Photo of the Week

Among the boathouses in New York City’s parks, the most famous is the one at The Lake in Central Park, where the public may rent a gondola or rowboat, eat a pricey meal, or hold a wedding ceremony.

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This week’s selected photo shows us an earlier boathouse from a century ago that stood by The Lake, courtesy of the NYPL Digital Collections.

The Early Years

The photo was taken in the first decade of the last century, depicting the 1872 structure designed by Calvert Vaux. The two-story wooden Victorian building stood atop an earthen dam that held back The Lake. Prior to the park’s creation, the site of the boathouse was a ravine through which Saw Kill flowed on its way east. With the development of Manhattan, its headwaters on the Upper West Side were buried as was its course on the Upper East Side. The dried up stream bed within Central Park was dammed and filled with water from the city’s aqueduct as The Lake, with the smaller Conservatory Water nearby.

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On the 1875 Hinrich’s map of the park, the boathouse was not marked but we see its precursors, four designated boat landings on The Lake.

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An 1871 rendering above shows the boathouse as a modest structure, 12 feet in width and 20 feet long. A gazebo-like canopy on the rooftop offered views of the lake. By 1924, the Vaux structure was showing its age and was replaced by a much simpler boathouse. Few photos of the second boathouse exist, the one below is from Parks Archives.

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The Third Boathouse

Within three decades, the boathouse without walls was described by some Upper East Siders as an “eyesore,” and local residents Carl and Adeline Loeb of 905 Fifth Avenue stepped up with a $305,000 donation for a new boathouse designed by Stuart Constable. The illustration below is also from the Parks Archives.

Carl M. Loeb was a member of “Our Crowd,” a tight community of German Jews on the Upper East Side who earned their keep in finance. Their philanthropy promoted cultural institutions in the city, including many artworks on Fifth Avenue’s Museum Mile. Such storied families include Schiff, Guggenheim, Warburg, Lehman, and Strauss. Some of their descendants still work on Wall Street.

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In contrast to structures built in the early years of Central Park, those constructed during the administration of Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had metal roofs and brick walls rather than shingles and wood.

Other examples of Moses-period facilities in the Park include the comfort station at Heckscher Playground, Central Park Zoo, Delacorte Clock and Wollman Rink. Not counting the expansion wings of the Metropolitan Museum, perhaps the only true modernist structure in Central Park is the Lasker Rink, also a Moses-period structure but made with concrete rather than red brick.

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The Loeb Boathouse at The Lake opened on March 12, 1954, shortly after Mrs. Loeb’s death. As part of the opening ceremony, three local girls were given the first boat ride by Manhattan Borough President Hulan E. Jack, Commissioner Moses (in a fedora) with Mayor Robert F. Wagner doing the rowing. The photo above is from the Parks Archives.

This being the Upper East Side, the girls had quite a lineage: Nancy Roosevelt, 6, of Oyster Bay, a cousin twice removed of President Teddy Roosevelt; Nancy Olds, 7, a granddaughter of Moses; and Deborah Loeb, 8, granddaughter of the boathouse’s namesake couple.

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For more information on the Loeb Boathouse, visit its website.

In the news:

SLUG Magazine reports on the hidden waterways of Salt Lake City.

Dearborn Press & Guide reported on the volunteer cleanup of Ecorse Creek in Dearborn, Michigan.

Note: Please check with the Parks Department events page in case this Sunday’s tour of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is canceled on the account of rain.

Events: Tomorrow, a volunteer cleanup is scheduled for Flushing Bay in Queens, but check with the organizers in case of a rain date. Click on poster below for details.

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