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Gapstow Bridge and The Pond: Four Season Central Park Crowd Pleasers
Gapstow Bridge At The Pond
13 years after ground-breaking, New York City’s Central Park was substantially completed by 1873. Steam-powered equipment and custom-designed, tree-moving machines had assisted thousands of unskilled laborers working with shovels during the construction. More than 18,500 cubic yards of topsoil transported in from New Jersey replaced the original barren soil. The dirt had been found not capable of sustaining the abundant flora called for by the original Greensward Plan, which included the land around the body of water known as The Pond near 59th Street and Fifth Avenue.
A year later, a structure envisioned by Jacob Wrey Mould added another vantage point from which to view many of the Park’s more than four million trees, shrubs and plants, about 1,500 species. Mould, a diffident yet capable English architect, worked with fellow English architect, Calvert Vaux. They brought in (then) fledgling landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted; together they designed and oversaw construction of the original Gapstow Bridge in 1874.
Gapstow Bridge—one of many in the park, no two of which are alike—featured north and south side segmental wooden arches anchored to ledges situated on stone abutments. Hand railings of the bridge were cast iron. Each of several repeated motifs along the wood walkway was designed as a half circle topped by a pointed arch. The bridge’s spandrel spaces met the hand railing with verticals. Three cinquefoils at the intersection of the support arch embellished the center section.
However, Mould’s bridge design and construction at the popular location lasted only twenty years under the onslaught of a multitude of visitors and the vicissitudes of the four weather seasons. An overhaul of the original materials was needed.
The current stone replacement, designed earlier by Howard & Caudwell in 1896, is built of unadorned Manhattan schist that spans 44 feet of water at its base; has a 12-foot high arch and imposing sidewalls extending the full length of the bridge.
Looking south from the popular bridge past sections of the Park’s numerous Callery Pear and American Elms, among other varieties of trees, the venerable Plaza Hotel and other buildings of the magnificent, New York skyscraper skyline rise adjacent to 59th Street bordering the park. To the North, Wollman Rink (now called Trump Wollman Skating Rink), a 1949 park addition, welcomes skaters in the winter months and Victorian Garden Amusement Park patrons in the summer. To the West the view encompasses the Hallett Nature (bird) Sanctuary established in 1934 and named after ardent birdwatcher and naturalist, George Hervey Hallett.
Stretching 76 feet in its full length, the arched Gapstow walkway made of Manhattan schist—rock dating back 450 million years and uncovered from the great Wisconsin Glacier about 12,000 years ago—has hosted more than 300 film productions, making the charming span in the heart of New York City an iconic destination for city residents and visitors from all over the globe.
Olmsted, Vaux and Mould likely never comprehended 125 years ago how dramatically different the Manhattan skyline would become in height alone, but their vision and skills left a legacy that will long be enjoyed by New Yorkers and the city's tourists. Gapstow Bridge and The Pond are integral ingredients not only of the city’s make-up, but of the well-being of residents and visitors from all point of Earth.