THEODORE ROOSEVELT, ENVIRONMENTALIST
Best known as the aggressive politician who advised the nation to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” the only native of New York City to sit in the Oval Office was also a scholar of natural history and a devoted environmentalist. As president, he was instrumental in the creation of the National Zoo, the formation of 51 national bird sanctuaries, and the preservation of 18 natural wonders, including the Grand Canyon. The Harvard graduate and Nobel laureate (peace prize, 1906) wrote three dozen books, ranging in subject from Charles Dickens to African big game hunting. The museum contains specimens that Roosevelt shot and collected during his family’s visit to Egypt in 1872.
HISTORY OF ROOSEVELT PARK
Theodore Roosevelt Park Origins
In 1807, the city of New York mapped Theodore Roosevelt Park’s location as a public park, but did not officially own it until it was acquired by condemnation in 1839. The park was later assigned to the Board of Commissioners of Central Park (a pre-1870 precursor to the Department of Parks), and was annexed to Central Park. Before the American Museum of Natural History was built, planners considered using the site for a zoo or a botanical garden. The museum, founded in 1869, was temporarily housed in what is now the parks department headquarters, the Arsenal at 64th Street and 5th Avenue in Central Park. The museum later moved to the Upper West Side.
In the late 1860s, financiers abandoned a museum project, only months after it began, on the site that later housed Tavern on the Green. Molds of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals remain buried there to this day. Construction for the American Museum of Natural History began on the current site in 1874, under the direction of Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, and the museum opened in 1877.
In 1929, New York State obtained access to the land facing Central Park West for a Theodore Roosevelt Memorial. In 1936, many public officials, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, gathered to dedicate the indoor portions of the monument. In 1940, the state added a bronze statue by sculptor James Earle Fraser intended to depict a bold, progressive Roosevelt symbolically uniting the races of America. Distinguished architect John Russell Pope designed the neoclassical granite pedestal. The park was known as Manhattan Square until 1958, when a local law renamed it “Theodore Roosevelt Park.” Neighborhood residents have traditionally referred to the park as “Museum Park” or “Dinosaur Park.” The New York City Parks Department maintains the park with help from the Friends of Theodore Roosevelt Park.
The Friends of Roosevelt Park
The Friends of Roosevelt Park
The Friends of Roosevelt Park is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3) organization that helps to manage and fund Manhattan’s Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Origins of the Friends
In the late 1980’s, a dismayed neighbor of Museum Park surveyed the barren landscape. Years of touch football, combined with minimal sod maintenance and no irrigation, had turned the lawn into bare earth. The rest of the park wasn’t much better, and was visited mainly by the homeless and people walking dogs. The park’s single employee did nothing but collect trash.
The neighbor and his wife decided to fund new sod and irrigation for the lawn. Later, they joined two other residents of the Upper West Side to found Friends of Roosevelt Park, which gained nonprofit status as a 501 (c)(3) organization in 1993.
In 1997, the American Museum of Natural History started the construction of the Rose Space Center (planetarium) in tandem with a $2 million renovation of Theodore Roosevelt Park. In 2000, at the urging of then parks commissioner Adrian Benepe, the Friends helped to fund the first full time horticulture director for Roosevelt Park. The Museum of Natural History generously provided free office space.
In 2002, The Friends, the parks department, and the Museum of Natural History agreed to co-manage the park under the parks department umbrella. New Yorkers for Parks subsequently conducted surveys of New York City parks’ appearance and management, and Roosevelt Park consistently ranked in the top five of parks under 20 acres, competing against better-funded parks such as City Hall, Damrosch and Bryant.
The Friends of Roosevelt Park also founded GreenLife, a student internship program, with nearby Brandeis High School, now the Urban Assembly School for Green Careers. This program teaches horticulture and job readiness skills to enthusiastic students. It has expanded from a six-week summer program to a nine-month program.
BULL MOOSE DOG RUN
Since 1990, the dog run has been a boon to the community. It is one of the largest dog runs in New York City’s parks. The renovation of the park areas adjacent to 81st Street and Columbus Avenue in 2000 included the relocation of the dog run, improvement of the drainage and irrigation systems, the renovation of the lawn and paths, and the addition of new benches and fencing. The dog run, once called Teddy’s Dog Run, was renamed Bull Moose Dog Run after Roosevelt’s Progressive Party.
Roosevelt Park Today
Shared by Upper West Side Neighbors and Museum of Natural History Visitors
Our restored jewel of a landscape has benefited from the generosity of foundations, corporations, neighbors, the City Council, volunteers from New York Cares, and heightened involvement by the American Museum of Natural History and the New York City Parks Department. In two decades, the Friends have contributed more than $1 million to Roosevelt Park. We currently fund about 40% of its operating budget.
Today, Theodore Roosevelt Park pays tribute to a dedicated conservationist and serves as a place of relaxation and delight for neighbors and tourists, including the approximately 5 million people who visit the Museum each year. And thanks to the flowers that now bloom from early spring through late fall, we are now also home to a population of hummingbirds!