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Central Park's Belvedere Castle to reopen after $12M restoration

Belvedere Castle will reopen this month after a $12 million restoration that took 15 months to complete.

For 15 months, the castle has been closed to the public as it undergoes a major restoration that included rebuilding walls, restoring three wooden pavilions, installing new windows, modernizing its mechanics and utilities and more. (Credit: Central Park Conservancy)

Central Park’s Belvedere Castle reopens on June 28 after an extensive restoration that took $12 million and 15 months to complete.

The three-story landmark that sits atop the second highest point in Central Park has served as a lookout point since the 19th century, but over its long history, it has seen neglect and wear, prompting the Central Park Conservancy to completely upgrade and preserve the structure.

“What was old is new again in terms of modern infrastructure and waterproofing and the recreation of detail that had been lost for a better part of a century,” Chris Nolan, the conservancy’s chief landscape architect, said.

Construction crews have completely cleaned and repointed the castle’s masonry, replaced its terrace pavement with bluestone pavers to match the historic design, replaced doors and windows with clear glass panes and restored two wood pavilions that were originally part of the structure on Vista Rock.

The conservancy didn’t stop there — it also waterproofed the building and installed a zero emissions/energy efficient geothermal system for cooling and heating by digging 400 feet into the rock below.

Making the castle more accessible is also part of the plan, according to Elizabeth W. Smith, the conservancy’s president and CEO. Conceptual plans for an accessible route from the east side are being floated in front of community boards with more details to come in the fall or winter.

“The dedication to accessibility is a core tenet of Central Park — the ability to be enjoyed by all people, and our donors understand this,” Smith said. “It’s an important part of our proposal to them with regard to improving and restoring landscapes around the park. Every project we take on now, accessibility is a key element.”

When it was conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1858, the castle was meant to be an open-air lookout point for parkgoers to enjoy the verdant surroundings. In fact, “Belvedere” means “beautiful view” in Italian.

Time brought a lot of changes to the castle. During the 1960s and '70s, the park’s infrastructure was crumbling from neglect and vandalism. The graffiti-covered castle was closed to the public and many of the castle’s original elements, like the wooden pavilions, went missing.

Once the conservancy took over the park’s management in 1980, the castle finally got the upgrades it needed to reopen to the public. But after nearly four decades, it was time again to care for the building.

One added benefit to the restoration is a new nightly element. On June 27, the evening before its opening, the castle will be lit up for the first time. 

“The most beautiful place to see it is on the other side of Turtle Pond,” Smith said. “It will be a magnificent nighttime venue for New Yorkers and all I can say to you is that you can light up midtown as much as you want, but nothing will compare to looking at the Belvedere at night.”

The castle will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily until Aug. 9, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the fall, winter and spring. A new official tour that you can register for on the park’s website called “The Belvedere: Beautiful View Tour” will teach the history and preservation story.

“This experience here is like being on the mountain top in the Adirondacks or the North Woods,” Nolan said. “It affords people a chance, with just a walk away from their apartment, to escape without getting on a train or spending the money to go anywhere else.”

The castle is located mid-park at 79th Street and can be accessed by entering Central Park at the north corner of West 81st Street and Central Park West. For more information, visit centralparknyc.org.

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