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Mapping Central Park Architect Calvert Vaux's Other NYC Work

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Calvert Vaux is best known as the co-architect, with Frederick Law Olmsted, of New York's great parks, including Central Park, Prospect Park, Morningside Park, and Riverside Park. Vaux, however, left an even deeper architectural legacy in the city, from schools to commercial buildings to grand public spaces like the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vaux (pronounced "Vox") was born in England and came to the United States in 1851 to work for Andrew Jackson Downing, the country's leading (and basically only) landscape architect. Downing's untimely death in 1852 led Vaux to take over the architecture firm just as the city was beginning work on Central Park. Vaux suggested a contest to pick the park's design, which he and Olmsted handily won. (Olmsted gets the lion's share of the credit for their park work, but the architectural sensibility is all Vaux.) Over the years, Vaux worked with a number of partners, including Jacob Wrey Mould, George Radford, and Frederick Clarke Withers. These 11 Vaux projects (and one tribute) are not an exhaustive list, but provide a good sampling of the breadth of his work, and where you can still see it in under-appreciated corners of the city today.


—James Nevius is the author of three books about New York, the most recent of which is Footprints in New York: Tracing the Lives of Four Centuries of New Yorkers.
· The Definitive Superlative Guide to NYC's Park Architecture [Curbed]
· All Calvert Vaux coverage [Curbed]

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1. Pavilion, Columbus Park (Vaux 1897)

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49 Mulberry St.
New York, NY 10013

Finished two years after the architect's death, Columbus Park (formerly Mulberry Bend Park) was Vaux's last contribution to the city's park system, ending a 40-year career in park design that started with Central Park. While the park on Bayard Street between Baxter and Mulberry has been reconfigured and renamed, the pavilion at the north end remains mostly Vaux's handiwork. On weekday mornings, you'll find neighborhood Chinese residents doing tai chi; on weekend days it is often filled with the sounds of Chinese opera. [Postcard via James Nevius]

2. 448 Broome Street (Vaux and Withers, 1871)

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This cast-iron gem finds Vaux and Withers working in a highly decorated, French Renaissance-inspired design that was beginning to transform cast-iron architecture at the time. As with Richard Morris Hunt's nearby Roosevelt Building (1874), which serves as today's Top Shop, Vaux and Withers were among the first architects to treat cast iron as a unique building material and not try to mimic classical stone work. Originally, the building would have housed a retail floor at street level and manufacturing above; the manufacturing floors have since been converted into lofts by Joseph Pell Lombardi. [Photo via Lombardi]

3. Former 14th Ward Industrial School (Vaux and Radford 1889)

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256 Mott Street
New York, NY 10012

Calvert Vaux was the leading practitioner of the Victorian Gothic in New York and while this former school—one of Vaux's many educational and social service projects late in his career—may not be as grand as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, it is still a fine example of the architect's ability to work Gothic touches into any project. It's no coincidence that the school, run by the protestant Children's Aid Society, stood across the street from the original St. Patrick's Cathedral: it was a closely held belief of many 19th-century "WASP" reformers that young Irish and Italian children needed to be saved from the errant teachings of the Catholic faith. [Photo via Wikimedia Commons]

4. Former 6th Street Industrial School (Vaux and Radford 1890)

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630 East 6th Street
New York, NY 10009

Called "magnificent and stately" by the AIA Guide, the 6th Street Industrial School (also a Children's Aid Society institution) is a great example of a brick and terra cotta design that was just going out of style. Some speculate that Nos. 636 and 638 (a former synagogue) next door are also by Vaux and Radford from the same time period, but that attribution hasn't ben proven. The building today houses a residential facility of the Lower Eastside Service Center, one of the few buildings of its type not to be converted into luxury condos.[Photo via Wikimedia Commons]

5. Former Sullivan Street Industrial School (Vaux and Radford 1892)

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215 Sullivan Street
New York, NY 10012

...and speaking of condo conversion, the Children's Aid Society's former Sullivan Street School building is in the process of being converted into luxurious homes—which nearly sold out in their three months on the market . (Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are potential buyers".) The building is practically a copy of the earlier 14th Ward Industrial School. In all, Vaux and Radford built six schools for the society; the three covered here, two which have been demolished, and the Rhinelander Children's Center, which still stands at 350 East 88th Street, though it's currently for sale and marketed as a potential single-family mansion. [Photo via Google Street View]

