Top left, a stereoview of the original Oak Bridge, built in the 1860s. Top right, the replacement bridge built in 1935, as seen in 2006. The stone piers and abutments, seen in the photo bottom left, are the only remaining elements from the original bridge. Bottom right, the new bridge, to be dedicated Wednesday.
In 1860, Calvert Vaux designed a richly ornate footbridge for the newly-opened Central Park; at the time, such things were taken seriously. The bridge included “carved white oak, panels of decorative cast iron set in the railings, and pine wood floors.” It was proudly situated near West 77th Street, one of the park’s main entrances (The Ramble) and spanned a small, glistening cove (Bank Rock Bay). Sadly, Vaux’s artistic vision failed to contend with the ravages of time and tide; in less than 15 years, the bridge’s wood required constant and costly maintenance.
After numerous repair attempts (including a try at an overall reconstruction in 1875), the bridge was torn down and replaced with a more utilitarian if less attractive “temporary” crossing in 1935. Plans to rebuild the bridge with masonry or stone were put on hold due to the Great Depression…and remained on hold for over 70 years; in which time, the cove had also sank into stagnant erosion.
Last Wednesday, Central Park Conservancy’s Oak Bridge project unveiled a replica of Vaux’s original bridge. They opted to use more modern materials while adhering to the original design, as “determined through park archives and historical photographs.” Jan Hird Pokorny Associates and Robert Silman Associates developed the design together with the conservancy.Coated steel and aluminum, resembling the original bridge’s oak elements, was constructed by New York Steel while Welding Works installed the casting. The most interactive element, the wood, was done by Wood, Steel and Glass.
Christopher J. Nolan, a vice-president of conservancy projects, noted that it’s “not a perfect re-creation of the original bridge. There is a difference between a commitment to the original vision and replication of every single detail.”
The bridge (in spirit, at least) once again spans Bank Rock Bay (also returned to life); indeed, it’s an irony that a bridge torn down during the Great Depression should be resurrected during today’s new and improved Great Depression.