Central Park’s Belvedere Castle reveals $12M restoration

June 18, 2019

The restored Belvedere, courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

After a 15-month, $12 million restoration and repair project, the Belvedere will reopen to the public on Friday, June 28th. In anticipation, the Central Park Conservancy today opened the historic structure to press, revealing its restored facade, expansive views through new clear-pane-glass windows, new mechanical and utility systems, and a recreation of a wooden tower that was part of Olmsted and Vaux’s original plan 150 years ago. Though many New Yorkers refer to the site as Belvedere Castle, “Belvedere” actually means “beautiful view” in Italian and refers to the vistas from the second-highest point in Central Park. Belvedere receives approximately one million visitors each year, and starting this month, they will also be able to see the Castle illuminated at night, as the landmark will be lit for the first time ever.

A rendering of the Belvedere from 1866, courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

The Belvedere opened to the public in the early 1870s. Central Park’s co-designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux envisioned a place that would serve as a respite from the rest of the city, as well as a location to take in the beautiful views of the park. They designed a large terrace at the park’s second-highest point, known as Vista Rock, complete with pavilions and a miniature castle. Originally, the Belvedere provided views of the Croton Reservoir to the north (today the Great Lawn) and the Ramble to the South. And as it does today, it served as a beacon, visible from the Mall and Bethesda Terrace.

Photos of Belvedere Castle in 1980, courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

When the castle was constructed it was designed as an open-air “folly,” a decorative architectural structure with no functional use. But in 1919, the U.S. Weather Bureau transformed the structure into a weather station, adding windows and doors. When they vacated the castle in the early ’60s, it fell into disrepair and fell victim to vandalism.

Full view of the restored castle (top); looking out from one of the new windows (center); the new geothermal system (bottom). Courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

The Central Park Conservancy was formed in 1980, and one of their first major restoration projects was the Belvedere’s first restoration in 1983, which removed the graffiti and rebuilt the pavilions. The Belvedere then reopened as a visitor center and gift shop. In 2016, the Conservancy kicked off a $300 million campaign that included the renovation of the castle and its surrounding playgrounds. The main purpose was to “address drainage, waterproofing, and climate control systems along with deterioration that has occurred over the last 35 years.” To that end, the newly restored Belvedere includes the following:

  • New, clear pane windows that evoke the original open-air design from both within and afar (in more recent years, windows with bars, shutters, and grilles have obstructed views)
  • A zero-emission, energy-efficient geothermal system for cooling and heating the Castle’s interior (since workers dug 400 feet into Vista Rock to create this, there is very minimal visible equipment)
  • New waterproofing and drainage systems

The new wood tower, seen on the right, courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy.

The project also included rebuilding the walls enclosing the terraces; cleaning, repairing, and repointing the exterior and interior stonework; and paving the terraces with new bluestone pavers, positioned in the historic checkered design. Another major piece of work was reconstructing a decorative wood tower that originally was part of the pavilion at the northwest corner.

From the castle, you can see the Great Lawn, Turtle Pond, the Delacorte Theater, and more, courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy.

Perhaps the most photogenic aspect of the restoration will be its illumination component. At night, the Belvedere will be lit up, visible from various points in the park, but most strikingly from across Turtle Pond (“one of the most iconic views of the Belvedere,” according to the Conservancy). The first time you’ll be able to see this is the night of Thursday, June 27th, ahead of the official reopening the next day.

Courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

The next phase of work is focused on making the Belevere accessible. Preliminary plans are in the works for a new entrance from the pathway between the Belvedere and the East Drive; the Conservancy says they’ll have more information this coming fall/winter.

When the Belvedere reopens on June 28th, it will stay open until August 9th from 9am to 7pm. In the fall, winter, and spring, it will be open from 10am to 5pm, with the exception of major holidays. If you’re interested in learning even more about the Belvedere, the Central Park Conservancy will be hosting two public tours–The Belvedere: Beautiful View Tour and Discovery Walks for Families: Turtle Pond (learn more about these tours here).

To hear more from Central Park Conservancy staff members and to go behind the scenes of the restoration, check out these two videos:


All photos and historic images courtesy of the Central Park Conservancy

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