While the plaza at 110th Street and Central Park West was named for Frederick Douglass in 1950, it would be decades before the installation of any commemorative features. In the 1990s, the City began working in partnership with the Central Park Conservancy to undertake a major redesign of the plaza in an effort to recognize the achievements of this great man in a location known as the "Gateway to Harlem.”
A 2003 design competition established that the commemoration should not only consist of a monument to Douglass but encompass the entire plaza. The winning team included local Harlem artist Algernon Miller and Hungarian-American sculptor Gabriel Koren. Miller undertook the overall design for the plaza, including a fountain, and Koren designed the statue of Douglass. Her statue stands at ground level rather than on pedestal, making the figure of Douglass approachable and humble. The plaza has many design features that relate to escaping slavery. The north star, which was also the name of Douglass’s newspaper, appears amidst the constellations etched into a fountain wall made of bronze, a reference to the stars that provided orientation and illumination for those travelling at night. Geometric forms throughout the site provide seating that encourages rest and reflection, and their arrangement—along with paving patterns—are derived from traditional African-American quilt motifs. A perimeter fence made with a motif of a wagon wheel references the plantation blacksmiths who created the wagons that enabled many of the slaves to escape. Quotes inscribed on features throughout the site emphasize Douglass’s accomplishments as a writer and orator. Frederick Douglass Circle opened to the public in 2011.
Also in the area
While Frederick Douglass is an integral figure in American history, it took time for the eight-foot bronze sculpture and accompanying renovation of the area to come about.
Tags: Conservancy Staff / Park Design / Monuments / History