Monday, June 25, 2012

WPA era design in Isham and Inwood Hill Parks

The lecture and tour began at the Nature Center
Yesterday, Sunday June 24th, we held the 4th lecture and walking tour of the 2012 Art Stroll/Centennial series.  Once again beginning at the Nature Center with a slide show, we then went out into first Inwood Hill Park and then Isham Park looking for the traces of WPA era design.

The Historic District Council's annual conference, which this year focused on the topic of "Open Space," was held in early March.

On the opening day of the conference, Thomas Campanella (* spoke of the landscape architects Clarke & Rapuano who worked for Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.  The description he gave of their projects inspired me to show a small map fragment of Isham Park to him on the next break.  He took one look and said it looked to him like the work of Clarke & Rapuano.  Thomas Campanella studied Michael Rapuano during his Rome Prize Fellowship in 2010-11.  He is working on a book titled *Designing the American Century which "examines the careers of two of the most important American landscape architects of the 20th century — Glimore D. Clarke and Michael Rapuano."

After the HDC conference by email correspondence, Thomas confirmed that Michael Rapuano ( had been assigned Isham and Inwood Hill Parks, during the design phase that accompanied the alteration of the shipping canal in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  He said he would need to confirm how much of the design was built and that although he would not be able come and speak on the subject for this series, it would be alright to reveal the news that Rapuano was assigned the design work of Isham and Inwood Hill Parks.

Thomas also sent a copy of his Wall Street Journal article from last summer about Rapuano's introduction of the London Plane tree to NYC Parks, that gives more detailed information on Rapuano: 

Outside in Inwood Hill Park, the tour studied a row of London Plane trees across from the Nature Center.

Then we strolled to the left out on to the "peninsula" to search for a feature of the park's design that has almost disappeared.  It is a stone curbed pathway, now almost obscured by lawn that crosses diagonally from the south to the north accompanied by a row of London Plane trees.  That feature appears on a 1938 aerial photo showing the park design as completed.  It also leads to the great view of the Henry Hudson Bridge and the Palisades at the end of the peninsula.

We walked on to the semi-circular end designs on paths that overlook the salt marsh and noted how they frame views of the Henry Hudson Bridge and the Nature Center.  So they, along with the forced perspective of the entrance semi-circle to the circle around the flagpole, seem to serve as examples of the Italian Renaissance style design that Rapuano employed in public parks, noted by Campanella in his WSJ article (see link above for the article "Roman Roots").

The tour on Isham Street

We then climbed to Isham Park's summit noting the large circular stone terrace at the crest of the hill.  Walking to the stone terrace down the slope above Broadway, we noted that the two terraces are lined up, forming another forced perspective element.  The double walkway between the two circular terraces that is seen in the map fragment must not have been built and the lower circular terrace which memorializes the Isham family and their gifts for the park may have preceded Rapuano's Art Deco era design, but the placement of the terraces is compelling and the stone work is most certainly WPA era.
Utilizing the natural amplification at the center of the memorial terrace.

Next week please attend the final event of the series on Saturday June 30th, the last day of the Art Stroll:

Julia Isham Taylor, birthday celebration (JITs actual birth date: June 28, 1866) Come help to celebrate the birthday of the woman who initiated the gift of Isham Park in 1911-12.
Saturday June 30th, at 1:00pm at the stone memorial terrace in Isham Park* above Broadway (seen in the photograph above), enter the park at the stone gate across from W. 212th Street and up the sloped path or stairs by the Ginkgo tree to the terrace. We will share a cake from Inwood's new bakery The Darling Cafe ( and biographical readings about Julia.

*Please note: In case of rain, meet again at the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center:

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