Hearing held on designation of Morningside Park

This buttressed retaining wall is a prominent feature of Morningside Park. Photo:Morgan Kunz.

If designated, the park would be the City’s first new scenic landmark in over 20 years. On April 10, 2007, Landmarks held a public hearing on the proposed designation of Morningside Park as a scenic landmark. If designated the park would be the City’s tenth scenic landmark and the first since 1983.

Resting on steep cliffs separating Morningside Heights from Harlem, the nearly 30-acre park is bound by West 110th and West 123rd Streets, Morningside Drive, and Manhattan and Morningside Avenues. Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the park in 1873, but Parks rejected their plan. In 1880, Jacob Wrey Mould reworked the Olmsted and Vaux plan, and construction finally began in 1883. When Mould died in 1886, Parks hired Olmsted and Vaux to finish the project. Several speakers at the hearing recalled Samuel Parsons Jr., Parks Superintendent when the project was completed, as writing “perhaps Morningside Park was the most consummate piece of art that [Vaux] ever created.”

The western side of the park is dominated by a massive buttressed masonry retaining wall with parapet, overlook bays and staircases descending the steep cliffs. Sport fields, paths, a pond and rolling meadows make up the remaining acreage. Two paths traverse the north south span.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe spoke in strong support of the designation. Benepe noted that Parks had been interested in this designation for years, and explained how close the City came to losing a portion of the park in 1968 when Columbia University started its proposal to build a large gymnasium in the middle of the park. With the excavation underway, the community united and successfully stopped construction. The excavation, however, left a large crater in the park that remained empty until 1989 when Parks converted it into an ornamental pond with an artificial waterfall. Benepe applauded the community and the City for their efforts to improve the park in recent years.

Suki Terada Ports, a community activist who has lived across from the park for the past 36 years, told the story of how she and a small group of community members broke into Columbia’s construction site one night to lay in front of the bulldozers. Their protest made the evening news, and soon hundreds of Columbia students took to the streets in protest of the project. Columbia finally withdrew its plans.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, State Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, and Congressman Charles Rangel all sent representatives to voice their support for the designation. No speakers opposed.

Landmarks has not set a date to vote on the designation.

LPC: Morningside Park (LP-2254) (April 10, 2007).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.