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© 2011 New-York Historical Society logo

Guide to the Friends of City Hall Park Papers
1992-2009
 MS 1335

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Christine George with additions by Catherine Newton

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on July 30, 2012
Finding Aid is written in English.
using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Historical Note

1765 New Yorkers protested the Stamp Act in the Commons
1766 The Sons of Liberty erected (and then repeatedly re-erected) a Liberty Pole in the Commons
July 9, 1776 The Declaration of Independence was read in the Commons in the presence of General George Washington
November 25, 1783 The American Flag was raised over the Commons after the British evacuated New York
1803 Construction began on City Hall, changing the Commons’ name to City Hall Park
1827 A parade celebrating New York’s abolition of slavery stopped in the Park
1842 Croton Fountain was built on the Southside of the Park
1870 The Federal Post Office was built and destroyed the triangular shape of the Park
December 31, 1897 New Yorkers gather in the Park to celebration the creation of the City of Greater New York
1903 The Park’s gas lampposts were replaced with electric lampposts
1920 The Croton Fountain was replaced with a statue
1939 The Federal Post Office was torn down and the Park returned to a triangular shape
1978 The Delacorte Family donated a fountain to the Park
1996 Friends of City Hall Park was founded
1997 Renovations began in the Park
1999 City Hall Park was rededicated
2001 The Northern portion of the Park was closed to the public due to the September 11 terrorist attacks
July 2007 The Park was again completely open to the public

Older than New York City itself, City Hall Park has played an important role for all who settled in Manhattan. When New York was the Dutch colony, New Amsterdam, the land that is currently known as City Hall Park was referred to as the Commons and was used as a pasture, parade ground, and gathering space. Public executions took place there and, during different periods, it provided space for an almshouse and prison.

When the land was under British rule, the Commons became an important place for those inclined towards revolution. New Yorkers protested the Stamp Act there in 1765. The Sons of Liberty, the rebels who helped spark the American Revolution, erected a Liberty Pole outside the soldiers’ barracks in 1766. When the British chopped the pole down, it was replaced. This continued five times. (Today, there is a replica of the Liberty Pole between City Hall and Broadway.) On July 9, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read in the Commons, in front of George Washington, Continental Army soldiers, and New Yorkers. After the British evacuation of New York on November 25, 1783, the American flag was raised over the Commons.

In the early nineteenth century, the Commons began to evolve into City Hall Park. In 1802 there was a contest to design a new City Hall. The first stone was laid in 1803 and by 1812 the building had been opened to the public. Keeping with its past, when slavery was abolished in New York in 1827, part of the celebration was a parade that stopped in City Hall Park. To mark the Croton Aqueduct’s opening in 1842—which was the first dependable source of pure water in New York City—the Croton Fountain was built on the Park’s south side. During the American Civil War, there were a number of temporary buildings, including soldiers’ barracks—put up all over the Park.

Until 1870, City Hall Park had a triangular shape. However, when the Federal Post Office was built on the southern tip of the park, the shape changed. The Croton fountain had been removed to be replaced by a granite fountain placed in the center of the Park. Though it had begun to change, New Yorkers still gathered in the Park to celebrate as they did on December 31, 1897 to celebrate the City of Greater New York when Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx, and Manhattan consolidated into one city. City Hall Park began to mark technological changes as its gas lighting was replaced in 1903 with electric lampposts. In 1920, the Park lost its fountain and replaced it with a statue called “Civic Virtue.” (The statue was eventually moved to Queens Borough Hall in 1941.) As the country was engulfed in the Great Depression in the 1930s, City Hall Park was once again used as a place of protest.

Towards the end of the Great Depression, City officials began to think about renovating the Park. In 1939, the Federal Post Office was torn down, which restored the Park to its former triangular shape. The Delacorte Family donated a fountain to the Park in 1978 which remained in the Park until 1999. Even with the new fountain, the Park began to be neglected and fell into disrepair in the 1980s and 1990s.

Aware of City Hall Park’s history as well as its deteriorating state, neighborhood residents and local businesses came together in 1996 to found Friends of City Hall Park (FCHP). FCHP is an activist organization dedicated to support City Hall Park as a civic center and neighborhood park. In 1997, FCHP produced a “State of the Park” report which determined that immediate action needed to be taken to restore the Park to its former glory. FCHP acted as an advocate for the park, drawing the public’s attention to its condition, calling for its renovation. In order to advance its goals, the FCHP joined its efforts with organizations such as the Parks Department, New York City and State officials, Community Organization No. 1, Partnerships for Parks, New Yorkers for Parks, and other community and activist organizations. In Fall 1998 FCHP was successful and construction began to renovate the Park. The Park was rededicated in 1999 by New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, a portion of City Hall Park was closed to the public. FCHP, led by its president Skip Blumberg, began a six year campaign to have the Northern section of the Park opened again to the public. In July 2007 the entirety of City Hall Park was once again open to the public.

City Hall Park: New York’s Historic Commons (New York: City of New York, 1999).