A research trip to the New York Public Library brought me to Bryant Park last Saturday morning. A friend of mine in Southern California who is working on a book hired me to dig up a newspaper article from 1969. Three hours of scrolling through microfilm of the New York Post and New York Daily News in Room 100 of the Schwarzman Building proved fruitless. But arriving at the library before its 10 a.m. opening offered the opportunity to enjoy Bryant Park and shoot some images while the sun was still low and the crowds still light.
This 9.6-acre space in Midtown has a long and varied history. It has served as a potter’s field (yes, a burial ground), a distributing reservoir with 50-foot high walls (the tops of which formed a promenade), a Crystal Palace Exhibition and an encampment for Union troops during the Civil War. Read more about Bryant Park’s history here.
In 1884, the park was named after longtime New York Evening Post editor and civic reformer William Cullen Bryant. Since then, its fate has fallen and risen, reaching a low point in the 1970s, when few people ventured beyond its raised hedges (hard to believe when you see the park now). The story of the park’s revival is a fascinating one, largely the brainchild of urbanist William H. Whyte. The Project for Public Spaces, an organization that builds on the ideas of William H. Whyte, tells an abbreviated version of the park’s restoration:
Bryant Park was rebuilt in 1934 under the direction of Robert Moses, Commissioner of the New York City Parks Department. Because of the stacks of the library located beneath it, The park was raised above the surrounding busy streets and conceived of as an “urban sanctuary.” However, this design created isolation —and invited crime. The park grew to become a haven for drug dealing and other negative activities. After analysis by urbanologist William H. Whyte and Project for Public Spaces in 1981—their report was titled Intimidation or Recreation—a plan for Bryant Park’s reconstruction was developed. It addressed issues such as opening the park’s constricted entrances and removing hedges along its perimeter so that people could more easily view the interior from the sidewalk, and adding semi-commercial uses such as a food and beverage kiosks and a ticket stand. While construction began in 1982, it was not completed until ten years later.
With Whyte’s signature amenities, like movable chairs, concession stands and clean comfort stations, as well as easy physical and visual access to the city blocks around it, Bryant Park now draws visitors at all hours of the day and night, regardless of the weather or season. (I’m actually more familiar with the park in the Winter, when it’s decked out with an ice skating rink, Christmas tree and scores of vendors—and the Southwest Porch serves drinks around a large, warm fire pit.)
But back to Spring. Below are some shots from last Saturday, from tulips to bocce ball to charging stations for mobile devices …