By Robert Moore, Volunteer Council member
It was a dark and stormy night…well, it was one of those steamy summer nights when unexpected, evening thunderstorms hurl themselves upon unsuspecting commuters. However, on this Tuesday evening the rain relented just too late to allow the open roof to be used for the festivities for the presentation of the special OHNY pins to the volunteers who have assisted with the October OHNY weekend for five or more years.
Nevertheless, our honorees together with OHNY staff and Volunteer Council members gathered in the gallery of the Central Park Armory, just adjacent to the zoo. A wonderful old building, the Arsenal outdates the Park itself by some years and started off– as its name implies– as an Armory for the City militia. In subsequent incarnations it became the Museum of Natural History and finally, its present role as the headquarters of the New York City Parks Department.
Parts of the building are open to the public and house rotating art exhibits. Presently in the gallery there are photos associated with the recreation by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei of the animals which formed a famous fountain clock in the European-style gardens of the Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan, near Beijing in China. Unfortunately the fountain clock was destroyed and looted in the 19th Century. Some of the originals have been found but Ai Weiwei has recreated all the Chinese Zodiac animals which can now be seen in the plaza opposite the Plaza Hotel (see below).
Shortly after everyone arrived and had fortified themselves with some wine and delicious finger food the presentation of the pins took place and the volunteers received their special OHNY 5-year pins from Andrew Watanabe and Leah Strigler, co-leaders of the Volunteer Council.
After the presentation, we were lucky enough to have a short talk by Jonathan Kuhn, the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Director of Antiquities. Jonathan is one of those New Yorkers who just oozes enthusiasm for the city and its hidden gems. He was full of interesting stories including the fact that the reservoir in Central Park, which once supplied water to the city, could now only supply a matter of hours-worth of water–so greatly has the city expanded.
We were then conducted on a tour of the Armory building by Gary Rozman, Cultural Affairs Liaison at the Department of Parks and Recreation. This took in the Boardroom, formerly Robert Moses’ office which contains the original drawing of the Park as it was conceived by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Their design won a competition and was far ahead of its time, as much of the area around the Park at that time was not developed. The Boardroom also, curiously, has a clock which is counting down until the end of the present City Administration. Before ascending to the roof areas, male and female members were permitted to see the gentlemen’s toilet also known as the ‘Septagon’ due to its unique shape!
From here we ascended to the various roof decks from which, even on a cloudy, drizzly night gave wonderful views out over Central Park. Despite being ill-shod for it, we all managed to climb the vertical ladder to the very top of the building where a register of visitors is kept in a waterproof case and everyone signed this as a record of their visit. We were very lucky to have been given this opportunity and everyone was most grateful to Gary and Jonathan for their generosity and very informative commentary.
After our tour and some final farewells, we exited the building via the main hall which is decorated by some wonderful murals – a spectacular end to a wonderful evening, which the weather was not able to dampen in the least!