1 - The Belvedere in Central Park: Adapting to Change, Preserving Purpose
Monday, September 24
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM
Location: BNCC- 101AH
Easily the most familiar architectural feature of New York’s City’s world-famous and landmarked park, the miniature castle known as the Belvedere was conceived as an open-air folly, serving solely as a lookout tower. “Belvedere” literally translates from Italian as “beautiful view,” and Central Park’s was sited on some of the highest ground in the park, on a large rock outcropping at the corner of the old Croton Reservoir. The smaller of two receiving reservoirs within the limits of the original park, that 31-acre rectangular structure was demolished in the early 1930s and redeveloped as parkland. While the views and surrounding context are thus dramatically altered from what they were at the time of construction, the Belvedere’s essential purpose and value is the same today as it was upon its completion in 1871; restoring it consistent with that purpose and expanding access to the essential experience it offers is the guiding principle of the Belvedere’s preservation.
Over the course of its 150-year history, significant changes to the Belvedere’s original use and context were accompanied by related modifications to the original structure and park circulation connecting to it. Chief among these was the conversion of the castle for use as a U.S. Weather Bureau station in 1919, and construction of the Great Lawn, Belvedere Lake, and related park circulation on the site of the old Croton Reservoir in 1936.
By the early 1980s, having been shuttered and severely vandalized for two decades, the Belvedere was reopened as a visitor center following an early restoration project by the newly-formed Central Park Conservancy. The scope and design of that project reflected certain limitations, including budgetary constraints, operational considerations, and technical limitations of that period. Subsequent work, including a comprehensive core and shell restoration currently underway, has built on and improve aspects of the initial restoration in the context of evolving park use and management, advancements in construction practices and technology, continued research, and a more indepth understanding of the history of the site. Additionally, plans in development to create an ADA-accessible route to as the next phase of the current project reflect contemporary expectations and standards for accessibility in a park that was meant to be open and inviting to all.
The Belvedere as a case study illustrates how Conservancy’s role in the stewardship of the Park provides an opportunity to approach preservation as an ongoing relationship to the historic resource, revisiting and refining projects over the course of decades, and benefiting from the experience and perspective of sustained involvement and connection to the resource. A review of projects over the last 30 years will highlight lessons learned and insights earned through this approach.