The Great Lawn in Bryant Park, with the New York Public Library in the background
|Location||between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan, New York City|
|Area||9.603 acre (39,000 m²)|
Bryant Park is a 9.603 acre (39,000 m²) privately managed public park located in the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues and between 40th and 42nd Streets in Midtown Manhattan. Although technically the main building of the New York Public Library is located within the park, effectively it forms the park's functional eastern boundary, making Sixth Avenue the park's primary entrance. Although part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Bryant Park is managed by a private not-for-profit corporation, the Bryant Park Corporation (see below). The park is cited as a model for the success of public-private partnerships.
Bryant Park is built entirely over an underground structure which houses the New York Public Library's archives. In the 1980s, the park was closed to the public and excavated. The new library facilities were built below ground level and the park was restored above it.
In 1686, when the area was still a wilderness, New York's colonial governor, Thomas Dongan, designated the area now known as Bryant Park as a public space. George Washington's troops crossed the area while retreating from the Battle of Long Island in 1776. Beginning in 1823, Bryant Park was designated a potter's field (a graveyard for the poor) and remained so until 1840, when thousands of bodies were moved to Wards Island.
The first park at this site opened in 1847 as Reservoir Square. It was named after its neighbor, the Croton Distributing Reservoir. In 1853, the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations with the New York Crystal Palace, featuring thousands of exhibitors, took place in the park. The square was used for military drills during the American Civil War, and was the site of some of the New York Draft Riots of July 1863, when the Colored Orphan Asylum at Fifth Avenue and 43rd Street was burned down.
In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park, to honor the New York Evening Post editor and abolitionist William Cullen Bryant. In 1899, the Reservoir structure was removed and construction of the New York Public Library building began. Terraces, public facilities, and kiosks were added to the park.
However the construction of the Sixth Avenue Elevated railway in 1878 had cast a literal and metaphorical shadow over the park, and by the 1930s the park had suffered neglect and was considered disreputable. The park was re-designed in 1933/1934 as a Great Depression public works project under the leadership of Robert Moses. The new park featured a great lawn, and added hedges and later an iron fence to separate the park from the surrounding city streets. The park was temporarily degraded in the late 1930s by the tearing down of the El and the construction of the IND Sixth Avenue Line subway.
On October 15, 1969, a rally attended by 40,000 people was held in Bryant Park as part of the nationwide Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam. Speakers at that event were John Lindsay, Eugene McCarthy, William Sloane Coffin, Woody Allen, Dick Cavett, Ben Gazzara, Helen Hayes, Rod McKuen, Shirley MacLaine, Tony Randall, Eli Wallach; among the musical performers were Judy Collins, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Broadway cast of the musical Hair. Tony Conrad captured the event live from the window of his 42nd Street apartment and published the recording on the album Bryant Park Moratorium Rally.
By the 1970s, Bryant Park had been taken over by drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless and was considered a "no-go zone" by ordinary citizens and visitors. From 1979 to 1983, a coordinated program of amenities, including a bookmarket, a flower market, cafes, landscape improvements, and entertainment activities, was initiated by a parks advocacy group called the Parks Council and immediately brought new life to the park—an effort continued over the succeeding years by The Bryant Park Restoration Corporation, which had been founded in 1980 by a group of prominent New Yorkers, including members of the Rockefeller family, to improve conditions in the park. In 1988, a privately funded re-design and restoration was begun by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation under the leadership of Dan Biederman, with the goal of opening up the park to the streets and encouraging activity within it. The re-design was drafted by Hanna/Olin Ltd. and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates.
Bryant Park Corporation
The Bryant Park Restoration Corporation (BPRC) – changed to Bryant Park Corporation (BPC) in 2006 – was co-founded in 1980 by Dan Biederman and Andrew Heiskell, Chairman of Time Inc. and the New York Public Library. Initially supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, BPC is now funded by assessments on property and businesses adjacent to the park, and by revenue generated from events held at the park. BPC is the largest U.S. effort to provide private management, with private funding, to a public park.
By the 1970s, Bryant Park had become a dangerous haven because of drug dealers and was widely seen as a symbol of New York City’s decline. BPRC immediately brought significant changes that made the park once again a place that people wanted to visit. Biederman, a proponent of the "Broken Windows Theory" expounded by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in a seminal 1982 article in Atlantic Monthly, instituted a rigorous program to clean the park, remove graffiti and repair the broken physical plant. BPRC also created a private security staff to confront unlawful behavior immediately.
