Visitors can relax or play sports on the open green fields or bring a few friends for a game of baseball. The Great Lawn is a prime spot for sports enthusiasts, picnickers, sunbathers, and families, but few of them know that once, this famous green was all underwater.
Between 1842 and 1931, this area housed the York Hill receiving reservoir, part of the system that first gave New York City fresh water. It was a huge breakthrough for public health, but frustrated Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designers of the Park, who disliked the aesthetics of the its harsh rectangular shape.
Eventually, the old water system became obsolete, and the reservoir was decommissioned in 1931. Various proposals were submitted to transform the site into a World War I memorial, a sports arena, airport landing pads, an opera house, or a vault to store motion pictures. Instead, it became the pastoral vision of green space that Olmsted and Vaux desired. The lush oval opened in 1937, and the baseball diamonds were added in the 1950s.
In the 20th century, the Great Lawn became a music-lover’s paradise, hosting appearances from Simon and Garfunkel, Diana Ross, Bon Jovi, the Metropolitan Opera, and the New York Philharmonic. But without the proper maintenance, these events left the lawn near-destroyed and it became “the Great Dust Bowl.”
The Central Park Conservancy restored the lawn in 1997 and continues to care for it, 365 days a year. Today, it is filled with visitors of all ages who come to enjoy the pastoral sights, and views of the New York City skyline.