Belvidere Castle: Splendor and History in New York City


Belvedere Castle is an architectural caprice on the territory of Central Park in New York, a visitor center and observation deck. It is an example of Victorian architecture – a popular Western European trend of the XIX century, which combines neo-Gothic and neo-Moorish styles. It was built in 1869 according to the project of architect Calvert Vox. The structure is located in the central part of the park north of 79th Street, on the crest of Vista Rock. The primary building material is local crystalline shale.


The idea of a small observation tower on Vista Rock was proposed by Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vox in the Greensward Project in 1858, but it was not realized until the end of the Civil War. After 1865, Calvert Vox and his assistant Jacob Mould designed several architectural objects in Central Park, including a miniature castle on the site of the firehouse. The authors intended the structure to be visible to visitors to the front walkway and terrace, and to reward those of them who chose to cross to the other side of the lake and explore to the end of the path of the wooded Ramble hillside. The tower overlooked not only the hillside, but also the aqueduct’s reservoir, which provided fresh water for New Yorkers. In the 30s of XX century this reservoir was destroyed, and in its place was equipped with a wide Great Lawn and Turtle Pond.

The castle originally served a purely decorative role, providing beautiful views from its three terraces and observation tower; there were no window frames or doors. In 1919, it housed a weather station, and after its move to Rockefeller Center in 1967, the building was vacant, closed to the public, and vandalized for many years. In the early 1980s, when a private, non-profit company took over management of the park, the building was renovated and reopened on May 1, 1983. Since then, it has been officially known as the Henry Luce Nature Observatory. In the castle’s rooms you can learn about naturalists’ tools, observation methods and wildlife studies. There is also one of four Central Park Visitor Centers and a gift store.