Saturday, November 26, 2011

Paley Park by mobile phone

Utter simplicity.

Paley Park is one of the great small urban spaces. A simple rectangle, a couple of steps up from the sidewalk of 53rd Street, the park is backed by a 20-foot high waterfall that drowns out the noise of midtown Manhattan, with ivy-covered walls on each side, and tall, elegant Locust trees reaching upward for the light. Hidden between tall buildings, the park is a visual stunner. As you walk by and glimpse it unexpectedly, the welcoming open space and the sound of the waterfall draw you in. The experience is like an epiphany.

I rarely pass it, but last week I attended a day long event at the Museum of Modern Art. That brought me by Paley Park, both coming and going. Cameraless on such occasions, I took these photos, near dusk, on my cell phone.

I first visited this park in 1973, discovering it during a lunch hour walk from my work place near the UN. I loved the park then and I still do now. I can't say it's changed much over those intervening 38 years. It's still magical.

Small tables and movable Bertoia chairs allow park users to arrange seating as they wish. It's informal, practicle, and beautiful.

The park was opened in 1967, a gift of William S. Paley, the chairman of CBS. Though it was designed by Zion and Breene Associates, Paley took a direct hand in the design.


  1. I so love this park. I loved it in pictures in magazines; I loved it in William Whyte's film about small urban spaces. I really loved it when I finally was able to visit it. It's just a jewel. (If only I could find Bertoia chairs here in Rwanda...)

  2. Cindy, the word "elegant" also comes to mind, but not an exclusive, high-toned elegance, a practical, comfortable elegance. Even a sense of the spiritual, I'd say. I haven't seen William Whyte's film but I'll be on the lookout. Hope you're finding life in Rwanda good. And good luck finding Bertoia chairs there.

  3. The film is called "The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" and it's delightful. I couldn't find a seller online, but it may be at your library. It was briefly posted on you tube in October.

  4. What a stunner, James. Really cut back to necessary elements.

  5. Less is more in this case. Not a garden for the plantaholic.

  6. What a great space. Really very grand. It must feel so tranquil, yet only feet away from the city rush. Is this the second in the 'by mobile phone' series?

  7. Sort of like walking-into-a-church tranquil. I wasn't planning a series. But not a bad idea!

  8. It is a powerful little park. I was thrilled to see it for the first time last fall. I was thinking of doing a "hidden courtyards" series on my city, but I'm afraid there's nothing to hold a candle to Paley Park.



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