Riverside Park Reconstruction – New York NY

Description

Riverside Park is a 6.7-mile long waterside public park in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, running between the Hudson River and Riverside Drive. Its origins go back to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux,  the designers of Central Park in the 19th century.  In the 1930s the park was completely redeveloped and expanded, in part in conjunction with the Henry Hudson Parkway, with the help of the New Deal.

Researcher Frank da Cruz describes New Deal involvement in the park: “By 1934, the park was in terrible shape; Robert Moses and the NY City Parks Department, using New Deal funding, designers, and labor completely leveled the original park and replaced it with a new one in which the railroad ran beneath ground level and which, unlike the original park, was full of playgrounds, ball fields, and game courts. While the original park stretched from 72nd to 125th Street, the new one went all the way north past the George Washington Bridge to Dyckman Street.

The reconstruction of Riverside Park…was a mammoth undertaking supported mainly by PWA, CWA, and WPA from 1934 to 1941, such a huge undertaking that the records don’t even bother to mention individual features like specific playgrounds, ballfields, paths, comfort stations, game courts, and so on, of which there are many. In general I believe it is safe to say of Riverside Park that “If it doesn’t look new, it’s New Deal” in the absence of evidence to the contrary. Prominent features that are new include everything south of 72nd Street, Cherry Walk along river between 100th and 125th Streets and several other “Greenway” extensions to fill in the missing pieces of the path along the riverbank, e.g. the segment from 86th to 90th Street and the whole area from 125th to 145th Street along the River: “West Harlem Piers”, the sewage treatment plant and the new ground-level path around it, the upper part of the Peter Jay Sharp Volunteer House in the Park at West 107th Street.”(kermitproject.org)

A 1939 Department of Parks press release also confirms that the WPA redeveloped the entire stretch from 145th to 155th Streets, including the construction of “ten double handball, seven paddle tennis, one basketball, thirteen shuffleboard and fifteen horseshoe pitching courts, a roller skating mall, a soft baseball field, a completely equipped playground and a pedestrian promenade.”

The archive photo here shows an African American WPA group at work on the Riverside Park expansion:

“Described in the Parks Department’s photographer’s journal as a “colored gang,” this group of black laborers is shown laying foundation stones in the shallow river bed that was to become part of the Riverside Park expansion. One of the largest public improvements to ever take place in New York City, this massive project decked over the New York Central Railroad, doubled the park’s acreage, and added the scenic Henry Hudson Parkway along its perimeter. Financed by the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), the workforce numbered in the many thousands. Notice the harmonica player at center who tries to maintain the work crew’s spirits in the face of their daunting task.”   (http://www.nycgovparks.org)

Source notes

http://www.nycgovparks.org/photo/photo-15232/Construction-laborers#more_text
http://www.columbia.edu/~fdc/running/#urp
http://kermitproject.org/newdeal/riversidepark/index.html
Millett, John D. The Works Progress Administration in New York City, New York (Arno Press). 1978: 102.
Department of Parks, Press Release, July 15, 1941
Department of Parks, Press Release, October 11, 1937
Department of Parks, Press Release, June 23, 1939

Project originally submitted by Frank da Cruz on July 13, 2014.

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Location Info


Riverside Park
New York, NY 10025

Location notes: The park spans Riverside Dr. to Hudson River, W. 72 St.to St Clair Pl.

Coordinates: 40.8012339, -73.9723096

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