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Garvey Park is one of the oldest public squares in Manhattan. Central
to the life of Harlem for more than 150 years, it has served as a meeting
place for neighbors, a front yard and play area for schoolchildren, and
a holy place for members of local churches.
as Mount Morris Park for more than a hundred years, it was originally
part of the estate of Metje Cornelius Kortright. The name Morris became
attached to the site by the 1830s; possible sources include Robert H.
Morris, elected mayor in 1841, and a family affiliated with a racetrack
that once operated nearby.
park itself dates back to the 1811 Commissioners' Plan for Manhattan,
which called for a square in a slightly different location, between 6th
and 7th Avenues and West 117th and West 121st Streets. The prospect of
breaking through rocky Mount Morris led the City to build the new square
there instead. Mount Morris Square opened on December 1, 1840.
park remained unimproved for three decades. A park design by the City's
Chief Landscape Gardener, Ignatz A. Pilat, was built from 1867 to 1871
and remained intact until the 1930s. At that time Parks Commissioner Robert
Moses, with the help of the Federal Works Progress Administration, installed
playgrounds and a system of stone walls, terraces and stairs that remains
in place today.
the mid-1960s the park again underwent dramatic changes. The City constructed
a pool, a new recreation center and an amphitheater where Harlem residents
continue to enjoy outdoors summer performances.
park was renamed by the City Council in honor of the black nationalist
leader Marcus Garvey in 1973.
Marcus Garvey Park successfully integrates a historic natural setting
into the fabric of the modern city. The Mount Morris rock formation is
the last remaining outcropping of a 90-acre wedge of hard Manhattan schist-the
bedrock of the island-that ran between present-day Lexington and Fifth
Avenues south of the Harlem River. The Dutch referred to this place and
a neighboring hill as Gebergte (Round Hills) and the mount itself as Slangberg
(Snake Hill) in honor of that now-extinct reptile population. Many varieties
of trees and shrubs continue to flourish in the 20 acres of the park,
including Birch, Elm, Hackberry, Hawthorn, London Plane, Maple, Oak, Osage
Orange and Sweetgum. An Allee of Lindens shades a peaceful sitting area
on the east side of the park.
the first neighborhoods in Harlem to be developed following the introduction
of elevated rail service in the 1880s, the Mount Morris Park Historic
District features some of the area's grandest brownstones. Many important
local institutions surround the park including the Harlem branch of the
New York Public Library, North General Hospital, PS 79 and other schools
and daycare centers. Among the many local houses of worship are the Commandment
Keepers Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation, one of the only black synagogues
in the United States. Mt. Olive Baptist Church; Mount Morris Ascension
Presbyterian Church; Bethel Gospel Assembly, housed in the old Cooper
Junior High School; and St. Martin's Episcopal Church, home to the second
largest set of carillons in New York City. The Handmaids of Mary Convent,
one of the few black convents in America, operates across West 124th Street
on the north side of the park, beside the library.
Marcus Aurelius Garvey (1887-1940) was one of the founders of the black
nationalist movement in the early twentieth century. Born in Jamaica,
he started the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), the first
modern black nationalist organization, in 1914. The UNIA attracted thousands
of supporters and at its peak, boasted more than 800 chapters. His message
of black economic self-sufficiency continues to resonate with many Harlem
residents and others around the world. More a proselytizer than businessman,
and subject to investigation for his radical politics, he was later convicted
for mail fraud in connection with his failed Black Star Shipping Lane.
A prominent feature of Marcus Garvey Park and its neighborhood, the Watchtower
serves as an important community landmark. The Board of Aldermen commission
the world's first cast-iron fire watchtower in 1851 on Ninth Avenue at
West 33rd Street, and a second in 1853 on Spring Street. Two years later,
after petitioning by Harlem residents, the City announced a third tower
atop Mount Morris; it was designed by Julius B. Kroehl and completed in
building technology, these early examples of post-lintel cast-iron architecture
inspired the steel cages developed in the 1880s to support skyscrapers.
More importantly, these towers were fireproof. The Mount Morris tower
is the only surviving example of this type of structure. The firetower
network, which at its peak included 11 towers, fell into disuse in the
1870s as the Fire Department began to install alarms on street corners
and taller buildings rendered these early perches obsolete.
The Mount Morris tower
survived because of its protected location on parkland. It became a New
York City landmark in 1967 and was added to the National Register of Historic
Places in 1976.
