Photo Courtesy Bryant Park Photo Archive
It was 1686 and she was just another piece of land, in the wilderness of a city that was on a long evolving journey. It was now, that the city’s colonial governor, Thomas Dongan, designated the area as a public space.
Since that day, she has been the very grounds on which George Washington’s troops galloped their way, while retreating from the Battle of Long Island in 1776; the potter field for the poor, up until 1840; and in 1847 she was first declared a park site and named Reservoir Square.
Croton Distributing Reservoir
Named after her neighbor Croton Distributing Reservoir, officials who drew inspirations from the success of the Crystal Palace exhibition in Hyde Park, London, wanted to replicate the same type of building on the plush grounds of Reservoir Square. Built in all glass and metal, the structure remained until 1858, before it burned down. The dome shaped roof, that was 100 feet in diameter, featured exhibits of thousands of artists, including mineral resources and even the display of the largest crocodile ever captured. One of the highlights of the Crystal Palace was when the then President of the United States delivered his speech at the opening ceremony on July 4th, 1853.
The octagon shaped Latting Observatory built next to the Crystal Palace, made of all iron and wood was the tallest structure at the time of its construction - little did they picture Manhattan’s soaring skyline that stands today. It was at this time that tourism in the city was at its all time high, crossing over a million visitors.
Latting Observatory on the left
Once these mammoth structures at the time got burned down, her green expanses served as an encampment for the Union Army Troops, and have been witness to several riots that gripped the city in 1863.
It was not until 1884, that she was christened “Bryant Park” - in honor of the then deceased romantic poet, editor of the New York Evening Post, and civic reformer - William Cullen Bryant. The dream of enjoying the beauty of her sprawling gardens, was shunned for several years due to the construction of the Subway line along 42nd street.
She had seen it all, the rise and fall of structures, the design and redesign of her yard space, and eventually her beauty came to life, thanks to the design of architect Lusby Simpson, her sprawling space, complete with a large central lawn, formal pathways, stone balustrades, allées of London Plane trees, and at the west end, and an oval plaza containing the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain.
Lubsy Simpson Design Of Bryant Park
Since then, she has had to face periods of total disregard for her beauty, until 1974 when the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated as the space as a Scenic Landmark, describing it as “a prime example of a park designed in the French Classical tradition… an urban amenity worthy of our civic pride.”
The 1990’s was a good time for her, more people visited and enjoyed her beauty, office goers enjoyed her peaceful environs at lunchtime, and by 1992 the park initiated historic tours, free summer concerts, and since then have added tons of events and activities - to keep the crowds coming in, thus helping them generate revenues to help retain her everlasting beauty.
Today she is an oasis of peace and calm amidst the towering skyscrapers that surround her. A haven for New Yorkers to walk in and unwind after a hard days of work, and in the summer the park has a plethora of events to cater to the multitude of people and their passion. Her garden blooming with the seasons brightest blossoms, is the perfect spot to catch up with friends, read a book at the reading room (an open air library), play a game of Pétanque (the French game of “boules” - which is French for balls), a round of Chess maybe (?), an afternoon playing traditional games like Quoits and Chinese Chess, a round of golf or Kubb - a game hailing from Scandinavia at “The Green”, or a game of Ping Pong. This is just a trailer of the few things you can do in the park, apart from the numerous events that happen all through summer.
Speaking of summer events - a visit to the park is sure to keep you entertained and energetic, beginning from a “Birds in Bryant Park Tour”, enjoy your lunch as you enjoy live performances of the most popular Broadway Shows in town at “Broadway in Bryant Park”, curious to learn how to play those interesting games (?) - then the Bryant Park Games Clinic is just for you.
Birds in Bryant Park
Juggling the work-life balance can get mundane sometimes, how about trying your hand at juggling classes at the park? Unwind after your whirlwind weekday enjoying the “Music after work” event that features a new band every week, or listening to enjoying Jazz and Classical Music Artists. We know you are enjoying the summer - but how about getting “Knitty” at the park and learn the delicate skill of knitting, so you can adorn your masterpiece for the winter? Get fit this summer with “Bryant Park Moves”,Tai Chi, or Yoga. Looking to do something new this summer, how about learning the ropes around “Fly Fishing” at the park, or brushing up on your French/Japanese/Spanish? Your can wrap up your long summer day with the “HBO Bryant Park Summer Film Festival” featuring old classics every week at 9pm on the Lawn.
With Bryant Park's illustrious history and a ton of things to do in the park this summer - its time to step out in the sun and enjoy all the free events at Bryant Park!