths along the river connect the park to Hudson River Park to the south and Fort Washington Park to the north. The portion from 181st Street to Dyckman Street, including Inspiration Point, fell into disrepair and disuse in the late 20th century, and was restored at the turn of the century.
Notable monuments and statues in the park include the Eleanor Roosevelt Monument at 72nd Street (Penelope Jencks, sculptor), the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at 89th Street, the Joan of Arc statue at 93rd Street (Anna Hyatt Huntington, sculptor; John V. Van Pelt, architect), and Grant's Tomb, New York's version of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. The numerous recreational facilities include tennis, volleyball and basketball courts; soccer fields, and a skate park that opened in the summer of 1995 at 108th St. There is a marina at 79th Street and also a kayak launch at 148th St. Before the park existed, Edgar Allan Poe liked to sit on rocky "Mount Tom" at 83rd Street.
Riverside Park almost received a children's playground designed by the great poets of Modernist style, the architect Louis Kahn and the sculptor/architect Isamu Noguchi, working in collaboration. Despite their redesigning this playground five times between 1961 and 1966, neighborhood resistance triumphed, and the project was canceled by the new administration of Mayor John Lindsay.
Riverside Park also almost received a monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A granite plaque was set in the paving at the end of the Promenade near 84th St. on October 19, 1947. It reads:
- "This is the site for the American memorial to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Battle April–May 1943 and to the six million Jews of Europe martyred in the cause of human liberty."
The Amiable Child Monument on the slope north of Grant's Tomb commemorates the long-ago death of a beloved child, a small boy who died in what was then an area of country homes near New York City. One side of the monument reads: “Erected to the Memory of an Amiable Child, St. Claire Pollock, Died 15 July 1797 in the Fifth Year of His Age.” The monument is composed of a granite urn on a granite pedestal inside a wrought iron fence. The monument, originally erected by George Pollock, who was either the boy's father or his uncle, has been replaced twice due to deterioration. The monument is thought to be the only single-person private grave on city-owned land in New York City.
Riverside Park is enjoyed by New Yorkers and tourists of all ages. A free season of events (Summer on the Hudson) takes place throughout Riverside Park between May and October and hosts dozens of fun events for all including movies, concerts, and children's shows. The season line up can be found at www.nyc.gov/parks/soh. A bicycle/skating/scootering pathway, part of the Hudson River Greenway, leads from 125th Street to 59th Street. During the spring and the summer, there is also a free kayak rental at the lower tip of the park. Kayaks may be rented only on weekends, weather-permitting. There are also softball/baseball/soccer fields, traveling rings and a skate park. Riverside Park is a getaway from distracting city life, and it is an asset for the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
Riverside Park Fund
Riverside Park is supported by a nonprofit partner organization, the Riverside Park Fund. In the late 1970s, New York City's park system was in bad shape - underfunded and plagued with crime. Out of this period, Riverside Park Fund emerged as a grassroots community organization formed to reclaim the park by establishing community gardens and improving park maintenance. Today, Riverside Park Fund has over 4,000 members and a budget of nearly $2 million, most of which is dedicated to park programs and projects, like gardens, playgrounds, sports fields, monuments and landscaping. Riverside Park Fund's volunteers dedicate over 35,000 hours of service to the park.
In popular culture
- Some scenes in the 1974 cult classic film Death Wish, including the infamous climatic gun battle, were filmed in Riverside Park
- The "Baseball Furies," one of the more memorable street gangs from the 1979 film The Warriors hail from Riverside Park. The park itself featured in two scenes from the film. Once where it was meant to be Van Cortlandt Park, another as the actual park when the Warriors are being chased by the Furies.
- The promenade at 91st Street in the park is where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan meet at the end of the 1998 movie You've Got Mail.
- The Seinfeld episode "The Frogger" revolved around Jerry not wanting to go near a girlfriend's apartment near Riverside Park because of a serial killer named "The Lopper" who killed in the area.
- The Freedom Tunnel: a shelter for the homeless and monument to the beauty of graffiti
- Giuliani (turkey), a wild turkey resident in the park
- New York City Parks and Recreation Dept.
- Riverside Park Fund
- NYC greenways
- Traveling Rings at Riverside Park