6. Former Jefferson Market Courthouse (Vaux and Withers 1877)

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425 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10011

Perhaps Vaux and Withers's finest work—at least their most flamboyant—the courthouse was a mix between a Venetian Gothic church and a Bavarian castle. The building (which today houses a branch of the New York Public Library) is actually just half of the original complex. The lofty belltower was a fire watchtower. The main library building was the Third Judicial Court, which mostly handled arraignments. Now gone are two other buildings: a jail, located behind the courthouse, and the covered market that gave the complex its name. Over the main entrance sits an arched tympanum; on a church, this would feature Christ enthroned, surrounded by saints. Here, Vaux and Radford instead choose a secular, judicial theme: the climax of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice—still appropriate for the library housed there today. [Photo via Library of Congress]

7. Former Samuel Tilden Mansion (Vaux and Radford 1884)

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15 Gramercy Park S
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-8824
Visit Website

After New York governor Samuel J. Tilden lost his presidential bid in 1876, he put in motion a multi-year renovation of the twin townhouses he owned on Gramercy Park. Vaux and Radford broke through the interior walls, joining the two homes into one massive mansion, and unifying the facade with red sandstone, terra cotta ornamentation, and portrait busts of Tilden’s favorite authors, including Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante. They also included Benjamin Franklin because, in Tilden’s words, he was a “representative American.” The mansion now houses the National Arts Club; the galleries usually open to the public are devoid of much charm, but if a member can get you in past the velvet ropes, the interiors that Vaux oversaw—including a massive stained glass dome over what is now the bar—are worth the visit. [Photo by James Nevius]

8. Belvedere Castle (Vaux 1869)

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79th Street
New York, NY 10024

Though not all the architecture in Central Park was designed by Vaux (some famous structures, like Tavern on the Green, were the work of partner Jacob Wrey Mould), all bear his indelible Gothic stamp and all were integral to Frederick Law Olmsted's picturesque vision. Belvedere ("beautiful view") Castle was built high above the ramble as a folly, and was originally designed not be explored, but to be seen from afar. The ideal view of the castle's turret was from the overlook at Bethesda Terrace. In the nineteenth century, the trees in the Ramble would have been pruned back so that the top of the castle—seemingly very large and very far away—would float above the treetops. Since 1919, the United States Weather Bureau has monitored temperature and precipitation from the castle, which also serves as a park visitor's center and is located near the 79th Street Transverse. [Photo via Museum of the City of New York]

9. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Vaux and Mould 1880)

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1000 5th Ave
New York, NY 10028
(212) 535-7710
Visit Website

A century of renovations and additions have obscured almost all of Vaux and Mould's original structure, which was tiny compared to the museum's current footprint spanning from 80th to 84th streets A few charming Vaux/Mould pieces remain: a portion of an arch on the second floor near the grand staircase; the original Central Park wall in what is now the Lehman Wing; and a staircase down to the main bookstore, complete with Gothic quatrefoil arches, a typical Vaux touch. (At the companion Museum of Natural History across the park, Vaux's handiwork is even harder to spot, but if you stand in the right spot on the Columbus Avenue side, a sliver of the original facade peeks out.) [The original Vaux and Mould facade of the Metropolitan Museum, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

10. Ocean Parkway (Vaux and Olmsted 1874-6)

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Though Vaux and Olmsted are best known for their parks, they also proposed a series of parkways in 1866 (based on the grand boulevards of Paris) to connect the public parks in Brooklyn. Though most of Eastern Parkway was constructed, the only parkway built to its full length was Ocean Parkway, which runs from Prospect Park all the way to Surf Avenue in Coney Island, nearly six miles away. Turned into a de facto racetrack by horsemen in the nineteenth century, the parkway was also home to Brooklyn’s first bike path, added in 1894. [Bike path on Ocean Parkway courtesy of the Museum of the CIty of New York]

11. Beth Olam Cemetery Chapel (Vaux and Radford 1885)

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71-02 Cypress Hills Street
Flushing, NY 11385

Vaux’s only confirmed religious building is the small chapel, or Metaher house, in the fourth cemetery of Shearith Israel, America’s oldest Jewish congregation. He and Radford also designed the gates to the cemetery in an 1885 renovation of this 1851 graveyard. [Photo via Beth Olam Cemetery]

