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I found this little area on the west side of Manhattan while walking to a meeting.

Central Park Reservoir, Aug 2011 – 29
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Image by Ed Yourdon
This panorama view of the reservoir was taken from the southeast corner of the reservoir, facing more-or-less west, to show the skyline of the apartment buildings on Central Park West, in Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Note: this photo was published in a Aug 31, 2011 issue of Everyblock NYC for the "customized" region of Central Park.


You probably think that you already know everything that you need to know about the Central Park reservoir. After all, everyone has heard of New York City, and most people (except the residents of certain boroughs that we won’t mention by name) assume that "New York City" means "Manhattan." And if you’ve heard of Manhattan, then you’ve heard of Central Park … and if you know about Central Park, then you know about the reservoir in the middle of the park. What more is there to know?

Well, actually, there’s a lot you should know, beginning with the fact that its official name is now "The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir," in honor of the late widow of President John Kennedy. But you can call it the Central Park Reservoir, because that was its original name, and that’s what most of us here still do call it. (We also insist on calling the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge by its original moniker, "the Triboro Bridge," but who knows how long that will last.)

More importantly, it’s not even a reservoir any more … or, to be more precise, it became a "decommissioned" reservoir in 1993, when it was deemed obsolete because of a new water-main under 79th Street that connected to the Third Water Tunnel. (There was also some concern that the reservoir might eventually become contaminated because of the nasty habit of the rowdy bridge-and-tunnel crowd — aka visitors from New Jersey, Long Island, and other ‘burbs — to pee in the reservoir after getting thoroughly sloshed on green beer and Ripple wine every St. Patrick’s Day. But we don’t really like to talk about that, because they eventually go home, and we make a lot of money from the event.)

So basically, the Central Park so-called reservoir is just a big pond with a billion gallons of water (give or take a gallon or two), with colorful Kanzan cherry trees along one section, a bunch of rhododendrons along another section, and lots of animals (mallards, Canadian geese, coots, loons, cormorants, wood ducks, raccoons, grebes, herons, and egrets) who hang out in the general area. It also has a 1.58-mile jogging path, which means that you can almost always find dozens of people jogging, walking, or racing around the park; and only the cynics would remind you that game show host Jack Barry died while jogging around the reservoir in 1984.

You might think that the reservoir was originally a pond or a small lake, or that it was fed and replenished by some kind of underground stream. But in fact, the reservoir was built during the period of 1858-1862 by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, as part of the overall design of Central Park. It was never a source of water itself, nor was it a "collecting" reservoir; its purpose instead was to receive water from upstate New York, via the Croton Aqueduct, and distribute it to the thirsty residents of Manhattan. All of that predated the work of Olmstead and Vaux; the Croton aqueduct was begun in 1837, and began delivering water to New York City in 1842.

So much for the history of the place. Like I said, it’s basically just a big pond in the middle of Manhattan; but it happens to be a very beautiful place, especially with the skyline of the Upper East Side, the Upper West Side, and central Manhattan so visible from different vantage points. During the brief week or two that the cherry trees are in blossom, it’s almost as beautiful as the famous stretch of trees in Washington; and it’s a peaceful place for a stroll throughout the spring, summer, and fall. It’s even beautiful in the dead of winter, when much of the water has frozen over, and when the jogging path is basically empty…

On three consecutive days in mid-to-late August, I walked around the reservoir with my camera, doing my best to capture some of the peaceful beauty, as well as the activity of the joggers and walkers and tourists. On the first day, I walked clockwise around the reservoir — because everyone else was following the posted rules, and was running/walking counter-clockwise, which made it easier for me to photograph them. Then I came back the next day and walked the circumference again, but this time in the officially-sanctioned counter-clockwise direction. And then I decided that all of the still photos had failed to capture the beauty of the fountain that sprays a plume of water high into the air, as well as the constant motion of all those joggers and walkers … so I came back for a third lap around the park, but this time with my camera set to "video" instead of "still." I’ve done my best to winnow all of the photos and videos down to a representative set; but to truly appreciate the beauty of the place, you’ll have to come back and see it for yourself.

By the way, don’t ask me what a grebe is. I have no idea, and I can only hope that I haven’t stepped on one by mistake as I’ve walked around the reservoir from time to time…

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