Central Park’s arches aren’t just a peripheral part of the park’s architecture; they’re a foundation of the park’s design. Whenever an arch has been removed, so too was a piece of the park’s history and character. The Central Park Arch project believes that restoring these arches will not only improve the safety of Central Park’s roadways, but provide a vital step in reclaiming and celebrating the park’s historical and architectural significance.
Speak up for a safer Central Park where bicyclists and pedestrians don’t have to compete for the street. Sign our petition to make Central Park arches, separating pedestrian and bicyclist traffic at its busiest intersections, a reality.
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park’s master architects, used arches not only as a safety measure (to separate what was at that time the bridle path from pedestrian crossings), but as an aesthetic tool to create a cohesive green space: keeping pedestrians immersed in the park’s surroundings while cleverly hiding bustling roadways on another plane.
Olmsted and Vaux won the right to design Central Park through a design competition. While other designers segmented the park leaving pedestrians to cross through what would become a busy thoroughfare, Olmsted and Vaux’s plan lowered the roads below the grade of the surface.
Our instructions call for four transverse roads… Inevitably they will be crowded thoroughfares, having nothing in common with the park proper… They must be constantly open to all legitimate traffic of the city… ladies and invalids will need special police escort for crossing them; as they do in lower Broadway.
In the plan herewith offered to the Commission, each of the transverse roads is intended to be sunk so far below the general surface that the park drive may, at necessary point of intersection, be carried entirely over it, without any obvious elevation or divergence from their most attractive routes… a little judicious planting on the tops or slopes of the banks above the walls will, in most cases, entirely conceal both the roads and the vehicles moving in them, from the view of those walking or driving in the park.
– Frederick Law Olmsted
The board that chose the winners of the design competition was so impressed by this idea that they instructed Olmsted and Vaux to extend the concept to all of the park’s pathways so that roads for carriages, foot traffic, and riders on horseback could co-exist within Central Park’s borders without ever crossing. This request is what prompted the implementation of Calvert Vaux’s beautiful archways and land bridges.Today more than thirty of these structures make it easy and safe for pedestrians to cross the park’s fast-paced roads.
Unfortunately, some of Central Park’s original and most beautiful arches were destroyed during the tenure of Robert Moses, who served as Parks Commissioner in the early 20th Century, during a time of staunch but misguided automobile advocacy. In both constructing new features and redesigning roads, Central Park had lost several of its most beautiful arches. The Central Park Arch project believes these arches could be used as an example for future safety measures as we come to realize that these arches not only made the park safe, but a more architecturally significant space.
Marble Arch originally crossed under the drive between Central Park Mall (which leads to Bethesda Terrace) and Wollman Rink (as well as The Dairy), allowing pedestrians to avoid carriage traffic above. It was unnecessarily destroyed in 1938, when Robert Moses revised roadways to make them friendlier to automobiles.
Marble Arch was so named because it was the only arch in Central Park built out of marble and was considered by journalist Clarence Cook “one of the pleasantest and most elegantly built of all these cool places for rest and refreshment.” It featured a drinking fountain, a semicircular pergola, and continuous marble benches that exemplified its dual use as both an object of safety and a place of leisure, respite and quiet contemplation.
There are various plans and photographs of this once magnificent arch in existence. There’s also significant evidence that suggests elements of this arch still remain intact underground.
Today pedestrians, carriages, vehicles, and bicycles regularly pass through the crowded streets without regard for the traffic light that crudely replaced Marble Arch. According to a recent study by the NYC Department of Transportation, this is one of the most common areas in the park for collisions to occur.
The Central Park Arch projects believes an archaeological study is necessary in order to determine the feasibility of restoring this once magnificent arch and again making it a place of prominence, leisure and safety within Central Park.
Oval Arch, originally went over a crossing near 61st street at what would be 7th Ave. Robert Moses demolished this arch and pulled out the bridal trail that lay below it when he needed additional space to refashion a nearby informal sports and leisure area called The Playground into the Heckscher Ballfields. Pedestrians once crossed over the top of this arch to avoid riders on horseback on the trail below. The arch was a masterful example of Gothic Revival architecture. There are numerous crossings in the park that would benefit from a reconstruction of Oval Arch.
Olmsted and Vaux were hired to add Outset Arch to Central Park in 1873. Vaux designed a spectacular structure with an ornate cast iron base set in a mosaic of stone. The bridges railing was even more impressive, made of slender twisting spandrels. Outset Arch previously separated the carriage and horse trails in the southeast section of Central Park but was demolished by Robert Moses when he expanded the zoo.
Outset Arch could easily be reconstructed using drawings which exist at The Municipal Archives. The arch could be retrofitted to replace a pedestrian crosswalk between Sheep Meadow and Tavern on the Green. In 2014, an accident at this intersection fatally injured 57 year old Jill Tarlov. CBS News reported that the traffic signals at this busy crossing are often neglected by vehicles and pedestrians alike. Outset Arch’s flat nature would make it ideal for this area. It could even serve as an iconic finish line for New York City Marathon which ends here annually.