Location: Mid-Park - 66th to 72nd St., New York
The Mall and Bethesda Terrace are the main formal elements in Olmsted and Vaux‘s design for Central Park. They acknowledged the public‘s need for a place to socialize; they knew that a grand promenade was an essential feature of a metropolitan park. But Olmsted and Vaux wanted to satisfy that need without compromising the primacy of the Park‘s natural features. They felt that the Mall must be secondary to the natural view, in this case the Lake and the Ramble.
Flanking the 40-foot wide Mall are quadruple rows of American elms. The elm was one of the designers‘ favorite trees and provides, as they envisioned, a living cathedral ceiling high over the walkway.
The Mall is breathtaking in any season. In the springtime, the sun filtering through the translucent leaves seems to tint the atmosphere a lime-green. As the canopy matures over the summer, it creates a cool dense shade for the landscape below. When autumn‘s yellow and gold leaves fall, they reveal the bold architecture of the trees‘ skeletons. A fresh winter snow creates a lace veil in the black and white tree branches.
The southern end of the Mall is often referred to as Literary Walk. Fearing that increasing requests to install sculpture throughout the Park would change its naturalistic character, Commissioners proposed in 1873 that the Mall be the designated location for sculpture. Over a short period of time representations of the following literary figures were installed: William Shakespeare (by John Quincy Adams Ward, dedicated in 1872), Fitz-Green Halleck (by James Wilson Alexander MacDonald, dedicated in 1877), Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns (both by Sir John Steell, dedicated in 1880). Though not a literary figure, Christopher Columbus, by Jeronimo Suñol, was dedicated in 1894. Victor Herbert (by Edmond T. Quinn, dated 1927), and Ludwig van Beethoven (by Henry Bearer, dated 1884). Composers Herbert and Beethoven are near the Mall concert ground, site of the original Central Park Bandshell, and now of the Naumburg Bandshell and SummerStage at Rumsey Playfield.
Two other sculptures in the Mall area are worthy of note, each eliciting divergent critical response in its time. The first is The Indian Hunter by John Quincy Adams Ward (dedicated in 1869) which helped to establish Ward as a leading post-Civil War sculptor. Critics felt a harmonious connection with the Park in Ward‘s observation of nature and in his focus on a truly American subject. Christopher Fratin‘s Eagles and Prey (dedicated in 1863) did not fare as well. Park commissioners thought the naturalistic theme would be highly appropriate for a Park setting. But noted nineteenth century critic Clarence Cook disagreed, saying in 1869 that such wild, exotic depictions (in this case, two birds of prey attacking a goat trapped between two rocks) did not fit in with the tranquil rural beauty of the park scenery… Such sculpture flew in the face, as it were, of the nobler purpose of both art and the Park‘s design, felt Cook.
Finally, one little-known fact: at the southernmost end of the Mall is the only tribute in Central Park to Frederick Law Olmsted. The Olmsted Bed, beautified with seasonal pansies, impatiens, and flowing groundcover, is a memorial garden surrounded by American elms. Its elegant but naturalistic plantings, both annual and perennial, offer year-round color and texture to the delight of Park visitors.