IF I HAD TO WALK AWAY NOW FROM LEADING PUBLIC OR PRIVATE TOURS OF NEW YORK CITY I WOULD STILL RETAIN THE GIFTS THAT NYC HAS BESTOWED UPON ME: CENTRAL PARK BEING THE MOSE PRECIOUS AND SURPRISING.
I have been fortunate enough to have lived in New York City my entire life. When I was a youngster, living in the Woodside Houses in Queens, after a large snowstorm, a bunch of friends and I would grab our sleds and head to Pilgrim Hill on 72nd Street off 5th Avenue, one of the best sledding spots in New York City. There would be tons of kids on the hill, some would have expensive, red, American Flyers, some had thick black inner tubes, while other’s would use pieces of cardboard torn from boxes, it didn’t matter, as long as it slid. We’d spend hours on the hill, until it started to get dark and we could barely clutch our rides in our freezing hands.
Some of my buddies would head back home to Queens, but I’d usually walk down with a couple of friends to Central Park South where we’d grab a hot chocolate at Rumplemeyers. Long departed Rumplemeyers, It was in the old St. Moritz hotel, and was a haven for kids. An old fashioned ice-cream parlor in a world that was already changing. The hot chocolate was heavenly, not too sweet and deliciously smooth. The room was filled with stuffed animals, which it was famous for and beautiful stained glass windows. But what i remember most was the waitresses, they would take us under their wings and make sure we behaved ourselves. After all, we were just a bunch of unruly kids from the projects sitting in one of the nicest hotels in the city, but I never remember feeling unwelcome. It was delightful to sit in a booth with three friends, feeling sensation returning to our hands and feet while waiting expectantly for our hot drinks to arrive.
One of the first things I remember learning about Central Park was that it was completely man-made. The first time I read that, i thought it was a typo. The second time, I dismissed it as a mistake, it didn’t seem possible, but as I continued to read I learned it was the work of the brilliant visionaries Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. That every tree, flower and piece of topography had been exquisitely planned and then executed. Any visit to New York City would be incomplete without a visit to the Park, the first urban park in the US. Prior to the completion of Central Park in 1873 if a visitor wanted a green area to stroll or picnic the best option was Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.
Our visits to the park usually begin on Central Park West near the Dakota Apartments, the Dakota was one of the first apartment buildings built in NYC and heralded the development of the upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1880’s. Prior to that, the area had been mostly farmland. There was a small town in the area known as Seneca Village, but that was removed when construction of the park began.The Dakota has been home to many celebrities, none more famous than John Lennon and Yoko Ono. On December 8, 1980 upon returning to the Dakota from a recording session John was senselessly shot to death by a deranged fan. His name is easily googled, but shall never pass my lips, his sole reason for murdering John was to gain fame. He’ll spend the rest of his life in prison and die in anonymity, as he should. Although I have been to the memorial countless times, it never fails to touch me as I Imagine what the world would be like if John were still in it.
We’ll visit Strawberry Fields to pay our respects and then wend our way down to Loeb Lake, the largest of the eight man-made lakes in the park. If we’re lucky, we’ll see see a red-tailed hawk, a warbler, a woodpecker or maybe a cardinal. The park is one of the great bird-watching places in the United States.
Central Park is a living, breathing, evolving work of art. There is an enchantment about every tour that enters the park. The light that filters through the trees, whether they are covered with leaves or bare, the topography, the sounds of birds chirping calls to one another. The flow of people on the paths, the boats on the lake. When the weather is warm the lake is teeming with turtles. Our first stop on the tour covers a small portion of the 847 acres that encompass the park. Perhaps you’ll return to explore the park more deeply when you return on your own, our goal is to give you a taste, a hint of the miracle in the center of the City.