Location: Inside the Park at 110th St. and Lenox Ave., New York
Perched on the northern shore of the Harlem Meer, the Park‘s northernmost body of water, is Central Park‘s newest building, which opened to the public in 1993. The Charles A. Dana Discovery Center so effectively follows Calvert Vaux‘s eclectic architectural style that you have to look very closely to note its modern-day origin. The Dana Center serves as the Upper Park‘s visitor center and is home to a wide variety of the Central Park Conservancy‘s free family and community programs.
The Park north of 96th Street is more rugged and picturesque than its southern counterpart. The pre-Park northern terrain was naturally wilder, with large rocky outcroppings amid low-lying areas. When Olmsted and Vaux first surveyed the proposed park land, they decided that a rugged terrain would be the ideal complement to their southern pastoral vision. They also decided that it would be far too costly to significantly reshape the natural northern geography. In
fact, pragmatism dictated the extension of the Park from its original northern border of 106th Street to 110th Street; it was simply too expensive for commercial developers to demolish and rebuild in that rocky and swampy area.
Today the City has grown far beyond the Park‘s northern borders, and enthusiasm for the area has grown as well. Many visitors consider the newly restored Harlem Meer one of the Park‘s most beautiful landscapes. Swans nest on Duck Island in the Meer and cormorants patrol the shoreline for fish. Birds are not the only ones eyeing the waters: catch-and-release fishing at the Harlem Meer has become a favorite family and community pastime. The Dana Discovery Center provides poles, unbarbed hooks (only catch-and-release allowed), and instruction booklets. There is also a fishing jamboree celebrated each year after Labor Day.
The Dana Center offers seasonal exhibits in its Great Hall, often in collaboration with other City cultural institutions. Outside the Great Hall is a small deck overlooking the Meer with an unimpeded vista of the Park‘s landscape to the south. Educational programs are held throughout the year upstairs.
Adjacent to the Center is a small plaza where jazz concerts and other events (such as the Halloween Pumpkin Sail of candlelit Jack O‘Lanterns across the Meer) take place. Young plantings of bald cypress, red maple, and a weeping willow – all trees that thrive at the water‘s edge – surround the plaza.