After initial successes, BPRC closed the park in 1988 to undertake a four-year project to build new park entrances with increased visibility from the street, to enhance the formal French garden design – with a lush redesign by Lynden Miller – and to improve and repair paths and lighting. BPRC’s plan also included restoring of the park’s monuments, and renovating its long-closed restrooms, and building two restaurant pavilions and four concession kiosks.
Biederman worked with William H. Whyte, the American sociologist and distinguished observer of public space. Whyte’s influence led them to implement two decisions essential to making the park the successful public space that it is. First, they insisted on placing movable chairs in the park. Whyte had long believed that movable chairs give people a sense of empowerment, allowing them to sit wherever and in whatever orientation they desire. The second decision was to lower the park itself. Until 1988, Bryant Park had been elevated from the street and further isolated by tall hedges, a design conducive to illegal activity. The 1988 renovation lowered the park to nearly street level and tore out the hedges.
After a four-year effort, the park reopened in 1992 to widespread acclaim. Deemed "a triumph for many" by New York Times architectural critic Paul Goldberger, the renovation was lauded not only for its architectural excellence, but also for adhering to Whyte's vision. "[Biederman] understood that the problem of Bryant Park was its perception as an enclosure cut off from the city; he knew that, paradoxically, people feel safer when not cut off from the city, and that they feel safer in the kind of public space they think they have some control over." The renovation was lauded as "The Best Example of Urban Renewal" by the magazine New York, and was described by Time as a "small miracle". Many awards followed, including a Design Merit Award from Landscape Architecture Magazine, which noted that the park was "colorful and comfortable....and safe". In 1996, the Urban Land Institute (ULI) honored BPC with an Award for Excellence. ULI remarked that the renovation "turned a disaster into an asset, dramatically improved the neighborhood, and pushed up office rents and occupancy rates."
The park's restrooms have won lavish praise and provide New Yorkers with a rare commodity: luxurious public facilities open to everyone. A second renovation solidified their status as, in the words of then New York City Parks commissioner Adrian Benepe, "the gold standard for park comfort stations."
Bryant Park today
Bryant Park is one of the signature examples of New York City's revival in the 1990s. With a minimum of crime, the park is filled with office workers on sunny weekdays, city visitors on the weekends, and revelers during the holidays. Daily attendance counts often exceed 800 people per acre, making it the most densely occupied urban park in the world. In 1995, an article about midtown office workers who had found the newly reopened park a good place to go to after work bore the headline "Town Square of Midtown." In the early 2000s, BPRC added a custom-built carousel and revived the tradition of an open-air library, The Reading Room, which also hosts literary events. The Bryant Park Grill and Bryant Park Cafe have become popular after-work spots, and 'wichcraft, the sandwich chain owned by Tom Colicchio, operates four kiosks on the park's west end. In the 40th Street plaza of the park there is a station called Bryant Park Games where visitors can play an array of games including Chinese Chess and Quoits. In the summer of 2002, the park launched the free Bryant Park Wireless Network, making the park the first in New York City to offer free Wi-Fi access to visitors. Improvements in 2008 significantly increased the number of users who could log-on at a given time.
With security largely in the hands of the Business Improvement District, corporate control of the park has meant that amenities catering to white-collar professionals have been encouraged, while those that might cater to a broader urban public have been notably absent.
In 2013, two statues by architect Antonio Saracino were commissioned as the public art project The Guardians: Hero and Superhero, depicting civic heroes. The 13-foot-high statues – one marble and the other stainless steel – are at the north and south entrance of the public plaza at Bryant Park. "The Guardians: Superhero" was commissioned by Three Bryant Park, while "The Guardians: Hero," widely inspired by Michelangelo’s "David", was a gift from the Italian government and Eni to New York to "celebrate friendship with the United States."
One of the park's most impressive features is a large lawn that is the longest expanse of grass in Manhattan south of Central Park. Besides serving as a "lunchroom" for midtown office workers and a place of respite for tired pedestrians, the lawn also serves as the seating area for some of the park's major events, such as the HBO/Bryant Park Summer Film Festival. The lawn's season since 2005 has lasted from shortly after the fall fashion shows in February until October, when it is closed to make way for Citi Pond, the park's ice skating rink. During the lawn's season, it is open on most days, closing only for regular maintenance, to drain after a heavy rain, or to recover after high-impact events. From 1992 through 2009, the lawn's season was interrupted for three weeks in September by the spring fashion shows. In September 2010, the fashion shows moved to a new home at Lincoln Center, and the lawn reclaimed these three warm-weather weeks.
