Bearing a striking resemblance to the Ponte di San Francesco in San Remo, Italy, Gapstow Bridge is yet another example of traditional architecture in Central Park. The stone span curves gracefully over the narrow neck of the Pond. Facing south, it offers the quintessential view of the city, with the Plaza Hotel and other towers rising behind the backdrop of trees reflected, amidst the ducks, in the waters of the Pond.
Olmsted and Vaux anticipated 125 years ago that Manhattan’s buildings would one day rise around the empty lots by the park, but they could in no way envision the extent of the city’s vertical ascent. Today, whether reflecting skyscrapers or simply taken on its own merits, the Pond is a very integral part of Central Park.
The northerly view from the bridge is marred by the sight of the Wollman rink which replaced part of the Pond in 1951 with an ice-skating rink and a crescent-shaped brick bunker. Built on a lake bottom without proper underpinnings, with the result that it repeatedly settled, the rink was replaced by the present one in 1987.
Originally, Gapstow was a wooden bridge supported by the unique feature of a large segmental arch of wood on the north and south sides, both arches springing from ledges on the stone abutments. Along the wood walkway of the bridge the railings were of cast iron. Each of the repeated motifs was composed of a half circle topped by a pointed arch, with the spandrel spaces filled by verticals to meet the hand railing. The center section set off by the intersection of the support arch was figured with three cinquefoils.
Gapstow was a unique design using wood and cast-iron trimming, drawn for this commanding site over the Pond, in the picturesque landscape of the Park. It was to last a little more than a score of years. Conjecture has it that wear and tear were simply too much.
The current stone replacement, designed by Howard & Caudwell in 1896, is built of unadorned Manhattan schist. It spans 44 feet of water at its base with a 12-foot high arch, and it has imposing 76-foot long sidewalls extending the full length of the bridge.