"Greenacre Park." Sounds homespun and country-ish, right? But Greenancre Park in East Midtown Manhattan is exactly the opposite: planned, artsy, sculptured to within an inch of its life. And yet a peaceful oasis of relief in a busy, blocky neighborhood with very few such.
Upon entering you're greeted with a block-paved plaza with tables. It looks more like a sparsely furnished outdoor cafe than a park. And, in fact, a prominent sign points you to Carol's Cafe, a refreshment window tucked into the southwestern corner.
Carol's Cafe, Greenacre Park, morning. (It gets busier at lunchtime.)
But step in a little further, keep your ears open, and the park's most unusual feature begins to dominate: a loud, 25-foot-high, granite waterfall, really a water sculpture. The mechanism pumps 2,500 gallons of water per minute to keep the roaring sheet of liquid in action.
The raised terrace under the trellis roof on the west side is part of Hideo Sasaki's design, which reflects – to my unpracticed eye, anyway – a Japanese influence. The layout of the park's mere one-seventh of an acre "conveys an impression of far greater size through a series of well-defined, separate spaces, lush planting, textural variation, and the dramatic use of water," according to the Cultural Landscape Foundation.
The terrace offers a view of the waterfall from above. amNewYork's Mark Chiusano interviewed me here for the article about Park Odyssey he wrote for the paper a few weeks ago, and was kind enough to pose for my camera before I did so for his.
The water theme extends to a stream that runs along the edge, visible clearly from the street but easy to miss amid the raucous excitement of the waterfall.
Privately owned and managed by the Greenacre Foundation, the park opened in 1971 on East 51st St. between Second and Third Avenues with the hope that the people of New York City "will find here some moments of serenity in this busy world" in the words of the founder, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé.
I had been by a few times before, but the park had always turned out to be closed. It's open from March to December, but not late into the evening. Google tells me the hours are 8AM to 8PM, but I recommend stopping by during business hours on a weekday, when you can observe not only the park but some of the people who work in the neighborhood taking a well-deserved artificial-nature break – and take one yourself.
Walk close to the waterfall and I can almost guarantee you won't hear a spit of noise from the street.
All photos © Jon Sobel, Critical Lens Media