Bryant Park is born

Bryant Park

In 1884, Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park, to honor recently deceased Romantic poet, longtime editor of the New York Evening Post, and civic reformer, William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). Around this time, the city approved designs for the New York Public Library, submitted by architects John Merven Carrére and Thomas Hastings. The Beaux-Arts building was completed in 1911, with a raised terrace at the rear of the library and two comfort stations at the east end of Bryant Park.

A Park in Transition

Throughout the 1920s, the north half of Bryant Park was closed to the public due to construction of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) subway tunnel along 42nd Street. IRT contractors began work in early 1922, using park space to store equipment and debris until 1927. Reflecting on this decade, the author of a 1936 The New Yorker article remarked that in the past fourteen years "Bryant Park has been closed to the public for half of that time on account they were digging in it . . ." also calling it one of the most "badgered and turned-up lots in the world."

Five years later, in April 1932, the Washington Bicentennial Commission erected a replica of Federal Hall on the east side of the park, just behind the New York Public Library. After the celebration, the hall remained standing and boarded up for several months until it was torn down in April 1933.

The 1934 redesign

Shortly after the demolition of the Federal Hall replica, the Architects' Emergency Committee sponsored a contest to redesign the park. The winning submission came from Queens-based architect Lusby Simpson, and was a classical scheme of a large central lawn, formal pathways, stone balustrades, allées of London Plane trees, and at the west end, an oval plaza containing the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain. When Robert Moses became Parks Commissioner in 1934, the plan was executed with the aid of consulting architect Aymar Embury II and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke. The park opened to the public on September 14, 1934.

Did you know?

In the 1930s. the New York Public Library established an outdoor reading room on its rear terrace. In good weather, carts of books were moved outside, where Works Progress Administration workers served as staff.