Riverside Park New Deal Sites - Photo #1


Construction laborers, Riverside Park, May 16, 1934. Photo: New York City Department of Parks and Recreation:
”Group of black laborers is shown laying foundation stones in the shallow river bed that was to become part of the Riverside Park expansion. One of the largest public improvements to ever take place in New York City, this massive project decked over the New York Central Railroad, doubled the park's acreage, and added the scenic Henry Hudson Parkway along its perimeter. Financed by the Federal Works Progress Administration (WPA), the workforce numbered in the many thousands. Notice the harmonica player at center who tries to maintain the work crew's spirits in the face of their daunting task.” (Parks Department text) In the background, far left, Grant's Tomb. The tall building to its right is Riverside Church. Then apartment buildings along Riverside Drive from 120th Street to 116th Street. The workers are laying down stones taken from the railroad bed to stabilize the river bank. This photo was taken very close to the doomed Columbia University Yacht Club at 113th Street. The steeply terraced park was about to be totally reconstructed into two relatively flat area separated by a high stone retaining wall, with the NYCRR tracks beneath the high part.

Prior to the New Deal, the New York Central Railroad ran along the Hudson River on the west side of Manhattan, not only cutting residents off from the river, but also spewing coal smoke and soot into the residential areas. A project was launched in 1929 to bury the railroad tracks under parkland but it never got off the ground due to lack of funding, and by 1934 what we know as Riverside Park today was a "wasteland ..." stretching from 72nd Street to 181st Street ... "a vast low-lying mass of dirt of and mud ... unpainted, rusting, jagged wire fen