Central Park: Harlem Meer Improvements – New York NY


The Harlem Meer is an artificial lake at the north end of Central Park, added to the original park by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux on the site of a former marsh.

The New York Times reported in Sept. 1941 that the WPA, in conjunction with New York’s Department of Parks, was working to improve Central Park for Harlem residents in “the area from Conservatory Gardens to 110th Street.”

“Major attention,” The Times wrote, was being “given to the fourteen-acre [Harlem Meer] lake and the series of rocky knolls rising from its southern bank.”

The WPA constructed a masonry wall “a foot high” in addition to a “fifteen-foot promenade” completely around the lake. More footpaths and trails were constructed as well.

Additional plans called for a “U-shaped combination brick boathouse, comfort station and refreshment concession, with a 360-foot boat landing platform” along the north shore of the lake.

Two additional entrances to the park and stone stairways were added nearby.

A 1943 New York City Parks Department Press Release, written as the New Deal was coming to an end due to WWII, stated that it was “essential to complete these unfinished W.P.A. projects as quickly as possible to protect the work already done and the public using the parks in and adjacent to these uncompleted areas.”   (www.kermitproject.org)

Apparently, the boathouse was finally built in 1947.  By the 1980s, it had fallen into ruin. Then, ” Parks Commissioner Henry Stern and the Central Park Conservancy developed a plan to rebuild a new boathouse near the site of the now-abandoned one.

In August 1987 the City approved a proposal from a partnership of Harlem real estate investors and a Harlem restaurant operator to rebuild the boathouse as a restaurant. Architects Buttrick White & Burtis were given the commission to design the $5 million project.

The Central Park Conservancy, at the same time, dredged the Meer of 20,000 cubic yards of silt, removed truckloads of trash from the lake, and installed an aeration system. Robert Moses’ concrete rim was replaced with the naturalistic shoreline from Olmsted and Vaux’s design and thousands of fish were introduced to the lake.” (dayinmanhattan.blogspot.fr)

Source notes

"Central Park Area to Be Improved For Benefit of Harlem Residents"; The New York Times, Sept. 22, 1941.
Department of Parks, Press Release, March 13, 1943
Department of Parks, Press Release, December 8, 1943

Project originally submitted by Evan Kalish on April 15, 2014.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

New York, NY

Coordinates: 40.796627, -73.951625

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