Central Park: An American Masterpiece


Central Park, America's first public park, is a paragon of nineteenth-century landscape design and one of the world's great urban spaces. Marking the park's 150th anniversary, Central Park, An American Masterpiece is a definitive illustrated history that celebrates the splendor and significance of this national treasure. The park has just undergone a nearly three-hundred-million-dollar restoration that took more than two decades, and it has never looked more beautiful. Author Sara Cedar Miller, the official ...
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Central Park, America's first public park, is a paragon of nineteenth-century landscape design and one of the world's great urban spaces. Marking the park's 150th anniversary, Central Park, An American Masterpiece is a definitive illustrated history that celebrates the splendor and significance of this national treasure. The park has just undergone a nearly three-hundred-million-dollar restoration that took more than two decades, and it has never looked more beautiful. Author Sara Cedar Miller, the official historian and photographer for the Central Park Conservancy, draws on extensive research to tell the captivating story of the park's creation and provides surprising and fresh insights into its design. Fascinating period views and original plans and drawings -- many previously unpublished, including two competition entries thought to be lost -- are complemented by Miller's breathtaking photographs, which reveal the rejuvenated park in all its glory. Placing Central Park in the context of nineteenth-century American art and social history, Miller's lively text illuminates the roles of its stellar designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, explores how the original plan was modified in the course of construction, and traces the evolution of the park over the decades. She also gives long overdue credit to the designers' associate Jacob Wrey Mould, whose extraordinary sculptural program for Bethesda Terrace is an artistic achievement of the highest order.

Readers are led from the gates at Grand Army Plaza, along the Mall and its formal allee of elms, to the heart of the park, Bethesda Terrace and Fountain, whose iconography is explored in detail. The tour continues through each of the park's distinctive landscapes -- among them the pastoral Sheep Meadow, North Meadow, and Harlem Meer; the picturesque Ramble and Ravine -- which are prime exemplars of aesthetic trends in nineteenth-century landscape design. These landscapes appear to be totally natural but were, in fact, entirely man-made through the arduous process of blasting stone outcrops, carting in millions of cubic yards of soil, and planting vast areas of trees, shrubs, and flowers for special effects of texture and color. Readers also visit the park's architectural highlights such as Belvedere Castle and the Dairy, stopping along the way to admire its fanciful bridges -- no two alike -- its outstanding assortment of rustic shelters and furniture, its enchanting gardens such as Conservatory Garden and Shakespeare Garden, and its superb and varied public sculptures. Offering the rich experience of an in-depth tour of the park, this book will delight New Yorkers and visitors alike.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Miller's history is as clear and sprightly as Huddlestone Cascade (uptown, near Lasker Rink), at 15 feet the highest waterfall in the park. — Eric P. Nash
The New Yorker
In 1863, at the peak of the Civil War, a package turned up on President Lincoln's desk containing stereoscopic images of the municipal wonder taking shape up in New York: Central Park. These high-tech photographic scenes were intended to soothe the President's nerves, just as the Park has calmed New Yorkers for generations. This summer is the hundred-and-fiftieth anniversary of the state's wise decision-influenced by the preëminent nineteenth-century landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing-to set aside a giant chunk of swampy Manhattan ground for the creation of the first major landscaped public park in the United States. Central Park, An American Masterpiece, by Sara Cedar Miller, the Park's official historian, is itself a welcoming oasis, teeming with photographs of lush meadows, rustic pergolas, whimsical bridges, and Catskills-inspired ravines. The Park's eight hundred and forty-three acres, we learn, are easily discernible by shuttle astronauts; its sunken transverse roads were the prototype for the modern highway system; and its Great Lawn, originally a reservoir, was filled in with rubble from the Rockefeller Center construction site. The park we know today-featuring Balto the sled dog, Cleopatra's Needle, and Wollman Rink-descends from design entry No. 33, the famous "Greensward" plan of architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. The University of Massachusetts Press has reprinted Walks and Talks of An American Farmer in England, Olmsted's engaging account of his 1850 ramble around England and Wales, including his fateful encounter with Birkenhead Park, near Liverpool. "This magnificent pleasure-ground," Olmsted wrote, "is entirely, unreservedly, and for ever the people's own.