12. Calvert Vaux Park (constructed in the 1960s; named for Vaux in 1998)

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Built mainly from soil and rock excavated during the building of Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, this park in Gravesend is named for Vaux because of its proximity to where he lived—and because the spit of land it occupies is very close to the spot where the architect drowned in 1895. Originally ruled a suicide, the police soon backtracked, declaring it an accidental death. Vaux, however, had been despondent at the end of his life and his actions (such as leaving his valuables at home) square with him taking his own life. [Photo via NYC Parks]

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1. Pavilion, Columbus Park (Vaux 1897)

49 Mulberry St., New York, NY 10013

Finished two years after the architect's death, Columbus Park (formerly Mulberry Bend Park) was Vaux's last contribution to the city's park system, ending a 40-year career in park design that started with Central Park. While the park on Bayard Street between Baxter and Mulberry has been reconfigured and renamed, the pavilion at the north end remains mostly Vaux's handiwork. On weekday mornings, you'll find neighborhood Chinese residents doing tai chi; on weekend days it is often filled with the sounds of Chinese opera. [Postcard via James Nevius]

49 Mulberry St.
New York, NY 10013

2. 448 Broome Street (Vaux and Withers, 1871)

New York, NY 10012

This cast-iron gem finds Vaux and Withers working in a highly decorated, French Renaissance-inspired design that was beginning to transform cast-iron architecture at the time. As with Richard Morris Hunt's nearby Roosevelt Building (1874), which serves as today's Top Shop, Vaux and Withers were among the first architects to treat cast iron as a unique building material and not try to mimic classical stone work. Originally, the building would have housed a retail floor at street level and manufacturing above; the manufacturing floors have since been converted into lofts by Joseph Pell Lombardi. [Photo via Lombardi]

3. Former 14th Ward Industrial School (Vaux and Radford 1889)

256 Mott Street, New York, NY 10012

Calvert Vaux was the leading practitioner of the Victorian Gothic in New York and while this former school—one of Vaux's many educational and social service projects late in his career—may not be as grand as the Jefferson Market Courthouse, it is still a fine example of the architect's ability to work Gothic touches into any project. It's no coincidence that the school, run by the protestant Children's Aid Society, stood across the street from the original St. Patrick's Cathedral: it was a closely held belief of many 19th-century "WASP" reformers that young Irish and Italian children needed to be saved from the errant teachings of the Catholic faith. [Photo via Wikimedia Commons]

256 Mott Street
New York, NY 10012

4. Former 6th Street Industrial School (Vaux and Radford 1890)

630 East 6th Street, New York, NY 10009

Called "magnificent and stately" by the AIA Guide, the 6th Street Industrial School (also a Children's Aid Society institution) is a great example of a brick and terra cotta design that was just going out of style. Some speculate that Nos. 636 and 638 (a former synagogue) next door are also by Vaux and Radford from the same time period, but that attribution hasn't ben proven. The building today houses a residential facility of the Lower Eastside Service Center, one of the few buildings of its type not to be converted into luxury condos.[Photo via Wikimedia Commons]

630 East 6th Street
New York, NY 10009

5. Former Sullivan Street Industrial School (Vaux and Radford 1892)

215 Sullivan Street, New York, NY 10012

...and speaking of condo conversion, the Children's Aid Society's former Sullivan Street School building is in the process of being converted into luxurious homes—which nearly sold out in their three months on the market . (Kanye West and Kim Kardashian are potential buyers".) The building is practically a copy of the earlier 14th Ward Industrial School. In all, Vaux and Radford built six schools for the society; the three covered here, two which have been demolished, and the Rhinelander Children's Center, which still stands at 350 East 88th Street, though it's currently for sale and marketed as a potential single-family mansion. [Photo via Google Street View]

215 Sullivan Street
New York, NY 10012

6. Former Jefferson Market Courthouse (Vaux and Withers 1877)

425 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10011

Perhaps Vaux and Withers's finest work—at least their most flamboyant—the courthouse was a mix between a Venetian Gothic church and a Bavarian castle. The building (which today houses a branch of the New York Public Library) is actually just half of the original complex. The lofty belltower was a fire watchtower. The main library building was the Third Judicial Court, which mostly handled arraignments. Now gone are two other buildings: a jail, located behind the courthouse, and the covered market that gave the complex its name. Over the main entrance sits an arched tympanum; on a church, this would feature Christ enthroned, surrounded by saints. Here, Vaux and Radford instead choose a secular, judicial theme: the climax of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice—still appropriate for the library housed there today. [Photo via Library of Congress]

