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By Deirdre Carmody

  • Oct. 13, 1984
Credit...The New York Times Archives See the article in its original context from
October 13, 1984, Section 1, Page 29Buy Reprints View on timesmachine TimesMachine is an exclusive benefit for home delivery and digital subscribers. About the Archive This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them. Occasionally the digitization process introduces transcription errors or other problems. Please send reports of such problems to [email protected]

The leaves are beginning to turn in Central Park and the first chill forebodings of winter are in the air. But it is the season of rebirth for the 126-year-old park.

From the newly cut bluestone steps at the Girls' Gate entrance at East 102d Street to the elegant sandstone birds being replaced on the balustrades of Bethesda Terrace in from 72d Street, renovation is evident everywhere. Lawns are being resodded and reseeded. Arches and playgrounds are being rebuilt. Hundreds of flowering shrubs, trees and bushes are being planted as paths are redirected, underbrush is cleared and the original vistas are restored.

''It is an epoch of rebuilding similar to the original building of the park, which occurred between 1858 and 1873,'' said Elizabeth Barlow, the Central Park administrator. ''And it will be reconstructed with the same amount of labor and love.''

This is neither a haphazard nor a hasty renovation. To halt what Mrs. Barlow calls ''the spiraling decrepitude'' of the park, its overhaul, which is not expected to be completed until the mid-1990's, is being conducted according to a comprehensive management and restoration plan.

The plan, essentially a profile of the park, details virtually every aspect of its 840 acres - the architecture, topography, wildlife, hydrology, monuments, benches, signs, fountains, playground equipment, pedestrian use and security needs.

Perhaps even more important for a Parks Department that has been criticized for spending too much on construction and not enough on maintenance, a management plan is being drawn up for each completed section of the park.

''We don't want this process just to stop, as it did after the Depression era,'' said Marianne Cramer, a landscape architect and planner. She was referring to the years when Robert Moses presided as Parks Commissioner over hundreds of laborers and gardeners who rebuilt the park under the Federal Works Progress Administration.

''We want to continue the process of maintenance, building it into the management plan,'' she said.

Funds for restoring the park are coming from the city's capital budget and the Central Park Conservancy, a private group that has raised more than $6 million to refurbish the park. This year alone, the city will spend $6.5 million on construction and the Conservancy $1.3 million.

The biggest project is the rebuilding of the Central Park Zoo, which was started two years ago at an estimated cost of $15 million. Park officials now say the new zoo will not open for at least three and a half years. The current price tag is about $28 million - $22 million from the city and $6 million from private sources.

The project has turned out to be even more complicated than anticipated. The first contract bids that came in were too high, and much of the project had to be redesigned. Drawings and specifications are being worked on, and it is hoped that requests for new bids will go out within a month and that construction can begin in the spring.

Another major project is the $3.8 million renovation of the badly deteriorated Bethesda Terrace, the beautifully carved stone staircase and circular terrace that is one of the most formal areas of the park. Erosion control and landscaping of the area was begun a year ago and the project is expected to be finished by next summer. Vandalized Sculpture

Bethesda contains a series of stone reliefs depicting intertwining motifs of animal and vegetable life, which are considered to be some of the most proficient and interesting sculpture in the park. Over the years, however, vandalism and the elements have taken their toll, and many of the figures are unrecognizable. These intricate sandstone carvings of birds, berries and other symbols of nature and the seasons will be painstakingly replaced.

To the west of the terrace, along the drive at 72d Street, the $386,000 relandscaping of Cherry Hill is under way. The roadway has been ripped out and realigned, granite curbs have been replaced and huge amounts of topsoil have been brought in to recontour the land and make it rich again.

Dogwood, azaleas, mock orange and forsythia bushes will be planted to create flowering hillsides. The underbrush has been cleared to restore those sudden, unexpected vistas so carefully planned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers of the park.

There are many other projects. The East Green, just south of the drive at 72d Street, is still off-bounds behind a snow fence; drainage pipe has been laid, the soil rototilled and an irrigation system installed. The 67th Street playground near Fifth Avenue is being completely rebuilt and is expected to be finished by July. Two arches, the Trefoil Arch and the Greywacke Arch, both in the East 70's area of the park, are being refurbished. In Memory of Lennon

One of the most extensive landscaping projects is Strawberry Fields, just inside the 72d Street gate on Central Park West. The single largest gift in the park's history - $1 million in memory of John Lennon from his wife, Yoko Ono - will relandscape three acres in a grove of oak trees that slopes down to the lake. It will be planted with exotic specimen trees and covered with the white flowers and tiny red fruit of wild strawberry plants.

This project is particularly dear to the hearts of parks officials because it includes $350,000 for an endowment fund to insure that the area is properly maintained.

''Yoko Ono's extraordinary gift has set a standard for vision and generosity,'' said Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern.

A few blocks to the north, the old 81st Street playground is also slated for renovation with a $250,000 gift from Diana Ross. It is in the design stage.

Rebuilding Central Park is a slow and laborious process. For one thing, because the park is a landmark, a series of approvals from the Art Commission to the Landmarks Preservation Commission are needed before the first spadeful of dirt can be removed. Rebuilding Wollman Rink

Some projects take longer than others and some seem to take forever. Certainly the most controversial construction under way in the park is the rebuilding of Wollman Rink, the ice skating area in the southeastern end of the park, and of the restaurant that overlooks it.

Demolition of the old rink, which was built in the Robert Moses era, began in 1980 with a $4.9 million price tag and promises that the skaters would be back skating by 1982. The intent was to make the rink less of an intrusion on the landscape and to redesign the adjoining fortress-like building.

In the fall of 1981 a panel that had been set up to review proposed restaurant concessions recommended scaling down plans for the Wollman restaurant, limiting it to 150 seats.

Skaters were told in 1982 that the artificial rink would be ready by the winter of 1983 and the restaurant by mid- to late 1983. One year and a new Parks Commissioner later, skaters were informed that there had been ''a series of setbacks'' - an unforeseen drainage line had been encountered and excavation had hit a massive rock formation. The fall of 1984 was set as the new skating date. Size of Project Tripled

The current date for the start of skating is Nov. 17, and the restaurant, which has been redesigned four times, is scheduled to open next spring. The total cost, according to Bronson Binger, assistant parks commissioner in charge of capital projects, may approach $13 million. Mr. Binger is quick to point out that the size of the project has tripled.

''For very good design reasons we have tripled the project to include 12 acres of landscaping and $1.25 million of electrical lines, which we did not know had to be replaced until we pulled the manhole covers,'' he said.

The plan to rebuild Central Park evolved over several years. An earlier planning study in the mid- 1970's led the way to some initial capital projects, such as the reseeding of the Sheep Meadow and the restoration of the Dairy and Belvedere Castle. But there was little capital money in the city budget at that time and not much hope of extensive restoration.

With the passing of the city's fiscal crisis and the formation of the Central Park Conservancy in 1980, major funds became available. It was agreed that the park should be rebuilt in a manner befitting what former Parks Commissioner Gordon J. Davis called ''New York's greatest public space.''

''The more we got to working with the original part of the park, the more we realized that we should try to use more or less the same vocabulary of materials that was used in the original design of the park,'' Mr. Binger said. ''We have gone back to things like granite and big pieces of wood, perhaps in a more contemporary kind of way, but to enable us to build structures to last.''


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