( Mark Rozzo)
Publishers Weekly
Miller is the park's official historian and photographer, and her authority shows, revealing some new facets to this most overexposed of urban spaces. Original plans and drawings (many published for the first time) sit alongside modern-day photographs among the more than 200 color illustrations, creating a sense of the history that underlies this man-made urban landscape. Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the park's designers (the other was Calvert Vaux), saw his plan as a balm to soothe the roiling city's ills. Miller finds him remarking that the park "exercises a distinctly harmonizing and refining influence upon the most lawless classes of the city-an influence favorable to courtesy, self-control, and temperance." Bethesda Terrace was Vaux's ideological baby and, according to Miller, was influenced by the work of John Ruskin, Alexander von Humboldt and Thomas Cole. Kenneth T. Jackson, president of the New-York Historical Society, writes in his preface that Central Park is not the oldest public open space in either the world or the United States, nor is it the largest, nor even the most beautiful, yet it has the most contrast to its surroundings, an expression of a city's life and exuberance, and is properly celebrated as such by Miller. (May) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Central Park, this elegant volume is a fitting tribute to the first American public park and what may be the most beautiful park in the world. Miller, photographer and historian of the Central Park Conservancy, handles the myriad facets of this green oasis with a sure hand and an artist's eye. Archival materials and current research inform the work, which deals with the image of the park as a 19th-century artwork, a landscape painting, a sculptural monument, and a gardener's delight. The reader is guided through the park from the entry gates to the Bethesda Terrace, from the meadows to the wilderness of the Ramble. Around every corner is a wonder of texture and color, subtlety and flamboyance, exuberance and restraint. The major sculptures and detailed carvings are revealed along with the small architectural jewels of follies and bridges. This is a work for New Yorker and tourist, historian and artist, bird watcher and gardener. Highly recommended for any and all libraries-and for personal bookshelves as well.-Paula Frosch, Metropolitan Museum of Art Lib., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810939462
  • Publisher: Abrams, Harry N., Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/3/2003
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 111,082
  • Product dimensions: 9.50 (w) x 10.37 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface 7
Introduction: An American Masterpiece 8
Ch. 1 An Under- and Overview 14
Ch. 2 The Heart of the Park 36
Ch. 3 Kindred Spirits 70
Ch. 4 The Landscapes 98
Ch. 5 The Architecture 156
Ch. 6 The Sculpture 188
Epilogue: The Birth of the Park Movement and City Planning in America 236
Map 240
Endnotes 242
Bibliography 248
Central Park Conservancy 249
Acknowledgments 250
Index 252
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    If you have ever had the joy of spending any time in this magnificent field of green space in the middle of one of the great cities of the world, then you might want to know how it came to be. I walked its length several times this year and finally decided I wanted to know MORE about the Eden on earth. This book does a wonderful job telling the compelling story of its creation.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 19, 2011

    Great book for Central Park fans!

    This book covers just about all of Central Park. Interesting details of it's beginnings and progression thoughout the years. Would make an awesome coffee table piece! Would of liked even more photos, but definately recommend.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2004

    a book worthy of its subject's glory

    Sara Miller has put together an outstanding book: a book as vast and detailed as the Great Park itself. For those not familiar with the park and its history, this is an invaluable introduction to the political, demographic, economic and, especially, aesthetic thinking that went into the creation of 800 acres of gorgeous park space in the middle of Manhattan. For those seasoned veterans of NYC history, this is a welcome reminder of the enormous vision and efforts of Calvert Vaux and Fredrick Law Olmsted, as they conceived the park. Nota Bene: A lot of books have gorgeous photos but the print job is miserable ... Others have high-qualtity prints but the photos aren't that interesting ... This book has glorious prints and an expert print job. Pick up this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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