425 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10011

7. Former Samuel Tilden Mansion (Vaux and Radford 1884)

15 Gramercy Park S, New York, NY 10003

After New York governor Samuel J. Tilden lost his presidential bid in 1876, he put in motion a multi-year renovation of the twin townhouses he owned on Gramercy Park. Vaux and Radford broke through the interior walls, joining the two homes into one massive mansion, and unifying the facade with red sandstone, terra cotta ornamentation, and portrait busts of Tilden’s favorite authors, including Shakespeare, Milton, and Dante. They also included Benjamin Franklin because, in Tilden’s words, he was a “representative American.” The mansion now houses the National Arts Club; the galleries usually open to the public are devoid of much charm, but if a member can get you in past the velvet ropes, the interiors that Vaux oversaw—including a massive stained glass dome over what is now the bar—are worth the visit. [Photo by James Nevius]

15 Gramercy Park S
New York, NY 10003

8. Belvedere Castle (Vaux 1869)

79th Street, New York, NY 10024

Though not all the architecture in Central Park was designed by Vaux (some famous structures, like Tavern on the Green, were the work of partner Jacob Wrey Mould), all bear his indelible Gothic stamp and all were integral to Frederick Law Olmsted's picturesque vision. Belvedere ("beautiful view") Castle was built high above the ramble as a folly, and was originally designed not be explored, but to be seen from afar. The ideal view of the castle's turret was from the overlook at Bethesda Terrace. In the nineteenth century, the trees in the Ramble would have been pruned back so that the top of the castle—seemingly very large and very far away—would float above the treetops. Since 1919, the United States Weather Bureau has monitored temperature and precipitation from the castle, which also serves as a park visitor's center and is located near the 79th Street Transverse. [Photo via Museum of the City of New York]

79th Street
New York, NY 10024

9. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Vaux and Mould 1880)

1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028

A century of renovations and additions have obscured almost all of Vaux and Mould's original structure, which was tiny compared to the museum's current footprint spanning from 80th to 84th streets A few charming Vaux/Mould pieces remain: a portion of an arch on the second floor near the grand staircase; the original Central Park wall in what is now the Lehman Wing; and a staircase down to the main bookstore, complete with Gothic quatrefoil arches, a typical Vaux touch. (At the companion Museum of Natural History across the park, Vaux's handiwork is even harder to spot, but if you stand in the right spot on the Columbus Avenue side, a sliver of the original facade peeks out.) [The original Vaux and Mould facade of the Metropolitan Museum, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art]

1000 5th Ave
New York, NY 10028

10. Ocean Parkway (Vaux and Olmsted 1874-6)

Brooklyn, NY

Though Vaux and Olmsted are best known for their parks, they also proposed a series of parkways in 1866 (based on the grand boulevards of Paris) to connect the public parks in Brooklyn. Though most of Eastern Parkway was constructed, the only parkway built to its full length was Ocean Parkway, which runs from Prospect Park all the way to Surf Avenue in Coney Island, nearly six miles away. Turned into a de facto racetrack by horsemen in the nineteenth century, the parkway was also home to Brooklyn’s first bike path, added in 1894. [Bike path on Ocean Parkway courtesy of the Museum of the CIty of New York]

11. Beth Olam Cemetery Chapel (Vaux and Radford 1885)

71-02 Cypress Hills Street, Flushing, NY 11385

Vaux’s only confirmed religious building is the small chapel, or Metaher house, in the fourth cemetery of Shearith Israel, America’s oldest Jewish congregation. He and Radford also designed the gates to the cemetery in an 1885 renovation of this 1851 graveyard. [Photo via Beth Olam Cemetery]

71-02 Cypress Hills Street
Flushing, NY 11385

12. Calvert Vaux Park (constructed in the 1960s; named for Vaux in 1998)

Brooklyn, NY 11214

Built mainly from soil and rock excavated during the building of Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, this park in Gravesend is named for Vaux because of its proximity to where he lived—and because the spit of land it occupies is very close to the spot where the architect drowned in 1895. Originally ruled a suicide, the police soon backtracked, declaring it an accidental death. Vaux, however, had been despondent at the end of his life and his actions (such as leaving his valuables at home) square with him taking his own life. [Photo via NYC Parks]