Morningside Park (New York City)

Morningside Park (New York City)

Morningside Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
Columbia University buildings on Morningside Drive overlooking Morningside Park.
Another view of Columbia University buildings on Morningside Drive overlooking Morningside Park.

Morningside Park is a New York City public park in the northern portion of the New York City borough of Manhattan. The 30-acre (12 ha) area occupies 110th to 123rd Streets from Morningside Avenue to Morningside Drive at the border between Harlem and Morningside Heights.

Morningside Park's distinctive natural geography is a rugged cliff of Manhattan schist rock. The park came into existence as a cost-saving measure to avoid the expense of extending the street grid across difficult terrain. It is operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.


The park is one of several promoted by Andrew Haswell Green that owes much of its design to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Twentieth century additions include playgrounds, basketball courts, and softball diamonds. Other features include:


A view of Harlem seen from Morningside Drive, on Morningside Heights, overlooking Morningside Park.

The park was first proposed by the Central Park Commissioners in 1867. The city commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to produce a design for the park in 1873, but the plan was shelved during the economic depression following the Panic of 1873.[1] In 1887 Olmsted and Vaux were asked to modify their original plan to accommodate changed conditions, such as the 116th Street and Eighth Avenue elevated railway station, and construction of the park began.[1]

In 1872, the New York Times predicted that what was named Morningside Park "will doubtless be a favorite resort for children and invalids."[2] In 1887, a group of Civil War veterans camped in the park for a weekend, fired cannon salutes and, in a mock assault, stormed the castlelike retaining walls. The New York Times reported that they scrambled up scaling ladders "like cats" even though most "have doubled their waist measure since the days when they did such climbing as a business."[2]

By the early 20th century, the park was seen as extremely dangerous. Crime in Morningside Park, because of its proximity to Harlem, was often reported as a racial matter. In 1935 the New York Times reported that Teachers College of Columbia University had posted a sign in a dormitory informing students "it is not safe to enter Morningside Park at any time of the day or night."[2]

In 1960, Columbia proposed building a gym in the park at 113th Street. Opposition to the gym crystallized in major student protests in 1968. The university planned to build a gymnasium on the park as a joint project with the city. Protesters believed the planned separate east and west entrances amounted to an attempt to circumvent recent federal law that banned racially segregated facilities. The distinctive local geography and demographics would have opened one end of the gymnasium to African-American Harlem residents and opened the other end to the predominantly white university. University administration under Grayson Kirk denied that this reflected racial bias and stressed that greater park services would benefit the Harlem community. The university abandoned the plan in 1969 after students occupied administration and classroom buildings and shut down the university for several weeks.[2]

By the '70s, Morningside Park, the effective boundary between Morningside Heights and Harlem, had a dangerous reputation, compounded by years of neglect. In 1981 a group of Columbia undergraduates founded the Friends of Morningside Park, which advocated returning what had been a neglected park to its original design. Since its founding, the group has rehabilitated the park through volunteerism. As of 2005, the group had approximately 1,000 volunteers.[2]

Popular Culture

  • 145th Street Short Stories mentions Morningside Park
  • CBS's NYC 22 filmed an episode in Morningside Park



  1. ^ a b Dolkart, Andrew S (2001). Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development. Columbia University Press. pp. 22–23.  
  2. ^ a b c d e "An Oasis of Green, Reclaimed by City and Community", Christopher Gray, New York Times, July 31, 2005.

Further reading

  • The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary by James Simon Kunen (Brandywine Press: 3rd edition May, 1995). ISBN 1-881089-52-5
  • Up Against the Ivy Wall: A History of the Columbia Crisis by J. L. Avorn (Scribner: June, 1968). ISBN 0-689-70236-1
  • Gray, Christopher (July 31, 2005). "An Oasis of Green, Reclaimed by City and Community". The New York Times. 

External links

  • Friends of Morningside Park
  • New York Times
  • New York City Department of Parks and Recreation