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The Definitive Superlative Guide to NYC's Park Architecture

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From comfort stations to castles, New York's parks are full of structural attractions and oddities, both new and old. The buildings that speckle the city's parks can be places to which people make intentional trips, as many do to see Fort Tryon's Cloister museum, or places they stumble on obliviously, like Poe's Grand Concourse-hugging cottage. In the superlative round-up, no distinction was made between parks that fan out around great buildings, or buildings that rose in great parks. For a survey of the most superlative-y parkitecture around, keep reading.

BEST OLDEST HOUSE IN NEW YORK CITY NEXT TO A CAR WASH

This award, hands down, goes to the Wyckoff Farmhouse in Flatbush's Fidler-Wyckoff House Park. The home was built in the rural community of Nieuw Amersfoort in 1652 by freed indentured servant Pieter Claesen Wyckoff. Wyckoff, his wife, and their 11 children (whose descendants number in the 50,000's these days) farmed the land surrounding the home for a livelihood. The Wyckoff home and grounds, which is a characteristic example of "the vernacular farmhouse architecture of the Dutch-American farms of Brooklyn and Queens", was enlarged on and farmed until 1901. The original portion of the house is what now stands as its kitchen. The house became the city's first designated landmark in 1965, and today serves as a museum.

BEST ARCHITECTURE UNDER THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BRIDGE

The Little Red Lighthouse at Jeffrey's Hook will take the title every time. The 40-foot-high lighthouse, named so after the classic 1942 children's book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Hildegard H. Swift, was built in 1880 and moved to its current location in 1921. It blissfully partook in lighthouse activities until it was decided, after the bridge's 1931 completion, that the towering structure's more austere lights rendered the Little Red Lighthouse useless. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1947 and by 1951 was condemned to be torn down and sold as scrap. Angry kids the nation over who loved Swift's book protested the lighthouse's demolition, at which time its ownership was transferred from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Today, visitors are welcome to climb its stairs and watch passing ships.

BEST LITERARY LANDMARK TO BE MOVED ACROSS A STREET IN THE BRONX

American author Edgar Allan Poe migrated north to this 32-year-old Bronx cottage surrounded by orchards and fields (modern translation: Grand Concourse between 191st and 192nd streets) in 1844 under the hope that its pastoral surrounds would bring better health to his tuberculosis-inflicted wife. It was a no-go. Just three years after moving in, Poe's wife perished. Two years later, he would do the same. Poe, a recognized literary figure during his lifetime, wrote Annabel Lee and Eureka in the cottage, inspiring his fans to seek the preservation of the three-room home that was slated for demolition. Included in the preservation measures, a move across the street to the tiny Poe Park where it now sits in perpetuity.


MOST INTERESTING BUILDING PLANNED FOR STARLIGHT PARK

Although still in its early stages, the nonprofit Bronx River Alliance's plan for their new headquarters along the Bronx River in Starlight Park is enough to overtake this superlative category. The Kiss + Cathcart-designed facility will include office space, a nature classroom, boat storage, and a multipurpose community room, and will employ green design: the building will have geothermal heating and cooling, solar panels, and will use rainwater to help flush toilets, water the surrounding grounds, and wash canoes. The ivy covering the building in the renderings isn't an artistic touch: the invasive plant will be used to keep the building cool. The $15 million building will be funded by the Parks Department, with $500,000 coming from the state. The headquarters, to be known as the Bronx River Greenway River House, will help facilitate more educational and recreational use of the city's only freshwater river.

BEST GOTHIC REVIVAL ENTRANCE TO A SPACE ENDING IN -WOOD

This runaway goes to the North Gate Screen at Green-Wood Cemetery, a destination on the National Register of Historic Places and the country's second-most popular tourist attraction in the 1860's. The cemetery's breathtaking entry gates were constructed of Belleville brownstone by church architect Richard Upjohn in 1861, 23 year after the cemetery's inauguration. The gates depict biblical scenes from the New Testament, including Lazarus and Jesus's Resurrection, through the sculpture work of John M. Moffitt.

