7 Walks in 7 Days: The Park That Was Restored to Beauty

Photo by Peter Wright.

By Marjorie Cohen

The second in our 7 Walks in 7 Days around the Upper West Side takes us to a special park.

Theodore Roosevelt Park/West 77th Street to West 81st Street, Central Park West to Columbus

At the end of the 1980s, this lovely park that circles the Museum of Natural History was a barren, dirt- packed, totally neglected space. The hard work and organizing genius of a small group of local residents changed all that. What a difference a few decades have made. Just look at it now–a peaceful, sprawling green oasis in the midst of a once-busy pre-Covid upper west side.

Before the American Museum of Natural History was built in 1874 on the site of the park — then called Manhattan Square — the city fathers considered using the land to build either a zoo or a botanical garden. The earliest version of the museum had been temporarily housed in what is now the Parks Department headquarters, the Arsenal at 64th Street and 5th Avenue in Central Park.

These days the park’s trees and flowers and lawns are lovingly tended by its Horticulture Director, Ada Ubinas, with the help (again pre-Covid) of GreenLife interns from the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers. Recently the Parks Department recognized their work with a small- park- of- the- month award.

The lifeblood of the park is a public-private partnership that combines the resources of the Parks Department, the AMNH and the the not-for-profit Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Park, a group of committed volunteers.

Ubinas, who works in the park from the spring to the fall,  has a very specific vision for what she wants her park to look like. She’s most interested in “color, texture and form.” She wants it all to be “interesting in every season. …I don’t like garden walls. I want clear sight lines, I want the lawns to be manicured and I like a balance of lawns and trees. Gardens should be for everyone.”

Take a leisurely stroll through the garden and you will see just how well she has translated her vision into reality.

NB: If you walk to the front of the museum you’ll see the controversial statue of Theodore Roosevelt. Check out the NYT article that explains why the statue has come under so much criticism (just a look at it will probably make that pretty clear) and how the museum has responded to it.

COLUMNS | 4 comments | permalink
    1. Joey says:

      We need more of this

    2. Wonderfully informative. Thank you.

    3. Roberta says:

      I’ve been wanting to find out who the amazing gardener was who planted that magnificent array of daffodils, hyacinths and tulips that kept on blooming one after the other during these past dark months. Walking over and seeing that glorious burst of color and smells made each day bearable. The continuing displays of iris, and now roses is breathtaking. Thank you so much!

      • Amy R. says:

        Me too! So dazzling in its vibrant colors and variety, the garden is such a wonderful oasis, especially these difficult days. Heartfelt thanks to Ada Ubinas for her inspired and inspiring vision and seasonal designs, as well as to the GreenLife interns for their spirited dedication and hard work!