Central Park 95 Years Ago

Airplanes came into wide use during World War I, and so did aerial photography for reconnaissance. After the war, Sherman Fairchild (1896-1971) founded the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation. One of its earliest projects was this photomosaic of Manhattan, a combination of 100 photographs taken at 1,000 feet.

Aerial view of Manhattan, 1921. Photo: Library of Congress.

Aerial view of Manhattan, 1921: north is to the right. Larger view available on the Library of Congress site.

I’m currently obsessed with Central Park (a Guides Who Know app is in the works), so I started squinting at its details. I’ve numbered some major changes on the low-res image below. To see them, you’ll have to look on the Library of Congress site, because my computer refuses to cope with the LC’s high-res file. (What the devil is a JP2 file, anyway?)

1921 Manhattan aerial view: Central Park only

1921 Manhattan aerial view: Central Park only

  1.  The Pond at the southeast corner is still full-size; the Wollman Rink wasn’t placed at its northern end until several decades later.
  2.  Just north of the Pond, the zoo is the pre-Moses version.
  3. The old reservoir is still there and still filled with water. It’s now the Great Lawn.
  4. The Metropolitan Museum, just east of the old reservoir, is notably smaller: six new wings were added beginning in the 1970s.
  5. The American Museum of Natural History, west of the old reservoir, is even more notably smaller.
  6. On the east side toward the north end, the old conservatory is still there. The Conservatory Garden dates to the 1930s.
  7. There are no playgrounds around the edges of the park. Even the Heckscher Playground at the southwest corner wasn’t built until 1926, although there was a baseball-playing area there earlier.


  • For more on early aerial photography, see Wikipedia.
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About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, From Portraits to Puddles, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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