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Piercing Poverty with Light, Air and Control 1887-1906: A Case for the Preservation of Eight New York City Small Parks

Frazer, Jennifer Madeline

From 1887 to 1906, rising in the place of what were once blocks of squalor, poverty and slum tenements, eight small parks thrilled the children their respective New York City neighborhoods. Created under the Small Parks Act of 1887, these parks were intended to bring better health, light and air to neighborhoods where the city’s poorest lived. Four of the parks (Mulberry Bend, Hudson, Hamilton Fish and William H. Seward Parks), were clustered below 14th Street, where many of the city’s newest and poorest immigrants settled in the mid to late 1800’s, but the other four (East River, John Jay, DeWitt Clinton and St. Gabriel’s Parks) were located next to the East and North (Hudson) Rivers, along Manhattan’s perimeters, where the island’s pollution was at its worst, rents were at their lowest, and the populations of the poor at their highest, after the area below 14th Street. Each of these parks, and the neighborhoods surrounding them, has a unique origin and history. Well-known landscape architects, architects and engineers designed their landscapes, pavilions, bathhouses and gymnasiums plans. Designs of these parks fell into one of three landscape ideals: Picturesque, Beaux Arts or the emerging Playground-Recreational design. As a group, they are an important representation of the national Small Parks Movement, as New York City was one of the first major cities to create small parks. They are especially important because of the notoriety of their designers. Eventually, all of these parks would become first, playground parks, and then, recreational parks, each retaining some element of their original design. All eight of these parks are still beloved and well used parks in Manhattan. This thesis documents the histories and designs of these parks, as well as any significant subsequent changes to the parks; it documents elements in the parks worthy of preservation, including any extant structures, landscape plans or fencing, or foliage.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew S.
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
June 10, 2013
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