Sorry, couldn’t resist Jimmy Cagney’s immortal line at the end of White Heat.
Actually, if Everest’s peak is at 29,029* feet (8,848m) I still had 28,887 feet to go when I was recently standing on top of Summit Rock, the highest natural elevation in Central Park, at a giddying 141.8 feet*. After 4 years in the States I still find the mixing of imperial and decimal measurement formats strange but there you go!
You don’t need oxygen to ascend the rock but take care in wintry conditions especially on the steps on the winding path to the south. The steps were carved into the bedrock when the Park was built.
I’ve found the Summit Rock area a good place to visit, sit and relax. The area had a makeover in 1997, when a broken 1950s pavement crowning the Rock was removed, and a new lawn added. Today there’s a rustic stone amphitheatre and two curving banks of benches, arranged back-to-back, giving views toward and away from the rock.
On one of the benches (towards the south end of the row facing away from the summit) there is a plaque dedicated to Elizabeth Barlow Rogers who was a Founder of the Central Park Conservancy and its first President from 1980 to 1996.
The Conservancy’s establishment has been paramount in the transformation of the Park from a state of decay into today’s magnificent urban oasis; the Conservancy currently raises between 75% and 85% of the Park’s annual expense budget and has responsibility for its day-to-day maintenance and operations.
The overall effect is a meditative and relaxed atmosphere. On different occasions I’ve come across folk meditating on top of the rock or lolling in the shade with a beloved canine companion. Once there was a (rehearsal for?) theatrical drama taking place — that wasn’t quite as peaceful but it was easy to find a quiet spot nearby — artistes performing throughout the Park contribute to its rich tapestry.
Being so close to Central Park West the Summit Rock area also gives some great views through the trees to some high-end residences. The Art Deco building at No. 421 is a personal favourite as it peeps above and through the trees.
If you leave the Park at 85th Street you’ll come across a couple of beautiful Victorian mansions at 427 and 429, while if you continue a little further north in the Park you will find the only visible remains of Seneca Village.
Seneca Village was possibly Manhattan’s first prominent community of African American property owners. It was razed to make way for the construction of the Park, which took place from 1857 – 1873. The author Linda Fairstein works the history of Seneca into the plot of her fifteenth novel Death Angel.
I’ll be writing more about the Village in future.
*Official Central Park website