Any New Yorker who loves New York’s architecture and history – and enjoys walking tours – will mourn the passing on May 1st of one of the city’s great contrarians, Henry Hope Reed (click here to read his obituary in the New York Times). Reed lived long enough to see his passion for the city’s past architectural splendors – a distinctly minority view during the ascendance of mid-20th century Modernism – spread far and wide, and the city’s landmarks and historic districts, now treasured by natives and visitors alike, protected by public policy, and lovingly restored. The walking tours that he began leading for the Municipal Art Society in 1956 – not quite 60 years ago – have become a staple of the city’s cultural life, and those of us who lead them today walk in his shadow.
Especially those of us who lead walks through Central Park. The park’s first official “Curator,” Reed wrote Central Park: A History and Guide in 1967. I still bring it with me when leading tours of the park, just so I can open it to page 42 and read the list of 33 “Improvements” (quotation marks in Reed’s original) suggested for the park “since 1900,” including “Selling off lower park for building lots, 1904,” “Opera House, 1910,” “Outdoor theatre seating 50,000,” “Airplane field, 1919,” and “Underground parking lot for 30,000 cars, 1921,” accompanied by a map showing how the improved park might have looked. And then we can turn to Appendix C for a list of “The Approximate Dates of Leafing, Budding, Blossoming and Fruiting of Plants in Central Park.” The list for the first 10 days of May: White Ash, Evergreen Candytuft, Common Chokecherry, Pinxterbloom Azalea, Japanese Flowering Crab Apple, Halls Crab Apple, Sargent Crab Apple, Torch Azalea, Black Jetbead, Siberian Pea Tree, Sycamore Maple, Carolina Silver Bell, Japanese Barberry, Red Leaf Japanese Barberry, Allegany Serviceberry, Carmine Crab Apple, Carolina Rhododendron, Chinese Wisteria, Thicket Hawthorn, Common Lilac, Common Sassafras, Amoena Azalea, Morrow Honeysuckle, and Tatarian Honeysuckle – all accompanied by their Latin botanic names and a brief description of their flowers.
If you find yourself in Central Park this week, enjoying a glorious spring afternoon, offer Henry Hope Reed a moment of silence – and thanks for his contrarian perseverance.