Early Bryant Park
Bryant was a leading light in nineteenth century New York
Reservoir Square was renamed Bryant Park in 1884, in honor of New York's leading citizen, William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878). In the late 1800s, three philanthropic institutions joined to form the New York Public Library; the building site chosen was the Croton Reservoir. The Beaux-Arts architecture of the library, designed by John Carrere and Thomas Hastings, extended to the redesign of the eastern part of Bryant Park. Using the same Vermont marble as the library building, Hastings included a back terrace and a memorial to Bryant, sculpted by Herbert Adams. The north and south ends of the terrace are defined by twin square structures, designed as comfort stations. Today, the north structure functions as an elegant restroom.
During World War I, Bryant Park was the site of one of the city's largest public gardens. Planted by the National War Garden Commission and War Garden Committee of Manhattan, these victory gardens sought to involve citizens in food production and boost morale. Around the same time, the park was also home to the Eagle Hut, a facility built and operated by the Y.M.C.A. that provided a home away from home to soldiers and military personnel.
Construction of the Flushing subway line along West 42nd Street closed the north side of Bryant Park for most of the 1920s, leading to a period of neglect for the small urban park. In 1932, it was chosen as the site for the 200th anniversary of George Washington's birth.
The Bicentennial committee built a wood and plaster replica of old Federal Hall, the Wall Street building in which Washington took the oath of office as the first U.S. President. A reenactment of that inauguration was staged there on April 30, 1932.
Responding to an open completion, Queens, NY architect Lusby Simpson submitted a redesign of Bryant Park featuring a classical scheme of a large central lawn, formal pathways, stone balustrades and borers of London Plane trees, together with an oval plaza at the west end containing the existing Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain.
New York City's powerful Parks Commissioner, Robert Moses, and his staff, including architect Aymar Embury II and landscape architect Gilmore D. Clarke, oversaw execution of Simpson's plan. The park was completed and opened to the public in September 1934. Shortly after, the New York Public Library established and outdoor reading room on the terrace at the eastern end of the park. In good weather, staffers moved stacks and book carts outside for readers to browse.