Monday, July 17, 2023

The Lost Central Park Music Pavilion

from Fifth Annual Report of the Board of Commissioners of Central Park, January, 1862 (copyright expired)

Born in London in 1825, Jacob Wrey Mould worked under master architect Owen Jones for two years doing meticulous study of the Alhambra in Spain.  The experience left him with an appreciation of Moorish architecture and the use of brilliant colors.  After working with Jones on decorations for The Great Exhibition in London in 1851, he relocated to New York City in 1852 to work on the Crystal Palace Exhibition.

In 1853, the year the Crystal Palace opened, state officials approved funds to purchase land for a central park, based on the grand open areas of European cities, like the Bois de Boulogne or Hyde Park.  Mould was brought on part-time to work with the planners, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, in making Central Park a reality.  In 1857 he was given a permanent position as assistant city architect.

A temporary bandstand was erected in the Ramble within the park in 1859.  An staggering 5,000 people attended the first concert.  By 1862 Vaux and Mould agreed that a permanent structure was desperately needed.  Mould drew up preliminary plans, which were presented to the Board of Commissioners of Central Park.  On February 6, 1862, Commissioner Andrew Haswell Green announced, "Resolved, That a music stand be constructed on the plan this day submitted, provided there are sufficient funds to construct the same, that can be taken from the maintenance fund."

(Interestingly, Andrew Haswell Green proposed that Mould's bandstand, or Musician's Pagoda, be erected on a barge to be floated upon the Lake.  It was felt that the water would carry the sound, and the bandstand could be moved out of the way when not in use.)

The plans typified Mould's passion for exotic design and vivid color.  Andrew Zega and Bernd H. Dams, Central Park NYC: An Architectural View.

Quintessentially Mould, the Musician's Pagoda, as it was originally called, was like an exotic souvenir of a trip to the East.  Brilliantly polychromed, its pencil-thin, cast iron columns upheld a Moorish-influenced roof and golden dome crowned by a filigree finial.  Clarence Cook, in his A Description of the New York Central Park, gave the sometimes overlooked architect unabashed praise.  "The Music-stand itself is decorated with colors and gilding after a design by Mr. Jacob Wrey Mould, a gentleman to whom...the public is indebted for almost all the decorative work in the Park."

The music pavilion was erected at the north end of the Mall.  On July 25, 1863, The New York Times described it, saying:

A highly ornate structure, something similar in appearance to a Chinese pagoda, is located on the Mall, and used by the band on Saturday afternoons, when visitors by the thousand assemble to listen to the selections of music which comprise popular pieces, as well as others of a more artistic character.  The spaded Verandah, on the hill directly east of the Mall, is a fine shelter for people who wish to sit and hear the music.  It is to be covered by-and-by with vines.  East of that is the "Concourse," or stand for carriages, where they remain while the band is playing, and here also is the refectory for ladies, which will soon be opened for the supply of ices and the lighter character of refreshments.

This mid-Victorian stereoscope slide was titled "The Music Stand."  from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Herbert Mitchell Collection.

Central Park was intended, as it is now, for everyone--the fashionable, the middle-class, and the struggling.  And, even though the wealthy were away during the hot summer months, the free concerts attracted a microcosm of Manhattanites.  On July 9, 1865, an article in The New York Times vividly (and poetically) described the throng:

The crowd, like all New-York crowds, was a perfect study--a kaleidoscopic picture of New-York life.  Richly dressed ladies of fashion, with their attendant shadows, of the genus dandy; the newly "come-out" belle, all freshness and life, culling her first and sweetest triumphs; the artist and the lawyer--one dreaming of fame to come, and the other pondering upon some knotting question that had puzzled his wits in the morning courts; the nurse-maid and her romping group of little ones, her patience almost gone beneath the troubles of keeping proper watch and ward over her mischievous charge; the clerk, just escaped from his counter or his books, obtaining a fresh lease of life at every breath as he saunters about; the sewing-girl, having forsaken the needle or "the machine" for a few hours of calm enjoyment: all classes of society existing in this great hive of metropolitan industry and wealth, of idleness and poverty; the happy and the unhappy, some with health tingling in their veins, while others came to gain a little more strength for the struggle of life.

