In 1857 Swiss-German immigrants August Schmidt and Emanuel Bernheimer founded the Lion Brewery. The expansive complex stretched from Columbus to Amsterdam Avenue and from 107th to 109th Street. Following the Civil War the property was expanded to the north where a sprawling pleasure garden, Lion Park, was erected.
New Yorkers had enjoyed pleasure gardens since the 18th century, especially in the summer months when relief from the stifling heat was welcome. Lion Park was the mid-Victorian equivalent of a recreation park today. Years later The Sun said "Originally Lion Park was a popular family picnic ground, a place for meetings, for recreation and amusement. Its natural scenic advantages were enhanced by art. Large sums were expended in floral cultivation, in the construction of walks and paths, in cleaning groves for the accommodation of picnic parties, and in marking rustic bowers and shelters."
Lion Park from its eyrie above the Park threw out long lances of light as beacons to the pilgrims from the east side and blazed forth as the night advanced like the palace of Aladdin or St. Peter's at Easter. From a thousand blazing lights, from the blinding glare of the calcium to the merry twinkle of the prisoner within the Chinese lantern, from many a loud tongued instrument which spoke as Reitzel or Bergmann directed, from many a peal of merry voices or murmur of pattering feet over the broad floor, was wafted a welcome to the hundred wanderers from all points of the compass.