Check Out This Insta-Worthy Vision for Central Park That Never Was

published Jul 29, 2017
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(Image credit: Melpomene)

Slate Vault has uncovered some drawings for an alternate vision of one of America’s greatest public spaces: New York City’s Central Park.

This rejected design by engineer John Rink, currently on display at the New York Historical Society, is one of 33 entries in the 1857 design competition that chose a plan for the site between 59th and 110th Streets — including the winning “Greensward Plan” design by Frederick Law Olmsted, who won $2,000 at the time and bragging rights forever.

(Image credit: New-York Historical Society Library)

Rink’s original 8 ½-foot long plan, on the other hand, was lost for years before being discovered in 2008 in an attic — now preserved forever online, in this zoomable, hi-res digital version — and is one of only five surviving visions for Central Park, according to Slate Vault and Untapped Cities.

Quite the opposite of the egalitarian land use designed by Frederick Law Olmsted — now considered the “Father of American Landscape Architecture” — Rink’s vision was for a much more decorative park, one that was more in line with the ornate, ornamental tastes and sensibilities of the Victorian era, modeled after the formal, structured topiary gardens in the shapes of stars and spirals of the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. What it lacked in the wide open green spaces that we have now come to associate with the best urban parks, Rink’s vision more than made up for in aesthetic — just imagine the Instagram and drone photography potential. (SWOON.)

(Image credit: New-York Historical Society Library)

Had this alternative Central Park design been chosen, it also would have included a large public museum that would have pre-dated (some say rivaled) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and may have saved the city some time, headaches, and money in its construction.

Olmsted’s vision of an English-style landscape with meadows, lakes, hills, winding pedestrian paths, and many trees to block the view of city buildings actually took “more gunpowder than was later fired at the Battle of Gettysburg, [to move] nearly 3 million cubic yards of soil [from the previously] irregular terrain of swamps and bluffs punctuated by rocky outcroppings,” according to historians Elizabeth Blackmar and Roy Rosenzweig.

(Image credit: New-York Historical Society Library)

To read more about Rink and Olmsted’s designs, and view a few more alternative visions for an NYC that never was — including a third design that featured a cricket field — check out this 2013 story on the “Untapped Secrets of Central Park” or the official history.