Morningside Park sits in a steep and rocky area of the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
About Morningside Park
Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux bookend the laborious development history of New York City’s Morningside Park, with planning and construction spanning more than two decades.
The idea for a park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was spurred by the success of nearby Central Park and the limitations of the area’s steep and difficult terrain. Years later, in 1870, the city set aside over 30-acres of land and began soliciting designs for the space.
In 1873, Olmsted and Vaux submitted their proposal. The plan was rejected, and the project stalled. Seven years later, in 1880, Jacob Wrey Mould was hired to improve upon Olmsted and Vaux’s original proposal. Mould designed the promenade and buttressed masonry wall along Morningside Drive before passing away in 1886.
In Mould’s absence, Olmsted and Vaux returned to the site— fourteen years after submitting their plan— to continue work on the park. They produced a second plan in 1887 to accommodate changes, such as the addition of elevated train tracks on 110th Street. The architects planted vegetation tolerant of the site’s dry, rocky soil and created two paths— one board and one meandering— to cross the lower portion of the park.
The park was completed in 1895, a few months before Vaux drowned. Morningside Park is remembered as his last and one of his greatest projects. New York City Parks Superintendent Samuel Parsons, Jr. wrote, “…perhaps Morningside Park was the most consummate piece of art that he had ever created.”
Over time the park has continued to evolve through the addition of monuments, playgrounds and recreational spaces. In 1968, student and community protesters quashed Columbia University’s attempt to construct a gymnasium in the park, and in 1990, the excavated foundation was converted into a pond and waterfall. The park was designated a Scenic Landmark of New York City in 2008.
Today, and for the past 40 years, Friends of Morningside Park has stewarded the landscape, soliciting a Master Plan in 2000 and leading capital improvement projects. The organization recently announced a new partnership with NYCParks and Columbia University to study toxic pond algae and restore the aforementioned waterfall.
Learn more about the history of Morningside Park— and see more historic photos— here.
120th Street and Morningside Avenue from 1905 by New York Historical Society.
Carl Schurz Memorial in 1914 by Museum of the City of New York.
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