In honor of Earth Day today, let’s take a look at the impact prolific landscape architects Olmsted and Vaux had on New York City.

Connecticut-born Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) and his partner Calvert Vaux (1824-1895) were instrumental in establishing the profession of landscape architecture in the United States through their many designs which continued the principles of the English naturalistic romantic landscape tradition.  The original firm, Olmsted, Vaux & Co. (1865-72), and its successors, executed hundreds of projects throughout the nation, ranging from municipal and state parks, parkways, estates, and institutional grounds, to residential subdivisions.  Olmsted & Vaux’s first design collaboration, as well as the first designed American park, was Central Park (1858).  Olmsted and Vaux’s other New York City projects include Prospect Park, Morningside Park, Riverside Park and Drive, and Ocean and Eastern Parkways, all designated scenic landmarks. 

Olmsted had struggled in his early life to find a career and had worked, among other jobs, as a gentleman farmer and writer/publisher, including time as a correspondent for the New York Times writing on slavery in the South.  Olmsted was initially hired in 1857 to act as superintendent for clearing the site of the proposed Central Park under chief engineer Egbert Viele.  After Viele’s plan was scrapped for a  design competition, due in large part to Vaux’s influence, Olmsted collaborated with Vaux on the winning design.  Olmsted was appointed Architect in Chief, and Vaux as Consulting Architect.  During the Civil War, Olmsted served as general secretary of the U.S. Sanitary Commission and was involved in several landscape designs in California.  After his return to New York in 1865, he resumed work in Central Park and again collaborated with Vaux on Brooklyn’s Prospect Park (1866).  Olmsted retired in poor physical and mental health in 1895, and the firm continued under the direction of his son and nephew.  Among his many other notable projects were the U.S. Capitol Grounds, the Boston Park System, Stanford University, Biltmore Estate, and the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893.

Calvert Vaux, one of America’s foremost 19th-century architects, was born and trained in London, but moved to New York in 1850 to assist Andrew Jackson Downing, then considered the preeminent landscape designer in the country.  While associated with Downing, Vaux worked on the landscape designs of the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, Smithsonian Institution, and the White House.  In 1856, Vaux moved to New York City and published a book documenting his early works called “Villas and Cottages.”  Following his selection with Olmsted as designers of Central Park, Vaux was in charge of the park’s architectural features, including its bridges, structures, and shelters.  Vaux served in various capacities for the Department of Public Parks and collaborated with Jacob Wrey Mould in the design of the first buildings of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1874-80) and American Museum of Natural History (1874-77).  Vaux drowned in Gravesend Bay in 1895, presumably a suicide.

On this day in 1968, the Trinity Chapel Complex on Broadway and West 25th Street was designated a New York City Landmark. Consecrated in 1855, Trinity Chapel was designed to serve the uptown communicants of Trinity Parish. The building was designed by Richard Upjohn in the English Gothic Revival style. The church is noted for the great length of its nave with its slender pointed-arch windows. In 1945, the complex was purchased by the Serbian Orthodox Church and renamed the Cathedral of St. Sava.

Photos: (1) Wikipedia (2) NYC Architecture

On this day in 1974, the Queensboro Bridge was designated a New York City Landmark. Officially known as the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, construction on the Queensboro Bridge started in 1901 to facilitate communications between Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the farms of Queens and Long Island. At the time of its completion in 1909, it was the longest cantilever bridge in North America. The bridge has been featured in several films including the Dark Knight Rises. 

Ten Tallest NYC Landmarks

#1 Empire State Building

The Empire State Building is the best-known symbol of New York City. It was the final and most celebrated product of the skyscraper frenzy produced by the economic boom of the 1920s. Its completion in April, 1931 on the former site of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, marked the transformation of midtown from New York’s preeminent residential area for the social elite into the commercial center of the metropolis. The landmarked first floor interior contains modernistic details, such as the aluminum silhouette wall, an aluminum mezzanine bridge, and zig-zag ribbed ceilings. All of these symbolically suggest the technological future foreshadowed by the creation of the world’s tallest building. 