Seventy feet above the surrounding streets, the lookout atop Marcus Garvey
Park provides unsurpassed views in all directions. On a clear day visitors
can see Yankee Stadium and the George Washington Bridge to the north,
the Empire State Building to the South, the South Bronx and the Harlem
River to the east, and the Cathedral of St. John the Devine, Grant's Tomb
and Columbia University to the west.
Fritz Recreation Center
Known throughout Harlem for its recreation, arts and senior programs,
the recreation center opened in 1969. Facilities include performance spaces,
a children's playroom, a weight lifting area, a reading room, a computer
center and game room. In 1988 it was named for Assistant Commissioner
for Recreation Pelham Fritz (1917-1988), a popular Parks official, a former
basketball player and coach, and a Harlem resident long revered in the
A gift of the American Composer Richard Rogers, who grew up across the
street, the amphitheater seats 1,600 and is designed to house a 75 person
orchestra. In recent years it has hosted the Joseph Papp Public Theater's
Shakespeare in the Park and performances by such well-known artists as
Aretha Franklin and Quincy Jones.
With the help of a fundraising campaign by the Harlem Little League that
raised $ 150,000, the City renovated the baseball diamond in the southwest
corner of the park in 1998. Improvements included a new drainage system,
fence and electronic scoreboard.
Pool & Bathhouse
One of the most popular destinations in the park during the summer, the
outdoor pool and changing facilities were completed in 1971. The pool
opens July 4th weekend.
The park has three playgrounds. A smaller facility west of the entrance
at 124th Street and 5th Avenue features climbing equipment suited to smaller
children, while one to the east of that entrance is designed for their
older brothers and sisters. Teens and adults favor the swings and basketball
courts of the oval play area at the southeast corner of the park.
Over the years many organizations have helped preserve and improve the
park, but it is the people who live and work closest to it who are the
key to its vitality. The more neighbors take responsibility for the park
as if it belonged to them personally, the more it will flourish.
You can become involved
in many ways. Enjoy a picnic atop the acropolis, take a dip in the pool
or teach a class at the recreation center. Photograph or sketch the park
and mountain exhibition. Organize a concert or performance for the amphitheater.
"Adopt" a playground and help look after it on a regular basis,
or join neighbors and friends cleaning the park and planting flowers and
bulbs in the spring and fall.
your park! However you come to it, join the ever growing corps of citizens
dedicated to preserving and improving this ancient and beautiful section
of the New York City landscape. Call 212-408-0201 and ask for the Partnerships
for Parks Manhattan Outreach Coordinator. We'll add you to our mailing
list for Marcus Garvey Park events and programs and let you know how you
can join us.
City of New York
Parks and Recreation
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mayor
Henry J. Stern, Commissioner
Adrian Benepe, Borough Commissioner, Manhattan Parks
Bill Tai, Park Manager
Marcus Garvey Park
18 Mount Morris Park West
New York, New York 10027
Phone: (212) 860-1373 Fax: (917 ) 677-3447
Partnership for Parks, a joint initiative of the City of New York/Parks
& Recreation and the City Parks Foundation, encourages and supports
community involvement in the city's parks.
Timothy M. Tompkins, Director
Mary Price, Outreach Coordinator
How to Get to the
Tucked away just south of the 125th Street shopping corridor along the
axis of Fifth Avenue in Central Harlem, Marcus Garvey Park is easily accessible
by public transportation. Take the 7th Avenue Express number 2 or 3 trains;
the Lexington Avenue number 4 or 5 or 6 trains; or Metro North to 125th
Street. The M1 bus passes along the park and the M7, M60, M98, M100, M101,
M102 and Bx15 buses all stop just a short walk away.
(From and for the Brochure)
Text: Matthew Lasner and Benjamin Swett
Research and Design: Matthew Lasner
Photographs: Benjamin Swett
Map: Geroge Colbert and Buenter Vollath
Historic Photograph: Parks Photo Archive
Printing: AGW Lithographers
Special Thanks to
Jonathan Kun, Parks
Historian: The Mount Morris Pars Community Improvement Association;
Modernage Photographic Services; Thelma C. Adair, Ed.D.; Helen Boone;
Jeannette Boyd; Valerie Bradley; Michelle Caulfield; Chuck Foster; Donald
Glassman; Lee Henry; Helen Murray; Damon Rich; Steven Rizick; and Sarah
Made possible through
the generous support of the Commonwealth Fund and the Spingold Foundation.
The Fire Watch Tower Page
New York City Parks
Partnerships for Parks