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Central Park in 1858

In the third-floor conference room of the Arsenal in New York’s Central Park, a curious drawing stands out—in both size and intrigue—among other framed images lining the walls. One might be inclined to label it “vintage,” but that would be an understatement given that the picture—like the Arsenal—actually predates the park itself.

We’ll stop the suspense and tell you that the image we’re referring to is a depiction of Frederick Law Olmsted’s and Calvert Vaux’s Greensward Plan, the winning submission in an 1858 design competition for the now-famous 840-acre park. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation tells the story:

“After the New York State Legislature approved the establishment of Central Park in 1853, the Commissioners of the Board of Central Park began the long process of building it. Through family connections, Charles Elliot, a commissioner on the Central Park board, encouraged Olmsted to apply for the position of Central Park superintendent. Thanks in part to Elliot’s support, Olmsted was appointed superintendent in 1857.

Olmsted began working with Calvert Vaux on Vaux’s ideas for Central Park in 1857, and in April 1858, Olmsted and Calvert Vaux submitted the Greensward Plan, one of 33 submissions being considered, to the board. The plan was notable for the way it combined formal and naturalistic settings with architectural flourishes like Bethesda Terrace and the ornate bridges that circulated traffic through the park.”

The Greensward Plan seen in the Arsenal today might not be the original, but it has been duplicated to the finest detail by Duggal Visual Solutions. Duggal’s H. Joseph Smith worked with NYC Parks to recreate the drawing on archival fine art paper with a hand-finished, custom-cut-and-milled red oak frame. It is the only piece of its kind—a unique and modern relic. The original, meanwhile, sits at the City’s Municipal Archives for safekeeping.

“Hundred-plus-year-old documents tend to have wrinkles,” Smith said. “Many of the visible cracks seen in our replica represent the original damage.”

Smith continues:

“Olmsted was hurrying to meet the deadline for submission but ran out of time. He rushed downtown with his design to find the office closed for the day. He tightly rolled the plans, “squashed” them down to fit under the small space below the door and slid them under. You can see the creases he caused in the original when looking at the reproduction.”

For those who enjoy and appreciate NYC history, we highly recommend visiting nycgovparks.gov to learn more about Olmsted’s legacy in Central Park and beyond. And the next time you’re in Central Park on a weekday, be sure to visit the Arsenal Gallery. Note that while the Gallery is open to the public for walk-ins between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, viewings of the Greensward replica are limited and by appointment only. To schedule a viewing, send an email to Arsenal facility manager Eileen Remor at eileen.remor@parks.nyc.gov.

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