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10 Fun Facts about Central Park (Part 2)

In addition to the Empire State Building or the Brooklyn Bridge, it’s hard to find another typical New York City attraction besides Central Park: the 341-acre green rectangle in the center of the Manhattan island.

The countless books and movies whose action take place in the metropolis carry the characters through this park, at least in passing, almost as a gesture of paying one’s respects. In total, about 42 million people a year, whether locals or visitors from the United States or abroad, visit Central Park.

But few New Yorkers know the true “secrets” of the park’s history, here are five more fun facts:

  1. The casino was the big attraction during the Prohibition. The casino building was created by Frederick Law Olmsted as a ladies’ lounge, but became, during the Prohibition (1920-1933), a place where the then mayor, Jimmy Walker, pretended not to violate federal laws on production, sale and alcohol consumption.
  2. The development of the park cost as much as the acquisition of Alaska. New York State spent $7.4 million on the establishment of Central Park, an amount equivalent to that paid to Russia by the United States for the acquisition of the territory that would become the state of Alaska in 1867.
  3. Several African-American landowners were evacuated. In mid-nineteenth century, 20% of the black population of New York who owned real estate (so had voting rights) lived in the western part of the park, in a neighborhood known as Seneca Village. They were forced to leave and abandon their houses, three churches and a school, which were all demolished.
  4. The playgrounds were not well seen by the design team. Olmsted and Vaux did not want, in the first years after the inauguration of the park, to allow children to step on the grass and wondered if it was only adults who should have access.
  5. The alleys are curved to prevent horse racing and carriages. Faced with numerous curves, the speed enthusiasts of the era would have quickly given up this sport, the park’s designers believed. However, they did not foresee that, in a century, the alleys would be used for speeding by cyclists, who are accused of causing numerous accidents, but – at least so far – their access to the park has not been restricted.

Theodor Harasim

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