Excavation and Renovation
Just like any other public park, Bryant Park has been stripped down and made over several times. Some renovation cycles have been successful, while others not so much. For the sake of nostalgia, let’s go back in time and take a look at some of the major renovations that contributed to how Bryant Park looks today.
The first major renovation project at Bryant Park was back in 1871 even before it was called Bryant Park. back then, it was called Reservoir square, and it literally just a square. The square was lackluster, just a flat open land used by the citizens of New York. the renovation project. The design was created by Engineers M. A. Kellogg and E. A. Pollard. The plans included better landscaping, paths and fountains.
The Great Depression
The 1930s saw the negative effects of the Great Depression. This meant a lot of lost jobs, closing businesses and of course, no money to maintain Bryant Park. the construction of the Sixth Avenue El train made things worse. The park was littered with debris, holes and construction materials, and the citizens avoided the part because of the noise and danger the construction posed. This went on for several months, and the park was neglected.
Neighborhood groups tried to lobby for park renovations, but minimal funds were raised, even by three groups. Nathan Straus Jr., President of the NYC Parks Association even said, “Bryant Park is a park in name only.” Nearly a hundred plans were made during that decade to renovate the park, some never saw the light of day, and those that were actually built were quickly closed and demolished from lack of patronage. The demolished buildings and neglected landscape made the park look worse than ever.
In the latter part of 1933, Architects’ Emergency Committee held a contest opened to all architects in an effort to provide activities for architects who lost their job during the Great Depression. The contest was for a design to renovate Bryant Park and the design submitted by architect Lusby Simpson won the grand prize of $100. This contest and the appointment of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia paved the way for more changes in Bryant Park.
At that time, park commissioners had their own offices and worked separately. Mayor LaGuardia proposed that the commission be more centralized and have only person lead the group. This task fell into the capable hands of Robert Moses, who wasted no time in lobbying for renovation projects for Bryant Park.
1934 saw a lot of changes in the park, the biggest of which was that the park’s landscaping was raised four feet from street level. The park was bordered by high granite walls and wrought-iron fences. The broad lawn area was improved, and the park was reopened to the public shortly after.
Bryant Park Restoration Corporation
If the 1930s were bad, the 1970s were worst. On one hand, the park started to fill with people once more, but on the other hand, they’re not the kind of people you’d want on any public park. Desolate and in shambles, the park started to attract homeless people, who made the park their home. Soon the drug addicts and prostitutes moved in, as the park was neglected, even in the eyes of law enforcement.
Bryant Park made headlines, but only because it was a common crime scene for murders and muggings. It was the place to go to if you wanted to get drunk, gamble or get high. With Bryant Park’s new reputation, it’s not surprising that law abiding citizens stayed far away from it.
Although there were many reasons for this, the biggest reason was the 1934 design. Elevating the entire park alienated it from the outside world and the granite walls, tall hedges and wrought-iron fences made it more secluded.
In 1979, the Rockefeller brothers approached William H. Whyte, a famous urbanist, to conduct a study on Bryant Park. Meanwhile, Andrew Heiskell, the New York Public LIbrary chairman, was getting tired of complaints about the crime rate at the main branch, which was adjacent to Bryant Park. the Rockefeller brothers approached Heiskell with a grant proposal to improve Bryant Park.
Andrew Heiskell and Dan Biederman formed the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation and used the grant to improve the security and sanitation at Bryant Park. they sought the help of businesses in the area, encouraging them to either open a branch of their store in the park, or to provide entertainment events. While this was going on, the park was closed to the public. They also improved visibility by cutting down tall hedges and making the entrances bigger. The goal was to make the entire park more visible from the sidewalk.
Their efforts were a huge success. With the park closed down for renovation, the criminals moved out and by the time the park reopened in 1992, there was much celebration for its return. With more features and things to do, it received great reviews from critics and was widely patronized by the citizens of New York.