The Harlem Meer Landscape

The Harlem Meer landscape in the northeast corner of the Park includes a variety of amenities and landscapes and is a region of the Park with strong connections to the adjacent community. It includes two playgrounds: Bernard Playground (108th Street and Fifth Avenue) and the East 110th Street Playground (between Fifth Avenue and Lenox Avenue). Both playgrounds are located in the landscape margin between the Park’s stone perimeter wall and the path that runs along the Harlem Meer. They provide views of the water as well as the bluff that rises from the southern shore of the Meer, known as the “forts landscape” because it encompasses the site of military fortifications from the War of 1812.

Both playgrounds were built in 1936. Their construction was a catalyst for increased use the northern end of the Park, which contained fewer amenities. By 1945, a boathouse had been added and the naturalistic shoreline of the Meer was replaced with a concrete edge and steel picket fence. These additions and interventions extended an urban character into this end of the Park, reflecting the sensibility of the Moses era as well as the increasing urbanization of upper Manhattan.

By the 1980s, this area had deteriorated dramatically. The boathouse had burned; the Meer was filled with sediment; vandalism was rampant; and the landscape was overgrown. The Park during this era was largely perceived as unsafe, and this was especially true of its northern regions. In the late 1980s, the Conservancy began the restoration of the Harlem Meer landscape as a catalyst for change in the northern part of the Park. Work included re-creating the naturalistic shoreline and constructing the Dana Discovery Center, a visitor center and program space, near the site of the original boathouse. This restoration has transformed the area into a popular park destination, frequented by neighborhood residents, particularly families, who visit to enjoy a wide range of park experiences and opportunities for play.

At eleven acres, the Harlem Meer is the second largest water body designed for the Park. Narrow lawns, shoreline plantings, and a series of access points (including a sandy beach) line its edge. To the south are the rocky bluffs, with overlooks built on the sites of the historic fortifications.

In addition to public programs for families and children, the Dana Discovery Center lends fishing poles for catch-and-release fishing, providing a unique way to experience the Meer and interact with wildlife. The bluffs of the fort landscape offer opportunities for exploration and expansive views of the Meer landscape. The Conservatory Garden, located inside the Fifth Avenue perimeter just south of the Meer, provides a more formal garden experience and introduction to horticulture. The nearby Lasker Pool and Rink offers swimming in the summer and ice-skating and hockey in the winter.