Monday, April 11, 2011

The Old Bandstand, Central Park

Though most of our subjects are French, this is not exclusively so. In October of 2003 we opened the exhibition Central Park at Didier Aaron, Inc. in Manhattan. For that show, we painted what must be one of the most exotic structures ever to be built in the park—or in all of Manhattan for that matter: the Musician's Pagoda on the Mall, known fondly to generations of New Yorkers as “the Old Bandstand.”

Frederick Law Olmsted, the park’s designer and first Superintendent—and someone not usually given to such flights of fancy—originally envisioned a floating pagoda-cum-music pavilion moored in the Lake off Bethesda Terrace. Detailed plans for the floating pagoda were drawn up in 1862 by his assistant Jacob Wrey Mould but Olmsted then settled upon a prominent site on the Mall promenade at the northern end of the famed elm alley, the park's great open-air "cathedral."

Mould, an English-born architect in the Ruskinian vein who was Olmsted's chief designer, had enormous influence over the esthetics of the Park's structures. A quintessential Victorian esthete, Mould loved exoticism, polychromy and foliate ornament, and his masterwork, Bethedsa Terrace, offers all three in abundance.

His initial design for the floating pagoda was hardly altered in execution on land and is incontestably his most outlandish design for the park. The hexagonally planned, cast-iron pavilion featured wildly eclectic details—classical Greek anthemia on its base and a lyre at its crown, along with a Schinkel-inspired grid of stars covering its golden dome—and was clothed in what Mould vaunted was “a hell of color”—a folly in the truest sense and an unexpected splash of Orientalist opulence in nineteenth-century Manhattan.

The pagoda became one of the park’s most familiar landmarks and its weekend, summertime concerts were a focal point of the city's civic life from the post-Civil War era until the promise of the Naumburg Bandshell precipitated its destruction in 1922.