At 9.603 acres, Bryant Park is one of the most notable landmarks of modern day New York. This public park is nestled between 40th and 42nd street, Manhattan. Although it is a public park, it is managed privately by Bryant Park Corporation, a non-profit organization that keeps the park accessible to the public.
Throughout the years, the face and notoriety of Bryant Park has changed significantly, and at one point, many thought all was lost. However, the park persevered and after it’s renovation, it now represents a huge chunk of New York’s culture and history.
A Colorful History
Bryant Park started out as a unnamed public space set up by Thomas Dongan, New York’s colonial governor in 1686. This public space was handed over to the government of New York City in 1822, and was turned into a potter’s field, a cemetery for the poor, a year later. It wasn’t until 1840 that the potter’s field was decommissioned and the bodies transferred due to the construction of Croton Distributing Reservoir. A park site was erected adjacent to it in 1847 and was aptly named Reservoir park.
The park was renamed to Bryant Park in 1884, in honor of New York Evening Post editor William who was an outspoken supporter of the abolition of the slave trade. The Croton Distributing Reservoir building was taken down in 1899 and the was constructed in its place. Soon after, the park was given more facilities and amenities in the form of kiosks, terrace gardens, comfort stations and the Beaux-Arts building.
Deterioration and Renovation
Bryant Park was not always the bustling recreational center it is today. Some parts of the park was closed temporarily in the 1920s as the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) was being built. Parts of the park were turned up and dug out. The long closure period and negligence resulted in its degradation.
In the 1970s, homeless people, drug dealers, and prostitutes moved in, making it their home and place of business. Normal citizens started to avoid the park as it posed a lot of danger. In 1979, the Parks Council, a park advocacy group, initiated several activities and changes in an effort to bring the park back to life. They improved its landscapes, built new amenities, held events, and encouraged people to set up shop at the park grounds. In 1980, the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation was formed. Made up of New York’s elite, the group improved on what the Parks Council started and drastically improved the park’s condition.
Bryant Park Today
Bryant Park officially reopened in April of 1992, looking completely different from its shoddy state just two decades ago. The French garden was renovated, the lighting improved and the paths made more accessible. Businesses started to pour into the park and eventually, they had to create concession kiosks and a pavilion dedicated entirely to dining establishments. The monuments in the park were restored, and amenities were improved to provide more comfort and sanitation.
Today, it is a popular hangout for people of varying demographics. With high property values, it is considered a prime location for business owners. It is an accurate representation of New York, and has been featured in several movies and television series.
Bryant Park is nestled right in the heart of midtown Manhattan. It is close to thousands of businesses including the New York Public Library, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Carnegie Hall, Times Square, American Museum of Natural History, The Museum of Modern Art, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, The Empire State Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Central Park Zoo, Rockefeller Center, the Financial District, the New York State Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the World Trade Center, Wall Street and The New York Stock Exchange.
The Great Lawn
Bryant Park’s lawn is one of its most notable and visible features. At 300 feet long and 215 feet wide, it is almost the size of a football field. It is a popular spot for students and employees on their lunch break, families on a picnic, frisbee fanatics and study sessions. The grass is a mixture of bluegrass, rye and fescue. The lawn is open to the public from February to October. During the winter season, the lawn becomes the site of the Bank of America’s Winter Village.
Something that is always a big attraction at the park is the summer movie festival. They count down on a clock and then they release everyone to stampede out onto the grass and claim their spots for the movie. It’s a big deal and it’s always a blast.
The Winter Village was an idea the park put together, which became a yearly tradition. During the winter season, the lawn is filled with holiday shops and an ice skating rink, which is known as the Citi Pond during other seasons of the year. The Citi pond was named after the Citibank group who agreed to finance the improvement of the pond during the economic recession in efforts to cheer up the citizens of New York. Today, the Citi pond is the place to go if you want to ice skate and drink hot chocolate for free.
The Public Library
It has always been the topic of debate whether or not the public library is a part of Bryant Park. However, considering it was the old site of the Croton Distributing Reservoir for which the park was originally named after, it is very much a part of Bryant Park. Let’s not forget that majority of the library’s book stacks is stored in rooms located underneath the park.
The public library’s main branch started an initiative in 1935 during the Great Depression called “The Reading Room”. As many New Yorkers lost their jobs, they had a lot of free time on their hands. The Reading Room allowed them to freely come in, sit down and read books without the need for money nor library cards. It was where people can come and go freely and read, which was more productive than loitering. The room was closed in 1944 because of the World War.
During the Bryant Park Corporation’s renovation of the park, they also recreated the reading room, upgrading its look and amenities to fit with modern times. They added more books and more seating area, as well as selections for children. Aside from books, the room also had publications, journals and magazines. Although the look and content was updated, the main purpose was the same – to provide a completely free and intimate space for reading.
Check out all the things to do at the park.