BEST CASTLE IN CENTRAL PARK

Central Park's Belvedere Castle was an easy choice here. The whimsical Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted-designed castle was erected in 1869 for use as a lookout tower over the Great Lawn and Ramble sections of the Lower Reservoir. The castle rises over Vista Rock, the park's second-highest elevation, and its turret is the highest point in the park. Belvedere Castle was constructed in the Gothic and Romanesque styles, mostly of granite. To cut costs during the corrupt Tammany Hall era, an 1870 re-envisioning of the castle saw the addition of a wood-painted pavilion rather than the granite tower with a cone-shaped cap Vaux had imagined for the site. Since 1919, the tower's served as a National Weather Service measuring site.

MOST SIGNIFICANT STILL-STANDING 1964 WORLD'S FAIR STRUCTURES

The New York State Pavilion is an obvious choice for this one, especially given the talk of-late surrounding its future. A little back-history: the New York State Pavilion was designed by Philip Johnson for the 1964 World's Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. The pavilion is comprised of three elements—the Tent of Tomorrow, Observation Towers, and Theaterama—all meant to reflect the fair's theme of "Peace Through Understanding," dedicated to "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe." The reinforced concrete and steel structures have, since the passing of the fair, fallen into a sorry state, requiring action to determine their fate. The Park's Department presented three options for their future in late January: 1) tear down the structures, 2) stabilize them, or 3) restore them for future use. Each of the options requires more mulah than the city wants to spend on the project, but despite, it seems the good people have decided to keep the pavilion around. In late June, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz announced that the city has allocated $5.8 million to the preservation of the structures. The money will be used to spiff up their 50-year-old electrical system and repair concrete staircases and platforms. While the sum is small in terms of what the structures are in need of, it is a step towards a definite direction in determing their fate.

BEST $25 MILLION PLANT HOME IN BROOKLYN

While not historically significant (or historical at all for that matter), it sure is pretty. The Steinhardt Conservatory at Brooklyn Botanic Garden is far and away the best $25 million plant home in Brooklyn. The glass and metal structure was completed in 1988. Nowadays, it houses the gardens' indoor plants, including its impressive Bonsai collection that's considered "one of the oldest collections of dwarfed, potted trees in the country," a collection of aquatic plants, and the Trail of Evolution, which traces the history of plant evolution and the effects of climate change over 3.5 billion years.

BEST MEDIEVAL-ISH STRUCTURE IN A NEW YORK CITY PARK

The Cloisters are an architectural masterpiece, kind of. The medieval art museum in Washington Heights' Fort Tryon Park combines segments of Romanesque and Gothic cloisters from five medieval European monasteries, a Romanesque chapel, and a 12th-century Spanish apse to create the space for the intimate collection. The museum came to be through a rather collaborative effort: what vastly constitutes the collection was purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a $600,000 grant in 1920 from art and medieval antique collector George Grey Barnard. Barnard had been displaying the works at a space on Fort Washington Avenue that he had taken to calling the Cloisters. In 1909, Rockefeller donated 62 acres of land to the city, four of which were reserved for the second incarnation of the Cloisters. The museum was laid out by Charles Collins, and opened to the public in 1938. The building was designated a New York City landmark in 1974.


PARK THAT MOST CLOSELY RESEMBLES A PINBALL MACHINE

Kiss + Cathcart's brand new Bushwick Inlet Park is a shining example of sustainable parkitecture as it integrates its built environment with nature by featuring a planted, sloping roof that doubles as green space on top of new Parks Department offices. The former brownfield site at the Williamsburg/Greenpoint border's East River frontage is also made up of a playing field transformed from an empty parking lot. The architects integrated ground source heat pump wells, rainwater harvest and storage, and drip irrigation into the park's design, and a solar trellis produces half of the total energy used in the site's building. Starr Whitehouse is the park's landscape architect. Now, anyone have a tire?

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

990 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11225 (718) 623-7200 Visit Website

Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 5th Ave., New York, NY 10028