MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at MCNY.org

Augustus Hepp’s Central Park in Blue

[Bethesda Fountain.]

Bethesda Terrace, Looking West, Central Park, ca. 1878. Augustus Hepp.
The Bethesda Terrace, conceived as the “heart of the park,” was designed by Calvert and Vaux. Angel of the Waters was designed by Emma Stebbins, the  woman to receive a public art commission in New York City.

In 1853 the New York State Legislature set aside an expanse of land on the island of Manhattan that would eventually become Central Park. Five years later a design competition won by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, known as the “Greensward Plan” established a unified aesthetic plan for the park that emphasized open green space for the public’s enjoyment. In December of 1858 the public got its first taste of the very southern portion of the park. By 1863, the grounds south of 102nd street were largely finished. When Olmsted and Vaux were reappointed as landscape architects in 1865, construction began on additional features for public enjoyment, including Belvedere Castle, a working dairy, and eventually, a conservatory at Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street and a zoo. By 1873 the park was officially completed.

[A cascade on the loch.]

Cascade at Glen Span Arch, Central Park, ca. 1878. Augustus Hepp

American politicians sought to convince their Continental counterparts that New York was not just an industrial powerhouse, but also a mature and cultured city that could create great urban parks on par with those in Europe. This might explain why Augustus Hepp, then the head gardener for Central Park, and one of the 33 previous entrants in the 1857 design competition for the park was commissioned to create a portfolio of images of the newly completed park. Hepp was commissioned by U. S. Secretary of State William Maxwell Evarts (1818-1901) to make photographs of Central Park that were sent to Paris as a gift to the French government in March of 1879.

[Boat House, Central Park.]

Boathouse, Looking towards 5th Avenue and 72nd Street, ca. 1878. Augustus Hepp. The boathouse was located on the southeastern shore of the lake. It was a sprawling wooden Victorian structure with terraces on the second floor. Designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Mound, it was completed in 1873 and was replaced by the current boathouse in 1954.

The Museum of the City of New York retains a collection of 40 large format cyanotypes made in the late 1870s by Hepp that beautifully document the park in its youth. The cyanotype process was developed by Sir John Heschel in 1842 and has been a popular a low cost and simple process ever since. The process, utilizing ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferricyanide, results in the vibrant Prussian blue.

These cyanotypes document many of the landmarks we know so well today, at a time when they were freshly built and the surrounding landscape is surrounded with fledgling growth. We even see the original Metropolitan Museum of Art in its Gothic revival style designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Mould. Some of the structures depicted are gone and others remain, but Hepp’s photographs provide a dramatic window into the early days of New York’s best known public space.

[Metropolitan Museum of Art.]

The Metropolitan Museum, ca. 1878. Augustus Hepp. The museum opened in 1880 and has been renovated and expanded many times by such well know architects as Richard Morris Hunt and the firm of McKim, Mead and White.

[Belvedere Castle, looking north.]

Belvedere Castle, Looking North, ca. 1878. Augustus Hepp. Designed by Calvert Vaux, the structure is in the style of a Norman castle as was conceived as a Victorian “folly.”  (an extravagant structure built amidst a pastoral landscape)

To see the entire collection of Augustus Hepp’s photographs click here.

One comment on “Augustus Hepp’s Central Park in Blue

  1. Pingback: NYC Vintage Photos: Central Park in Blue by Augustus Hepp Show Structures Lost and Still Standing | Untapped Cities

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