The original Reading Room began in August 1935 in response to Depression Era job losses. Started as an initiative by the New York Public Library, the Reading Room provided out-of-work men a place to interact and share ideas without having to pay money or showing any identification. Books from the Library and donations of magazines and trade publications from publishers made the open-air library a great success. The tradition of Reading Rooms came to a halt in 1944 due to the job boom as a result of World War II.
The Reading Room at Bryant Park was reopened in 2003 and HSBC was its first sponsor. Oxford University Press, Scholastic Corporation, Mitchell’s NY, Condé Nast Publications, Time Inc., Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S., and Rodale, Inc. have donated the books and publications at since its conception in 2003.
Numerous events are hosted on the Great Lawn at Bryant Park. The Bryant Park Summer Film Festival, begun in the early nineties and now sponsored by HBO, brings a very large crowd into the park on Monday evenings during the summer. Various free musical performances are sponsored by corporations during the warm weather months, including Broadway in Bryant Park, sponsored by Clear Channel Communications and featuring performers from current Broadway musicals, the Music at 5 series, and, starting in 2008, Bank of America Presents New York Now, a series featuring concerts by five of New York's classical music organizations.
Since 2005, the Great Lawn has also hosted "Pinstripes in the Park", sponsored by the New York Yankees, an event featuring a live broadcast of a NY Yankee game, stadium concessions, and former Yankee greats greeting the crowd and signing autographs. The park has a chess concession at the west end that offers chess boards and lessons. There is also a court for practitioners of Pétanque, the French game of boules. Also popular are free classes in juggling, yoga, tai chi and knitting. In the summer of 2009, the Bryant Park corporation added two ping pong tables to the North West corner of the park. In 2013, Summer Film Festival was hosted in the park.
Citi Pond and The Holiday Shops
In 2002, Bryant Park opened The Holiday Shops that had been conceived and personally funded by Itai Shoffman. Modeled on Europe's Christkindlmarkt, the market has since expanded from 80 stores in 2002 to over 125 in 2012, offering crafts and commercial merchandise from vendors.
In 2005 Bryant Park became a year-round destination with the introduction of Citi Pond, a free-admission ice skating rink that instantly became a fixture in the Manhattan holiday scene and that The New York Times has dubbed "NYC's best".
Public park, privately operated
Although Bryant Park is a public park, BPC accepts no public funds, and operates the park on assessments on surrounding property within the Business Improvement District, fees from concessionaires, and revenues generated by public events. The number of events at the park has grown significantly, and this has caused some consternation by people who fear that the park will be dominated by private entities and will thus be inaccessible to the public. Biederman and BPC feel strongly that a crowded park is a successful one, and that a full slate of events is essential in drawing people to the park. They also believe that the revenue paid by sponsors of events is necessary to keep the park well-maintained. To address fears of the park being lost to the public, BPC insists that all events are free and open to the public, the exceptions being the fashion shows that formerly took over the park in the winter and late summer. Biederman has often publicly expressed his frustration that the fashion shows, which are not under BPC's control, took over the park for two weeks twice yearly until February 2010. "They pay us a million dollars. It's a million dollars I would happily do without", he told the Los Angeles Times. BPC is particularly frustrated that the fashion shows dominate the park during two crucial times: in late summer, when the weather is perfect for park visitors; and in early February, necessitating the early closure of BP's popular free-admission ice-skating rink.
In popular culture
Since its restoration, Bryant Park has become a favored setting for film and television productions. The final scene of the Howard Stern film Private Parts featuring the band AC/DC performing in the park was shot in July 1996. At the beginning of Ghostbusters, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis come running out of the library building. Chris Rock used the park to watch women in I Think I Love My Wife and perhaps most famously, the Sex and the City film staged multiple scenes at front of the NY Public Library (which is officially part of Bryant Park) and at the park's carousel. Law & Order is among the television series using the park for scenes. During an episode of Hana Yori Dango Returns, the lead female character Makino runs past Bryant Park as she chases a bag snatcher. On the fashion design TV show Project Runway, the final three designers showed their final collections at Fashion Week in Bryant Park. In the summer of 2009, the movie Morning Glory, starring Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams, shot several scenes in Bryant Park. In September 2013, the US TV program The Face held a runway shoot.
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- McGrath, Charles (December 29, 2008). "Skating on a Gershwin Set, Whatever the Tune". The New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
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- "Here's What Happened at the Pop-Up Runway Show in Bryant Park!" (September 12, 2013)
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