Central Park plan by John Rink. Click to enlarge.

In 1857, the city held a contest for the design of a massive park called Central Park. The winner got $2,000, about enough to afford a month of rent in a studio apartment today. There were 33 entries in the contest, and the city chose one by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux that has clearly stood the test of time.

But Central Park could have been vastly different had the city gone a different way. Most of the proposed designs have been lost to time, but five remain, according to The New-York Historical Society. Two of those designs are on display at the museum. The one above is by and features all sorts of sculpted topiaries

“One was designed by John Rink, whose design favored symmetry and formal gardens over the open, flowing design of Olmsted and Vaux. The formal gardens are designated by their shapes, like the Star Ground and Spiral Ground, and roads and entrance gates are named after United States presidents and patriots,” according to the historical society’s Behind the Scenes blog. Maybe not the easiest place to  play softball, but then again softball hadn’t been invented yet. And imagine all the romantic moments amid the topiaries.

Another design, by George Waring, would have left the park in a more natural state, which would have made it difficult to cross. Go to the historical society on 77th and Central Park West to see them in person.


HISTORY, NEWS, OUTDOORS | 3 comments | permalink
    1. LorenzoStDuBois says:


      Man, did we ever dodge a bullet there. I’ve been to continental Europe, and while the geometric layouts to their parks do inspire a certain aesthetic feeling of pleasure, God do they get dull quickly.

    2. Cato says:

      Don’t sell the design by John Rink too short. After all, his invention of ice skating, and the arena devoted to it, have nicely stood the test of time.

    3. Howard Freeman says:

      I’ll be interested to see what the Conservancy does with some of the Paulson gift of last year, designated to the restoration of the north part of the park. The waterfalls alone are a surprise to most who have never been up there.

      (Doubt these waterfalls would have been left in their natural state in Rink’s plan, no?)