Discovering Central Park South's Monument Row
International Tour Guides Day,
New York, Feb.21
Tuesday, Feb.21, was designated as International Tour Guides Day. Sponsored by NYC & Co., the official NYC agency for tourism and supported by GANYC, the official tour guides association of NYC, a bevy of tours took place under the guise of more than a dozen licensed NYC guides who participated in this full day program to a large attending public, free-of-charge.
All precincts of the city were covered, particularly the borough of Manhattan, the city’s main artery for tourism.
In 2011 over 50 million visitors were recorded according to NYC& Co.
As a member of GANYC I led a group of consummate New Yorkers who had inquired about the monuments of Central Park since some of those participating had only a cursory knowledge of them. I obliged and in the short time I had on my clock that morning I endeavored to provide a collage of interesting anecdotes behind the monuments on Central Park South.
My first intro was on the venerable Plaza Hotel. I explained. Built in 1907 it was designed as a French. Chateau. The architect was Henry Hardenberg who designed the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West as well as the Copley Plaza in Boston, MA. Today the Plaza stands as the only hotel property listed in NYC as a landmark under the National Registry of historic places.
At this point an intro to the park itself was appropriate I thought.Central Park was first opened in 1858.
Frederick Law Olmsted was its first commissioner. Calvert Vaux was its first architect. It spanned 2 1/2 miles from West 59th Street to 110th Street. The concept was to provide a healthful experience for “proper” New Yorkers at first but eventually the park opened to a general public. Interestingly, the park’s zoo is considered the first municipal zoo in the U.S. Under Parks Commissioner Robert Moses who served the city in a dozen capacities from 1924-’68, and who was credited with the construction of 658 playgrounds, 13 bridges, 416 miles of parkways, and various public housing projects, and together with architect Aymar Embury, Central Park expanded to accommodate an exploding public and subsequently became an international attraction. Today it’s under the guidance of the Central Park Conservancy, a quasi public-private trust.
Monument Row on Central Park South offers a unique run on American history through the 19th and 20th centuries. The first monument in Central Park South is that of Gen. Wm.Tecumseh Sherman, a respected military leader of the American Civil War. It construction in 1903 was the work of Auguste Saint-Gaudens, an American, who learned his craft both in the U.S. and in Paris. It stands in the Grand Army Plaza of the park on one of the park’s main entrances on the corner of West 59th Street and CPS. The statue is abounded by the “Pulitzer Fountain”, the work of Karl Bitter and sculptor Attilio Piccirilli, the principal sculptor of the “Maine Monument” and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A trio of Latin-American leaders are housed in the Plaza of the Americas, a short walk west of the Sherman monument. The first monument at that location is that of Simon Bolivar, the liberator of Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Panama. It was a gift of the Venezuelan government and was dedicated in 1921.The sculptor was Sally James Farnham. It sits in Bolivar Plaza. Warren G. Harding presided at the opening ceremonies at the time. The intent was to provide a harmonious relationship between the governing states of the Americas.
The second statue of this trio is that of Argentine general Jose de San Martin. It is a replica of a work by French sculptor Louis Joseph Dumas. It was dedicated on May 25, 1951. San Martin is acknowledged for his military victories in Argentina, Chile and Peru. In 1950, the City of Buenos Aires offered the statue to the City of New York in exchange for a statue of Gen. George Washington for whom both men have been favorably compared.
Following San Martin stands the statue of Cuban leader Jose Marti which was completed in 1959 and unveiled in 1965 due to the discord between the U.S. and Cuba at that time. It’s the work of Ann Vaughn Huntington, an American sculptor. The statue was presented to the Cuban government from the people of New York as a symbolic gesture of peace and understanding. Marti is recognized for his labors to liberate Cuba from the dominance of Spain. He was killed by gunshot in the battle of Dos Rios in Cuba in 1895. He is the only non military leader of the three.
The trio of monuments stands at the intersection of Central Park South and West 59th Street and the Avenue of the America’s, the brainchild of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The avenue was renamed to celebrate Pan-Americanism, in an effort to promote a spirit of democracy between the U.S. and the countries of South and Central America.
The last statue to the west of Bolivar Plaza at the intersection of Central Park South on West 59th Street and Broadway is the “Maine” monument, a tribute to men who lost their lives on the battleship Maine in Havana Harbor, 1896. It was inspired by Wm. Randolph Hearst, Jr., the publisher of the Hearst newspaper chain in the U.S., as a cause of war which was later refuted by his peers in Congress. The effect of the “Maine” monument was a cry-to-arms which in fact resulted in the U.S. participation in the war with Spain over the last remaining colonies of that government in both the Pacific and in the Caribbean. The war’s end enabled Cuba to become independent with Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines becoming U.S. possessions. The statue actually represents the U.S. as an emerging global power both on land and in the seas. The expressions on the monuments have a Roman theme, one of peace and of prosperity, however. It is the work of Italian sculptor Attilio Piccirilli who together with his brothers created the “Patience” and “Prudence” lions at the foot of the New York Public Library. The monument was dedicated “In Memorium, 1913.”
The statue of Cristoforo Colombo is the final statue bordering Central Park South at Columbus Circle on West 59th Street and Central Park West. It was the work of Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo in 1892, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Americas by the Venetian explorer, Christopher Columbus, a gift of the Italian people to the City of New York. Carlo Bersotti, the Editor & Publisher of the Il Progresso Italo-Americano newspaper, perhaps the largest circulating foreign publication at that time was the founding light to the construction of the statue which stands 70′.The three ships of Columbus’s fleet, The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, are posited on the statue with the phrases scripted to read:
” Genius of Geography”, and “Genius of Discovery.” The statue is further enhanced by a bronze relief of the shields of the City of Genoa, the birthplace of Columbus and the U.S.
The fountains in the plaza were designed by Douglas Leigh, however. The decorative fence surrounding the monument was made possible by a donation of the Delacorte Foundation in 1960. Both the circle and the statue have since been renovated to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyages in 1992.
There are a total more than 40 monuments, statues and historical markers in Central Park to date.
For more inf on Central Park please contact the Central Park Conservancy at: 212-310.6600 or Central Park at: www.centralparknyc.org
Michael Zufolo reporting