Editor's note: Our self-guided Richard Gilder Walk features Park landmarks—such as Sheep Meadow and Heckscher Ballfields—that highlight Dick’s 40-year involvement with Central Park and the Conservancy.
This month, Central Park and the Central Park Conservancy lost one of its most ardent supporters: Richard “Dick” Gilder, Jr.
Dick visited Central Park from an early age, and it remained one of his greatest passions in life. The Park was a merging of his deepest personal memories entwined with his profound love of American history. He viewed the Park as one of the country’s most inspiring innovations—and he was dedicated to not just supporting it monetarily, but building a system to support it.
In the 1970s, the Park was in a state of severe decline and lacked adequate care. The perception—and in many cases, the reality—of Central Park was of a lawless and dangerous ruin. To help remedy this, Dick partnered with George Soros to create the Central Park Community Fund, which sought to address the Park’s challenges with private funds and management expertise. The Fund even purchased critically needed equipment for the Park’s day-to-day care, including garbage trucks.
The Fund went on to underwrite a groundbreaking management study in 1974. Written by E.S. Savas (then-professor of public systems management at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business), this study proposed two important next steps to improve conditions in the Park. First, to give a chief executive officer the “clear and unambiguous managerial authority” for all Central Park operations, and second, to create a Central Park Board of Guardians to oversee strategic planning and policy.
This work resulted in the first Central Park Administrator, Elizabeth “Betsy” Barlow (now Rogers), and the creation of the Conservancy in 1980.
Throughout the Conservancy’s 40-year history, Dick continued to be a visionary advisor and passionate supporter of the organization's work. In 1993, he initiated a grant that he challenged the Conservancy and New York City to match as part of the Wonder of New York campaign. This effort raised more than $70 million for the Park, which went toward restoring Summit Rock, Merchants' Gate, Naturalists' Walk, Turtle Pond, the Great Lawn, and the North Meadow, while also contributing to the Conservancy’s operating support and endowment.
Dick was also an avid runner who frequented the Reservoir running track throughout his life. Gilder Run, located on the steps of Bridge No. 24 and connecting the East Drive with the running track, is named after him—a gift from his children.
Central Park’s miraculous transformation is due in large part to Dick. His dedication to improving the Park—and pioneering vision for how to accomplish it—will continue to make a tremendous difference to all New Yorkers and Park visitors for generations to come.
Here are a few mid-20th-century films, all shot in black and white, to watch on a cozy night in—each of which features Central Park.
Central Park has 20 named gates, spread around the Park’s six-mile perimeter. Most of these gates are named to honor the people and professions—merchants, artisans, inventors—that made up the City in the 1860s. Learn how these named gates came to be, and how they reflect the intention that the City’s premier greenspace should be a place that celebrates all New Yorkers.
Tags: Park Design / History
About the Conservancy
Central Park's iconic Chess & Checkers House and Kinderberg are newly restored. See how the Conservancy's expert team of landscape architects, architects, project managers, and historians worked to revive the site, a destination for kids of all ages for over 150 years.
Tags: Conservancy Staff / Park Design / About the Conservancy / Rustic Architecture / History / Park Experts / Landscape Design / Restoration and Maintenance
Health and Fitness
The colorful display of tulips and daffodils is made possible every year by months of thoughtful planning, design, and planting by the Central Park Conservancy’s gardening team.
Tags: Conservancy Staff / Park Design / Spring / Flowers / Nature Lovers