Central Park: The Grand Vision
ORNAMENTAL BRIDGES AND ARCHWAYS
Pine Bank Arch
Bank Rock Bridge
Green Gap Arch
The Terrace Bridge
Southeast Reservoir Bridge
Reservoir Bridge Southwest
SMALL RUSTIC BRIDGES
Spur Rock Arch Marble Arch Outset Arch
The Terrace and its seven-arch arcade is the climax of the Olmsted-Vaux plan for the park. At the north end of the Mall it faces the Lake and the wooded Ramble beyond. With its splendid site, the careful choice of the designers, it has one of the best, and best known, views in New York.
From an upper terrace, grand stairways on either side descend to an esplanade or "water terrace" below. At its center is the famous Bethesda Fountain. Above the fountain's several basins and iridescent cascade, above its clustered cherubs, stands the Angel of the Waters. Taken together the Bethesda is the city's greatest fountain.
There are several routes to the "water terrace," by the above noted stairways, by paths from the northeast and northwest, the southeast and southwest, but they are all secondary to the main one from the Mall. Here visitors stand at the head of a wide flight of steps announced by two elaborately carved sandstone posts. Descending the steps the curious will find themselves beneath the Terrace Bridge which carries the Drive and the upper terrace. At the foot of the steps is an arcade 29-feet wide and 16-feet high.
After passing through the arcade they are in a columned chamber with walls on either side in blind arcades. In the Municipal Archives are wash drawings for encaustic tile, marble, and granite decoration considered for the blind bays in the arcade, but not carried out. The large ceiling was the chief visual element. It was covered with brilliant encaustic tiles made by the Minton Company of Stoke-on-Trent, England. Jacob Wrey Mould who worked with Vaux on the decoration was obviously inspired by Moorish work. It will be recalled that he had worked with Owen Jones on the latter's well-known book on ornament.
Minton tile was once also considered for the floor here, much as it is found today on many floors in the United States Capitol. What is here today are panels of red tile bordered with strips of bluish granite, the whole installed in 1910.
Visitors then leave via the seven-arch arcade to find themselves at the Bethesda Fountain.
Vaux, on his travels outside of England, must have been to the great Palace of Versailles. There he would have seen the famous Orangerie beneath the main terrace. Facing it, the visitor has before him the space where, in the summer, the orange trees are placed, as well as around the gardens. Beyond it is a wall with the round-arch doorways of the Orangerie where the trees are stored in winter. Framing the open space and the arcaded wall are two wide flights of 103 steps, called les Cent Marches. In much the same way Vaux has a space, part of the lower terrace with an arcade behind it, and two flights of steps to either side. The park devotee, standing at the fountain and facing south, will be struck by the similarity of the two designs, even if Vaux's variation, both in style and size, places it in a wholly different category.
This structure of New Brunswick sandstone in a typical mixture of styles, Romanesque, Gothic, and Classical, seems relatively simple. Our attention is taken by the ornament which was Mould's responsibility.
Vaux's own description conveys the amount of work and extent of care that the park's construction demanded. It is a sobering reminder that great works of art are not easily, or casually, produced.
The bridge, so far as it serves to carry the carriage road and walk over the entrance from the Mall to the Lake, has a height of 16 feet, a span of 29 feet, and a breadth of roadway of 45 feet. The roadway is supported on wrought iron girders 24 inches in depth, ranged 6 feet 11 1/4 inches apart, and connected with brick arches. The girders rest upon a portion of the main sidewalls of the Terrace structure.
The brick arches of the roadway, owing to the mode of construction, admit of but little descent for drainage from the middle to the ends of the bridge, and greater care than usual has been taken to render the work completely impervious to moisture. The brickwork was first plastered over smoothly with cement, a coat of asphalt was then applied, and next a canvas cover was put over the whole, and this again coated with asphalt. This process was extended over the rear of the walls below the freezing point, and the canvas, being well coated on both sides, was then turned outward from the wall and lapped on the sloping edge of a broad puddled clay gutter; in the hollow of this gutter a line of drain tiles, with open joints, was laid, leading securely away from the rear walls; clay, puddled or well rammed, connected the gutter with the original unbroken earth in rear of the walls.
The drain tiles were covered with coarse gravel or rubble, and the earth filled in above to the height of the brick-work and iron girders of the bridge. Additional under-drains receive and carry off the surface water from the bridge and the grounds in the vicinity.
The general terrace structure, of which this bridge forms a part, can only be described adequately by the aid of plans in considerable detail.
About 6,457 cubic yards of masonry of all kinds is contained in the work, including the bridge, and the connected lateral walls extending around and enclosing the area on the north side between the main structure and the Lake. The foundations are on rock, except for a small portion of lateral walls. The drainage of the whole site has been thorough, the water being conveyed and discharged through numerous underdrains into the Lake. Hydrants, connected with the supply pipe of the Park, are placed at convenient points for watering the area and the adjoining grounds; and a four-inch branch water pipe is laid to the center of the circle, near the Lake, to supply the fountain and basin that are designed to occupy that position.
The masonry of all but the face-work, and the interior brick arches, is composed of the gneiss stone of the Park. The face-work, trimmings, balustrades, etc., are of New Brunswick stone throughout. The steps and platforms of the stairways, and of the wall at the border of the lake, are of granite. The main platforms of the stairways are formed of slabs of granite, the largest of which measure 10 feet 9 inches by 19 feet 7 inches, and weigh about 15 tons each.
The floor under the bridge and arcades is formed of a bed of clean broken stone, covered with a coat of hard, common brick, laid in mortar. The inequalities of the surface of the rock below the floor, that were liable to hold water, were filled with concrete before putting down the bed of stone, and advantage was taken of the principal depressions of the rock surface, to lay a series of underdrains of the foundation. The main underdrains are, in part, large enough to be entered and examined, and are also so arranged as to admit of being flushed out when necessary. Upon the brick pavement, which is left one and a half inches below the final level, it is intended to lay marble encaustic tiles, to complete the floor.
The area covered by bridge and connected arcades is 5,050 square feet; and the open area north of the main work, containing the site of the fountain, and terminating at the Lake, contains 32,090 square feet. The whole area of ground occupied by and enclosed within the entire connected work, is 63,400 square feet, or 1 1/2 acres. (Fifth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of the Central Park, for the year 1861.)
Note: In his illustration above, Ronald Rife has taken artistic license in turning the Angel of the Waters on Bethesda Fountain to face outwards.