Photos: (1) MCNY (2) MCNY (3) LPC

Within the proposed Riverside Drive-West End Avenue Historic District Extension II sits a small, triangular park dedicated to the memory of two Titanic victims, Isidor and Ida Straus.  The Macy’s Department Store co-owner and his wife were returning from Europe on the Titanic when the ship hit an iceberg on April 15, 1912.  Straus refused a spot in the lifeboat while women and children were still aboard.  Ida Straus refused to leave her husband, reportedly saying, “As we have lived, so will we die, together.”  The park, situated near their home, features a 1913 bronze statue by American artist Augustus Lukeman.  The model for the bronze was Audrey Munson, known as “Miss Manhattan,” the model of choice for sculptors and painters in New York.

Ten Tallest Landmarks in NYC

#2 Chrysler Building

Built in 1928-1930 for Walter P. Chrysler of the Chrysler Corporation, the Chrysler building was “dedicated to world commerce and industry.” A significant example of Art Deco architecture, the Chrysler building rises 1,046 feet and is easily recognized by its highly polished dome and spire. 

Upon the building’s completion in 1930, the editor of Architectural Forum wrote:

“It is simply the realization, the fulfillment in metal and masonry, of a one-man dream, a dream of such ambition and such magnitude as to defy the comprehension and the criticism of ordinary men or by ordinary standards.”

Photos: (1) Underwood & Underwood/Corbis (2) Chris Petsos Photography (3) James Maher Photography

Apr 9

The Ten Tallest Landmarks in NYC

#3 70 Pine Street

The former Cities Service Building at 70 Pine Street is a 66-story 
skyscraper, rising from a trapezoidal site bounded by Pine Street, Cedar Street, and Pearl Street. An icon of the lower Manhattan skyline, the building’s shaft terminates in a slender pinnacle crowned by an illuminated lantern and stainless steel spire. At the time of completion in 1932, this Art Deco style tower was the tallest structure in lower Manhattan, and at 952 feet, the third tallest structure in the world. 

Photos: (1) wirednewyork (2)

Apr 9

Today marks the anniversary of the end of the Civil War. 

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ memorial Arch, dedicated to the men who fought in the Union forces during the Civil war, is located at the southern side of the oval in Grand Army Plaza. The memorial is the dominant feature of the group of fine civic structures which mark the entrance to Brooklyn’s famous and beloved Prospect Park. Sculptors that worked on the project include Frederick William MacMonnies, William R. O’Donovan, and Thomas Eakins. 

Photos: (1) Brooklyn Public Library (2) Wally Gobetz (3) Inetours

Apr 9

The Ten Tallest NYC Landmarks

#4 Manhattan Company Building/40 Wall Street 

Planned as the world’s tallest building, the Manhattan Company Building was designed by H. Craig Severance and Yasuo Matsui. The building is crowned by a copper pyramidal roof capped by a spire. While the building’s overall massing is characteristic of Art Deco style skyscrapers in New York of the period, contemporary accounts refer to the building’s “modernized French Gothic” detailing. Built from 1929-1930, it was forced to concede the title of world’s tallest building to the Chrysler building; however, the Manhattan Company Building is still an imposing presence on the lower Manhattan skyline.

Photos: (1)skycraper museum (2) Wikipedia (3) Wirednewyork

Apr 4

The Ten Tallest Landmarks in NYC

#6 One Chase Manhattan Plaza

One Chase Manhattan Plaza is among the largest and most important 20th century skyscrapers in New York City. It was planned by Chase Manhattan Bank Executive Vice President David Rockefeller, the youngest son of John D. Rockefeller, and designed by the prestigious architectural firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill. The building is faced with shimmering panels of natural color and black-enameled aluminum, H-shaped mullions and glass. The spacious plaza incorporates six levels as well as a circular well where a “Sunken Garden” by the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi is located. Upon its completion in 1961, the structure was described in Architectural Forum as “a milestone, perhaps even an end point in the development of the American skyscraper.”