September 4, 2014
200th Anniversary of the Naming of Madison Square
2014 marks the bicentennial of the naming of Madison Square, now perhaps the most beautiful and historic of New York City’s small parks.
Why is it so special? There are lots of reasons, but a primary one is the inventive plan laid out by Ignatz Pilat and William Grant in in 1870. The plan uses curving paths that do not afford direct paths through the park . The effect is to create an oasis that seems many times larger than it actually is. Anyone, who has enjoyed the park, knows the total respite from the city it affords.
How brilliant this plan is becomes clearer when it is compared to other layouts of the park. When the park first opened in 1844, a strict grid layout was imposed on the park’s 6.2 acres. There was a straight path up the center and perpendicular paths aligning with 24th and 25th Streets – the city street grid was effectively extended into the park. Plans in 1910 and 1935 would have brought the park back close to this original layout, and one can see how static they would have been.
Original Grid Plan Pilat-Grant Plan
The advent of this lovely Pilat-Grant park plan in 1870 happily coincided with the development of the area as the center of New York society, theatres, fine restaurants and world-famous hotels. The result was a Gilded Age explosion around the park with the city’s best families locating here and the famous from around the world gathering around it.
The beauty and historical significance of the park also has a great deal to do with the sensitive restoration and maintenance of the park through the 1980s and 90s and the final complete restoration of the park in 1999. Since the completion of the latest restoration in 2001, the park has been kept meticulously by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, which has also enlivened it with visionary arts, music, food and children’s programs.
With the 2001 restoration, the area around the park has once again become home to affluent New Yorkers, nightlife, wonderful restaurants, world-class hotels, and now brand businesses.
Clearly all this good fortune is not a coincidence. The foresight of many people over the centuries and the work of the Conservancy and City today have not only provided generations of New Yorker’s with a glorious place of rest and relaxation, but also an important cornerstone for building a true 24/7, live/work neighborhood with a vibrant economic life.
Berman, Miriam, Madison Square, Gibbs-Smith Publishers, Salt Lake City, 2001, p. 18.
Wikipedia, “Madison Square,” downloaded 9.19.13 from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madison_Square.
Lau, Margaret, Epoch Times “Madison Square Park Relived,” downloaded 8.12.14 from http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/united-states/madison-square-park-relived-52231.html.