Behind The Scenes

Central Park Could Have Had A Lot More Topiaries

In 1857, the Board of Commissioners of Central Park decided that they needed to actually build Central Park. So they announced a design competition to plan the site, with a reward of $2,000. The Board chose Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s winning entry, which elegantly balanced open and designed spaces with wilderness, from 33 entries, only five of which have survived today.

John Rink Plan of the Central Park, New York, March 20, 1858 Ink and colored washes New-York Historical Society

Two of the rejected designs are currently on display at the New-York Historical Society, for a look at the Central Park that could have been. One was designed by John Rink, whose design favored symmetry and formal gardens over the open, flowing design of Olmsted and Vaux. The formal gardens are designated by their shapes, like the Star Ground and Spiral Ground, and roads and entrance gates are named after United States presidents and patriots.

Rink plan before conservation treatment

Rink plan before conservation treatment

The New-York Historical Society acquired the Rink design in 2008, after it had been found rolled up in an attic! Alan Balicki, Chief Conservator at the New-York Historical Society, oversaw the drawing’s conservation, which included surface cleaning after years of dirt builup, and flattening with the aid of humidification. Tears were also mended and filled with paper or pulp, and stains from water damage reduced. It’s a lot of work!

Rink plan after conservation treatment

Rink plan after conservation treatment

Also on display is a design submitted by George E. Waring, Jr., which was a far cry from Rink’s heavily manicured landscape. Waring’s plan adhered to the natural topography, which, while lovely and natural, would have made it difficult to walk across. However, his design did feature a cricket field!

79689_CentralParkCompetitionEntry29_Waring

George E. Waring, Jr. (1833–1898), Plan of the Central Park: respectfully submitted to the Commissioners of the Park, March, 1858. Ink and wash, New-York Historical Society

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