This video shows the beginning of one of the most famous concerts ever in NYC, the Simon & Garfunkel concert in 1981 on the great lawn, Central Park. 500,000 people attended and watch the point in the video where the camera pans down the crowd and you see what half a million people gathered together looks like. It’s an amazing sight. But the space where it was held did not look like this when Central Park was first opened.
Initially what is now the great lawn was a reservoir, called Lower Reservoir, a 35 acre part of the water supply system that served NYC. But once the Croton-Catskill Reservoir was fully in place it was no longer needed and a period of murky wrangling ensued as the water authority at first refused to hand over the space to the city and then competing schemes for using the space were debated amongst interested parties. Eventually in 1934 it was filled in, lawn was sown, trees were planted and the great lawn was born.
Right from the beginning it was well used and not just for sitting on. It had 8 well used baseball diamonds and it was of course a natural for huge outdoor concerts like the Simon & Garfunkel one. But it was used so extensively it’s surface became seriously degraded and from 1995 onwards extensive rehabilitation was carried out. The installation of improved drainage and sprinkler systems means it is now in excellent condition year round. See the 2nd video for what it looks like on a typical weekend and the things New Yorkers do on it and around it, thank you ‘New York Street View’
It is still used for big concerts but it is generally agreed that the huge ones of the past were a mistake in terms of preserving the great lawn for everyday use. Though all those concerts are remembered with great nostalgia. These days it is agreed concerts with crowds of about 50,000 are about the right number of people for the mainly opera, orchestral and theatrical performances held on the great lawn.
The great lawn is one of the most iconic places in NYC, partly because of its history but also because in the middle of one of the most populous cities in the world, here it is, this huge open space where you can do all the things you do in a beautiful large open space. One of which is sit quietly and freely in the shade of a tree, sip a great coffee and note the rooftops of some of the most expensive real estate in the world just visible on the horizon.