The history of Central Park West is preserved in its character. On any given avenue in New York a contemporary observer may delight in a multiplicity of shapes, heights, and building types. New York City’s centuries of transience has yielded a paradigmatic aesthetic of eclecticism. In every era since its foundation, constantly subjected to rejuvenation and innovation, the city’s skyline has changed. Although much that is beloved disappears, some of it remains. One should not grip too tight. New York breathes, and like anything, it changes as it matures. For those of us interested in its constant rebirth we can travel to its burgeoning neighborhoods. But walking up Eighth Avenue (particularly between fifty ninth street and ninety sixth street) one is simply transported into the past. There is only one obligatory choice to be made: whether to walk on the west side of the street or the east. From the west side the view resembles the beauty in constancy. The unbroken line of the street, the hexagonal brocade of the brick walkway, the prismatic park barrier wall (deep and dark from decades of weathering) and of course the greenery of Central Park that reaches over the sidewalk like a crown of laurel. From the east side of the street, walking amongst the cool shadows, is a classical hall of white brick; stone Goliaths guarding the safe passage northward.
When Central Park was built in the first half of the nineteenth century, residential architecture rarely rose more than a few stories. If they were to return tomorrow the Park’s designers, Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calavert Vaux may view the southern cross-section of the midtown skyline, for example, as ruinous to Central Park’s characteristic eden. Its bright and colored lights and treated steel towers all clambering to be taller. However, I like to believe Olmstead and Vaux would appreciate the view to the west; the ever present peaks of Central Park West. Olmstead and Vaux had no way of knowing how important these buildings would become to the spirit of the Park. Amidst naturalistic landscapes one may forget that one is in a city but the tall buildings of Central Park West are a zen-like reminder of one’s true sense of place. This way the two entities cannot be separated; the serenity of the park is not contrasted with the city but is part of it. Instead of believing you are in an impossible eden, you are reminded that this great beauty is intrinsic to New York City.
The purpose of this “blog” is to discuss Central Park West. It discusses the history, culture, and life on Eighth Avenue by decoding many aspects of its architecture and design. Although each essay generally encompasses a finite time period, they are organized by geography. In this way they reflect a stroll up the avenue, starting at Columbus Circle and walking North to the Eldorado. By reading, writing, researching, and discussing this subject, one can become a more astute observer, entertained walker, knowledgable local, and informed New Yorker.