On an autumn Sunday, residents bear the cold as they take in the backdrop of Carl Schurz Park. A family frolics on the Woodland Hills Lawn, where the Sycamore trees stand. A couple strolls arm in arm along John Finley Walk, looking out on the horizon.
The 15-acre Upper East Side park extends from 84th to 90th street on the East End. Its location overlooking the East River was strategic during the Revolutionary War when American patriots seized loyalist Jacob Walton’s mansion and built a fort on the land. The sprawling view and lush grounds have also made it a favorite spot for locals over the years.
“My earliest memories of the park were from 1968 when I was 2,” wrote Corinne Beveridge, whose family visited the waterfront treasure for generations. “I loved playing in the sandboxes on the promenade.”
Trees and other foliage are now in place of where the sandboxes were.
Beveridge grew up in the park. So did her mother and her grandmother, Lillian Buchinger. Born in 1919, as a little girl she played hide and seek at Gracie Mansion on the park’s north side, that was a vacant area at the time.
Two generations later, a trip to the park is a walk down memory lane for Beveridge. She reminisces about times there with her grandmother.
“My Grandmother would stand me on the top of the railing at the river’s edge, and it was a great thrill,” Beveridge said. And after every Easter Mass they would walk to the park to capture photos before dinner that evening.
Recognizing the park’s unique charm and history, a group of nearby residents organized to fix the old playground. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, they broadened their focus on preserving the park’s entire 14.9 acres.The residents formed an association in 1974 to push the park through a financial crisis in the 1970s and renamed it a conservancy in 2006, reflecting their efforts to protect the park’s natural resources.
Spread across a waterfront esplanade overlooking the East River, winding paths and 135 types of trees- according to its website- the park is a part of Manhattan’s Community District 8. With an average household income of over $204,000, the area is widely regarded as one of the most affluent in the city.
Outside one of the gardens are a playground and basketball court. Two dog runs are frequented by owners and their pets.“It is one of the few dog runs in this area,” said Blair Czarecki, keeping an eye on her 7-month-old Labrador-mix playing with a dozen other dogs in the enclosure. Czarecki adopted Bailey, who has only three legs, two weeks ago and had been coming to the dog run nearly every day since.
“It’s definitely an attraction for locals,” Czarecki said. “It’s a friendly atmosphere. Everyone knows the names of all the dogs.”
The park also is home to a piece of artwork with an interesting history. In August 1999, the Peter Pan sculpture in the park’s center garden disappeared in a “widely reported act of vandalism,” according to the NYC Parks’ website. The bronze piece was created in 1928 by Charles Hafner and sat in a lobby fountain at the Paramount Theatre before being donated to the city in 1975.
The sculpture was discovered several months later by police at the bottom of the East River and was restored and reinstalled. Police never learned the details of its disappearance.
“We thought his only enemy was Captain Hook,” said former Parks Commissioner Henry Stern at the time, according to NYC Parks.
The park conservancy holds events throughout the year, including a Halloween costume contest for dogs and an annual Christmas tree lighting, that enthusiastic locals attend in droves.