Belvedere Castle
Belvedere Castle covers the summit of Vista Rock, the second highest natural elevation in Central Park, New York City. It was designed as an additional feature of the Central Park "Greensward" plan by Calvert Vaux and the sculptor Jacob Wrey Mould, after the team of Olmsted, Vaux and Mould had been reappointed to oversee the park's construction once again in 1865. The Croton Aqueduct board transferred to the Park ownership of the site, which overlooked the Lower Reservoir, in 1867, and the existing fire tower was demolished. Belvedere Castle was built in 1869, using Manhattan schist from excavations elsewhere in the park, dressed with gray granite. The castle provided a feature—a folly—that capped the natural-looking woodlands of The Ramble, as seen from the formal Bethesda Terrace. As the plantings matured, the castle has disappeared from its original intended viewpoint. Balancing the mass of the main castle structure, Vaux's original design had called for a more weighty Manhattan schist and granite structure with a corner tower with conical cap, with the existing lookout over parapet walls between them. To reduce costs it was revised, before Olmsted and Vaux were dismissed a second time, in November 1870, and completed under the new Tammany Hall regime as an open painted wood pavilion. When it was built, the view from Belvedere Castle provided a vista over the rectangular receiving reservoir, which has been replaced by the Great Lawn, an oval of turf with eight baseball diamonds, loosely defined by plantings of trees in clumps in the manner of the English landscape garden, and, at the foot of Vista Rock, the Turtle Pond, redesigned in 1997 as a naturalistic planting, in which no single vantage-point reveals the water's full extent. Sunken concrete shelving at varying depths provide ideal water depths for shoreline plants such as lizard's tail, bullrush, turtlehead, and blueflag iris. The success of habitat for birds, insects, amphibians, and reptiles is embodied in sightings of species of dragon-fly not previously sighted in Central Park. An architectural hybrid of Gothic and Romanesque styles, Belvedere Castle was originally built as a shell with open doorway and window openings. It later housed the New York Meteorological Observatory, which was taken over by the United States Weather Bureau in 1912. The current source of Central Park weather observations, an Automated Surface Observing System (ASOS), is just south of the castle. The two fanciful wooden pavilions deteriorated without painting and upkeep and were removed before 1900. After the New York Meteorological Observatory relocated to Rockefeller Center in the 1960s, Belvedere Castle was closed to the public and became an object of much vandalism, neglect and deterioration. It was restored and reopened by the Central Park Conservancy on May 1, 1983, as the Henry Luce Nature Observatory. In 1995, the Conservancy's Historic Preservation Crew replaced the painted wooden loggia of the castle, working from Vaux's designs, on the granite piers and walls that had survived. The Observatory contains family-friendly displays that demonstrate the process by which naturalists observe their world and share their scientific discoveries about it. The displays, which include telescopes, microscopes, skeletons and feathers, are designed to expose children to fundamentals of the scientific method in natural observation. Other Observatory exhibits include a plywood tree with papier-mâché reproductions of birds often seen in Central Park, encouraging people to watch for these birds from the precipice of the castle, which has become one of New York's most popular birdwatching sites. Free family and community programs hosted at Belvedere Castle including "On A Wing" birding programs, stargazing, astronomy talks, storytimes with the Princess of Belvedere Castle, and the "Spooks at Belvedere" haunted castle event every Halloween.

Interesting facts
  • Belvedere Castle was used in exterior shots of the castle where Count von Count lived on Sesame Street.
  • Just after restoration, the building was used as a filming location for Merchant-Ivory's 1984 film The Bostonians , starring Christopher Reeve and Vanessa Redgrave.
  • The turret of the Castle is the highest point in the park.


Building Activity

  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via OpenBuildings.com