Central Park Police Precinct
The oldest police precinct in the city operates out of an 1871 building designed by
Jacob Wrey Mould,
originally as a horse stable.
The Great Lawn
Before Central Park was chosen as the site of Manhattan's main park, this was the site of the
York Hill Receiving Reservoir, the endpoint of the Croton Aqueduct, opened in 1842, which supplied
New York City with a reliable supply of clean water. From the huge rectangular structure here, water
went down to the Distributing Reservoir where Bryant Park and the main library building are today.
York Hill was the name of a community of free African-Americans displaced by the creation of the
reservoir. They moved to the nearby Seneca Village—from which they were again evicted for the creation of
Olmsted and Vaux hated the rectlinear, utilitarian imposition in the center of their park, and did
their best to disguise it with plantings. With the opening of Water Tunnel 1 in 1917, the Receiving
Reservoir was no longer needed, and it taken out of commission in 1931, and filled in with rubble from
the construction of Rockefeller Center and the 8th Avenue subway line. The walls were torn down, though some
fragments remain—for example, marking the end of the parking lot by the 86th Street Shops, a Parks
Department service area.
There were numerous ideas as to what to do with the new space, which soon became a Hooverville—a
shantytown for people made homeless by the Great Depression (as depicted in an episode of Doctor Who).
Suggestions included a vast formal garden, a World War I memorial, a "subterranean playground,"
a giant swimming pool, an airport, an opera house, a sports arena and a parking garage. After much wrangling,
it was decided that a lush lawn would be most in keeping
with Olmsted and Vaux's vision of a bucolic park—but demand for recreational facilities led to
the installation of permanent baseball diamonds in 1950.
The lawn became one of New York City's main gathering places, hosting a 1980 concert by Elton John that drew
300,000, a 1981 Simon/Garfunkel reunion that brought 500,000, and two Diana Ross shows in 1983 that
brought a total of 1.2 million. The anti-nuclear rally here in 1982 may have been the biggest political
protest in US history, with as many as 1 million participants. Other notable events include a 1995 mass
by Pope John Paul with 125,000 worshipers, and the premier of Disney's Pocahontas that same year
that was seen by 100,000 viewers. All these visitors took a cumulative toll on the lawn; in 2005,
after extensive rehabilitation efforts, a ban was put on events here with more than 50,000 attendees.
Carl Conrads' statue of Hamilton (1757-1804), the New York lawyer who served as Washington's Treasury secretary and
helped get the Constitution ratified before becoming a Broadway star more than 200 years later, was
donated to the Park in 1880 by John Hamilton, the fifth Hamilton's eight children. Eleven years old
at the time of his father's death, John
recalled his father
uncharacteristically asking him with uncharacteristic tenderness to sleep in his bed the night before his
fatal duel with Aaron Burr.
The body of
Jennifer Levin, perhaps Central Park's best-remembered murder victim, was found on the lawn
behind the Met on August 26, 1986. Robert Chambers, the "Preppie Killer" who strangled her to death,
spent 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.
Affectionately known as Cleopatra's Needle, this 69-foot, 220-ton monolith is the oldest human-made object
in Central Park, or anywhere outdoors in New York City, having been erected about 1450 BCE in Heliopolis,
Egypt, to commemorate
the 30th year of the reign of Pharaoh
Thutmose III (1481-1425 BCE). (This makes it more that 14 centuries older than the
Temple of Dendur in the Met.) Thutmose, the stepson of the famous female Pharoah Hatshepsut, was a
successful general who expanded the Egyptian Empire from Syria to Nubia. He was the great-great-grandfather
of Akhenaten, credited with the invention of monotheism, and great-great-great-grandfather to King Tut.
It was moved in 12 BCE to the Caesareum in Alexandria, a temple erected by Cleopatra in honor of
her late lover Julius Caesar—but by that time, Cleopatra was also dead, and the temple rededicated
by Augustus in his own honor. Not long after, the pillar was toppled and buried, preserving it for its
rediscovery in the 19th century.
A twin of this monument, with the same history, also nicknamed Cleopatra's Needle,
was acquired by Britain in 1877; this aroused
US interest in getting a souvenir of our own. The Ottoman ruler of Egypt, Mehmet Ali Pasha, gave the
archaelogical relic to the US consul general as a gift in 1877; railroad magnate William Vanderbilt
donated $100,000 to have it shipped to New York. After many machinations, it was installed here in 1881.
The metal crabs at its base are copies of the ones Augustus made to shore up the pillar's crumbling
foundation; the originals are on display at the Met.
This body of water was not part of Olmsted's original park design, but was added in the
1930s to provide drainage for the Great Lawn. Originally called Lake Belvedere, after the Belvedere Castle
that overlooks it from the south, it was renamed in 1987 in honor of its reptilian denizens,
mostly red-eared sliders descended from pets that outgrew their pens and were released into the park
(though there are several other species of turtle in the pond, including snappers).
An imposing statue of Jogaila (1362-1434), the grand duke of Lithuania who married Jadwiga,
queen of Poland, unifying their realms for more than four centuries. (As king of Poland, he was known as Jagiello, the
name that appears on this monument.) As a condition of the marriage, Jagaila converted to
Christianity, bringing to an end the last pagan dynasty of Europe.
Jogaila led the Polish/Lithuanian forces against the Teutonic Knights, decisively
defeating them at the Battle of Grunwald in 1410. Before the battle, the Knights' grand master challenged him
by sending him a gift of two swords; after the victory, the Grunwald Swords became a symbol of defiance and the
union of the two peoples.
Jogaila's resistance to Germanic expansion was no doubt on the mind of the Polish government
when they chose this statue (a copy of one in Warsaw by sculptor Stanislaw K. Ostrowski) to stand in front of the Polish pavilion
at the 1939 World's Fair in Queens. Later that year, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and melted down Warsaw's
Jagiello for bullets. The Polish government in exile donated this version to New York City, which installed
it here in July 1945.