A Grand Reservoir ~ A Legacy Lives On

Whoever invented the reservoir must have done it with him alone in mind. It was without flaw, a perfect lake set in the most unexpected of locations.*

There are quite a few excellent spots in New York from where you can take in a panoramic view of the city. They are mostly from high above – from a rooftop, or a viewing platform; from a bridge, or even from Manhattan’s High Line. There is only one place that I know of however, on ground level, where you can take in beautiful skyline views of the city. It is in Central Park, along the fringes of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

At the Reservoir on its West side, looking at Manhattan’s Midtown

The Reservoir can be accessed by a number of the Park’s entrances including those near 86th and 96th streets, from either the Central Park West or Fifth Avenue sides. Taking a subway to these entry points is easy, as there are a few stations located within easy walking distance of them. Strolling along any one the Park’s meandering walkways,  even over an ornate bridge perhaps, it won’t take much time at all to come face to face with an expansive body of water. Enclosed by a black, four foot high, steel and cast iron ornamental fence and encircled with a narrow dirt track – this is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir.

A West Side entrance

Bridge close by Central Park West’s 96th Street Entrance

Looking towards the southern point of midtown, and the Chrysler is there… somewhere…

From the South, looking West at The Eldorado Apartments

Midtown and Upper Manhattan vistas wrap around the western, southern and eastern edges of the water’s expanse; prominent buildings look miniature from across the lake (the Guggenheim – so tiny!) and on a good day, the sun sets behind a silhouetted skyline. I don’t venture to Central Park often enough, though when I do, viewing New York City from such gorgeous perspectives makes it really worthwhile.

Gorgeous (model of a) Guggenheim on the East side

Silhouetted Skyline

Twilight, ducks and The Guggenheim (far right)

Grasses and sunset

I’ve been living in New York, on and off, for about six years and only recently learned that in 1994, the reservoir was dedicated to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; it was “renamed for the beloved first lady who lived nearby and often enjoyed a run along the 1 1/2-mile jogging track that circles the water.”[2] Initially, this massive pool of water was named the Central Park Reservoir, built in 1862.

Spanning 106 acres, covering approximately an eighth of the Park and with the ability to hold over a billion gallons of water, the Reservoir was built to receive water from the Croton Aqueduct and distribute it around Manhattan.

The reservoir is 40 feet deep and holds a billion gallons of water. It was built in the 1860s as a temporary water supply for New York City, while the Croton Water system was shut down for repairs two weeks each year. At the time, it was unthinkable that a billion gallons of water would last less than two weeks. Today, some speculate that the City would go through that supply in just four hours. The reservoir was decommissioned in 1993, deemed obsolete because of the Third Water Tunnel.[3]

The Reservoir still distributes water to other Central Park locations, such as the Pool, the Loch, and the Harlem Meer, and also serves a dual-purpose: as a meditative lake and scenic running track.

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani today cut the ribbon to open the renovated 1.58-mile running track around Central Park‘s Reservoir. The renovations, made possible by a $500,000 gift from the Goldie-Anna Charitable Trust, replaced the track’s gravel and timber lining, and completely overhauled its drainage system. The renovations, the first since the Track initially opened in 1982, will be maintained with a $2 million grant from the Uris Brothers Foundation.[4]

In April 2010, the jogging track was dedicated to a man named Alberto Arroyo. Known as the Mayor of Central Park by the path’s regular patrons, Arroyo claimed to be the first person to jog around the reservoir, since 1937.

Alberto Arroyo was there every day, and when he retired he was often there the entire day, waving and saying hello to everyone. When he couldn’t run, he walked. Then he used a cane, then a walker, and finally, after a stroke, a wheelchair. Arroyo died last month <March 2010> at 94.[5]

This pathway is also extremely popular with walkers, tourists, photographers, and the neighbourhood’s residents, where the lake makes up a large part of their glorious backyard. Signage requests that no strollers, bikes or dogs be taken on the track. Rightly so as the pathway is way to narrow to cater to everyone (and their mess)!

Photographers and walkers

There is also the track’s protocol of going with the flow; if going against traffic (i.e., clockwise) you may be faced with dozens of shocked faces and disgruntled looks. This park etiquette however, seems to work well. One just needs to be street smart if constantly stopping and starting – whether it is to soak in the view at different vantage points, or gaze at the ducks on the water’s surface, or to take a multitude of photos – as the path attracts some pretty swift runners. Apparently, in spring, cherry blossoms bloom along the pathway too. Can you imagine how beautiful such a setting would look?

An eastern perspective, and ducks

The Reservoir is also a lovely pit-stop during a weekend of museum hopping; after visiting The Met and/or The Guggenheim on the East Side, it would be a shame not to take a breather and stroll by the lake to say, the American Museum of Natural History, located at 81st Street and Central Park West on the other side.

In any kind of weather, the Reservoir’s space seduces. It’s such a calm place for the contemplative soul; an oasis for the stressed out New Yorker; a perfect viewing spot for the traveler; and, a romantic setting for a date. By day, Manhattan is characterised by its skyscraper skyline; by night, the beautiful lampposts light up the area and transport you to a scene that wouldn’t look out of place in Paris.

It’s another reason that gives New York its edge and character.

Good night…