Calling the pavilion "the admirable design of Mr. Mould," in 1866 Miller's New Guide to Central Park noted that the concerts were held every "fine Wednesday and Saturday afternoon in summer-time."  It pointed out the popularity of the events, saying "thousands [enjoy] the pleasant strains, while lounging on the lawns around, or on the rustic seats amply provided, and other thousands, while lolling in their luxurious carriages along the drives, and on the Concourse hard by."  

The annual cost of providing free concerts in 1866 was $5,000.  It was paid in part, explained Millers New Guide, "by the contributions of the various railway companies."  It was a solid investment for the street railways, or streetcar companies, since large concert attendance meant increased fares.

Two decades after its first concert, in 1886 the Parks Commissioners set aside $3,000 "to raise and otherwise improve the music stand on the Mall."  Jacob Wrey Mould reworked his original design, streamlining some of its more intricate elements.

Jacob Wrey Mould's plans to "improve" the bandstand.  from the NYC Municipal Archives.

The crush of attendees sometimes caused problems.  Such was the case on June 12, 1893 when "wealthy Mrs. Matilda Levi," as described by The Evening World could find no seat.  In the meantime, Professor Charles Mautner, a former instructor of Latin and Greek at the University in St. Paul and at the De la Salle Institute in Washington, had found one.

The newspaper said Professor Mautner, "had placidly seated himself yesterday afternoon in convenient proximity to the music stand in Central Park and was drinking in the dulcet strains, when a small, obese figure in black, all radiant with diamonds, dropped seemingly from the clouds, upon the Professor's knee."

The small, obese figure, of course, was the 65-year-old Matilda Levi.  The article said her "avoirdupois conjointly with her age, somewhat ruffled the sweltering Professor's equanimity; and he promptly and energetically demanded withdrawal of the pressure which was rapidly driving the Professor's temperature way out of sight above the boiling point."  Mrs. Levi smacked Mautner "with both hands, leaving the imprint of her multi-jeweled fingers upon his face," said the article.  The incident caught the attention of Park Policeman Ryan, who arrested both.

from the collection of the NYC Municipal Archives.

Matilda Levi promptly furnished bail, while the professor was forced to spend the night in jail.  The following morning in court, Matilda appeared with her husband.  She insisted, "There was a little space on the seat next to Mr. Mautner and I tried to avail myself of it when Mr. Mautner called me vile names and threated to kill me as soon as we got out of the Park...He was going to beat me with his cane when the policeman put us both under arrest."  The judge discharged Mrs. Levi, "saying that she ought, next time, to choose cooler weather for sitting down on pleasure-seekers in the Park," as reported by The Evening World.

The sheer numbers of concert attendees around 1910 demanded a modern venue. from the collection of the NYC Municipal Archives.

In 1905, German immigrant and banker Elkan Nauburg, who had founded the Oratorio Society of New York, began personally funding the Central Park concerts.  He later offered to donate a modern bandshell to the park, and hired his nephew, William G. Tachau to draw the plans, completed in 1916.

In 1921 Jacob Wrey Mould's mid-Victorian masterwork was demolished and construction started on the Naumburg Bandshell, which was completed in September 1923.

The program for the opening concert in the Naumburg Bandshell on September 29, 1923 featured a depiction of the new structure.  

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  1. Most interesting. Thanks.

  2. It was a considerable expense for the poor to take the omnibus to the park, and a very long walk.

  3. There is an excellent and recently refurbished stand-alone band pavilion in Prospect Park.

  4. Nice article. Instead of demolishing Mould's Music Stand, they should have transferred it to another location, where it would be appreciated.