Great Hill Public Restroom and Accessibility Improvements

The Great Hill’s landscape has a rich history. Once known as Harlem Heights, it commanded panoramic views in all directions. Because of its elevation at 134 feet above sea level, it was used strategically as a military encampment during the Revolutionary War. Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux took advantage of the site’s steep topography, creating an oval carriage concourse that encircled the Great Hill’s summit and served as an outlook. The concourse offered spectacular views of Manhattan, the Hudson River and Palisades, and the Long Island Sound.

From Central Park’s early days, the Great Hill was conceived as a site for family outings. Families arriving by carriage would take in breathtaking views from the concourse, disembark, go for a stroll in the adjoining landscapes, and picnic or play in the central lawn. The first half of the 20th century marked a shift away from flexible, multi-use landscapes to the creation of facilities designed to accommodate specific recreational demands. Modifications to the Great Hill landscape reflected this trend. From the 1930s through the 1950s, it was transformed through the addition of game courts, benches, a public restroom, and numerous new paths.

By the 1980s, the area had fallen into disrepair. The outdated recreational facilities were abandoned and deteriorating, and the surrounding landscapes were overgrown. In 1985, the Central Park Conservancy began to return the Great Hill to its original character. The game courts were removed and converted back to lawn. The Conservancy continued to restore the area through the 1990s and 2000s, improving the infrastructure, rebuilding pathways, and diversifying plantings along paths. In renewing the Great Hill over the past two decades, the Conservancy has sought to emphasize the naturalistic character intended by the Park’s designers.

Built in 1955, the Great Hill public restroom is a 400-square-foot, single-story structure that includes two single-use restrooms, as well as a mechanical and storage room. The Central Park Conservancy is currently moving forward with a project to restore the building to its original historic design. We are also making accessibility improvements, including removing a step into the building, creating accessible stalls, and building accessible routes from the Drive. In addition, we will establish the restroom as a year-round facility, as it currently closes for the winter. The building has not been updated since 2006.

Project Goals

  • Restoring the building’s exterior, including doors, windows, and missing architectural features consistent with the historic design
  • Improving restroom accessibility to meet jurisdictional requirements and best practices
  • Upgrading restroom facilities and building systems
  • Creating accessible routes to the restroom and adjacent Park locations
  • Regrading and resurfacing paths with the accessible materials used throughout the Park

Scope of Work

  • Replacement of existing granite blocks with ADA-accessible blocks
  • Creation of accessible landings at each restroom entrance
  • The addition of an accessible route by creating a slope up from the existing loop trail to the restroom entrance
  • Improving drainage by pitching walkways away from the building
  • Reconfiguration of interior walls to accommodate an accessible stall in each restroom
  • Installation of new finishes, fixtures, and accessories; plumbing fixture count to remain the same
  • Replacement of slate roof, as needed
  • Repairs to façade masonry and chemical cleaning of limestone
  • Installation of new windows and doors, based on original design drawings
  • Upgrading of interior lighting to LED
  • Repairs to or replacement of original drinking fountain
  • Upgrades to electrical service to allow restroom to remain open year-round

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