Archives of the Mayor's Press Office

Date: Thursday, October 7, 1999

Release #396-99

Contact: Sunny Mindel/ Edward Skyler (212) 788-2958


Elegant 19th Century Park Opens In Time For New Millennium After Ten-Month Reconstruction

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani today re-dedicated City Hall Park after a comprehensive reconstruction. The renovations recreate the park's 19th century grandeur, while respecting the historic significance of this powerful symbol of liberty and independence. The Mayor was joined by Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington; Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern; Landmarks Commission Chairperson Jennifer J. Raab; and NYC 2000 Chair Ron Silver at today's ceremony. The Mayor officially re-opened the park by opening the valve for the Jacob Wrey Mould Fountain, sending cascades of water into the air. Announced at the Mayor's 1998 State of the City Address, the reconstruction of the park began in December of 1998 and was completed today.

"The rebirth of City Hall Park is a symbol of the ongoing renaissance of New York City" Mayor Giuliani said. "In the beginning of the 20th century, City Hall Park was described as 'one of the most spacious and delightful squares with which any City Hall in America was surrounded.' Today, we have returned this urban treasure to its prior glory. In the 21st century, people will be able to enjoy this gift from the New Yorkers of the 20th."

Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington said, "Over the past ten months, we have taken City Hall Park back to its 19th century splendor. For the first time in sixty years the park has been improved, and New Yorkers can once again take pride in City Hall Park."

Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern said, "City Hall Park is back as a wonderful place for New Yorkers to enjoy. With educational markers explaining its 350 years as New York's historic commons, it is the City's first museum-park and a fitting tribute to our past."

Historic Details Revive Park's Rich History For Public To Enjoy

The nine-acre park will command visitors' attention as they approach it from all directions. Granite sidewalks lead the way to the park's entrances, which are marked with stone piers reminiscent of the original entries. An exact replica of the 1820's perimeter fence, complete with its cylindrical steel posts topped by finials, encloses the park. The original fence was removed in 1865 to accommodate the since removed Federal Post Office, and now guards a cemetery in upstate Bloomingburg, New York.

The Jacob Wrey Mould Fountain, removed from City Hall Park and transported to the Bronx's Crotona Park in 1920, has been restored and returned to the park, and now serves as its centerpiece. Originally designed in 1871, this Victorian fountain is a granite basin with semi-circular pools on each side and a central cascade. It replaces the Delacorte Fountain at the park's southern end. At night, the fountain will be lit by four gas bronze candelabras, replicas of gas lamps dating back to the 1850's, and underwater floodlights. Just south of the fountain, a medallion, consisting of nine granite panels, traces the history of City Hall Park from its 17th century Dutch origins through the 1999 reconstruction.

A new walkway now leads from the fountain to City Hall's bluestone plaza, creating a majestic approach to City Hall. Looking south from the plaza, one can see the fountain and beyond to St. Paul's Chapel. This view corridor between City Hall and the Chapel was obscured by the now-gone Federal Post Office from 1870 to 1939.

The pathways cutting across the park were simplified or removed, and those remaining were rebuilt with natural bluestone pavement. New interior post and chain fencing now lines the paths, paying homage to the 19th century Gardenesque style. Using renovation techniques which protect archeological artifacts below the surface of the park, the lawns have been reconstructed. In the tradition of Olmsted, the lawns were regraded to create rolling slopes, with the paths below them providing a buffer for park-goers from the street. New gardens containing many diverse plant species were planted throughout the park, resulting in more green space and fewer paved areas. In total, 105 trees, 700 shrubs, and 12,000 perennials were planted during the project. These flowering trees, evergreens, groundcovers are set within formal gardens, flowerbeds and landscapes, and will be supported by a new irrigation system that will keep the park green throughout the year.

Outlines, or "Footprints," of past buildings-- marked in the paving by alternating the texture and color of the stones-- now trace the perimeter of now- gone buildings including the Windmill, the British Barracks, the Croton Fountain (the first fountain in New York) and the Post Office. 130 old style cast-iron benches are in place throughout the park, and five new chess tables were put in the northwest corner of the park.

At night, the park will be illuminated by 90 light poles, including old-fashioned "Fifth Avenue" poles on the perimeter sidewalks, and ornate cage poles on the center path. All of the monuments in the park have been restored, including the Nathan Hale and Horace Greeley statues and the Liberty Flagpole.

Improving Pedestrian and Vehicle Flow Through Related Transportation Projects

Related transportation projects undertaken in conjunction with the park renovation will soon be completed. The vehicle ramp leading to the Brooklyn Bridge is being moved to the south, creating a green space in between the pedestrian/bike path and motorists. Additionally, a new crosswalk from the Municipal Building to the Park will create a safer environment for pedestrians and bikers.

The six traffic islands at the southern tip of City Hall Park are being consolidated into two greener islands with trees and historic light poles. The area, which will be called "Millennium Park," will have realigned roadbeds, and crosswalks making it safer for pedestrians to cross from the west side of Broadway to the park, Park Row or Ann Street. In addition, the traffic medians running from the Brooklyn Bridge approach to Millennium Park are being rebuilt, and the streets around the park are being re-paved.

With $4 million in funding provided by the New York City Transit Authority, the City has reinforced and waterproofed the seven subway lines beneath the park, thus avoiding the need for excavation and disruption of the park in the near future. In addition, vintage railings will be installed on the entrances to all of the subway stations located within the park.

City Hall Park's Rich History

City Hall Park was first set aside as a public commons in the late 17th century and it became a public park at the turn of the next century. City Hall was built over the course of nine years, from 1803 to 1812. Since then, comprehensive plans for the park have been proposed but never fully implemented, which created a confused space with unrealized potential.

The last time the park underwent major capital work was in 1939, when the Federal Post Office was demolished. At that time, an effort by Robert Moses to renovate the park was met with resistance and stymied. The current design, by Parks Department landscape architect George P. Vellonakis, has elegantly restored the park to fluid function while interpreting its rich heritage, both historically and architecturally. The park's opening coincides with the release of the new booklet published by the Parks Department: City Hall Park: New York's Historic Commons. The booklet features a history of the park; the preservation plan; descriptions of historic structures; and schematic designs of the new features, including the lightpoles and benches.

The park renovation and related transportation projects are being completed under a single contract with Barney-Skanska, USA at a cost of $28.6 million. The park reconstruction accounts for approximately half of the cost of the total contract.

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