Few buildings in New York City have had more varied occupants than the Arsenal at East 64th Street and Fifth Avenue in Central Park.
Originally built as a storage space for arms and ammunition for the New York State Militia, that use was â€œthankfully short lived, said Jonathan Kuhn, director of art and antiquities for the city"s Department of Parks and Recreation. Soon after its construction between 1847 and 1851, the plan for Central Park was established and the Arsenal was put to other uses. â€œNow it"s a predominately peaceful space, Kuhn said.
The medieval-looking, landmarked building was the first home of the American Museum of Natural History. In the past, the Arsenal has also been a makeshift zoo, a police station and a weather bureau. Now, the building has a gallery and is also the administrative headquarters for the City of New York/Parks & Recreation. Other agencies also have offices there, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and the City Parks Foundation.
On a recent afternoon, Kuhn pointed above the Arsenal doorway where Millard Fillmore"s name had been carved. â€œHe was the state controller at the time, he said of the former president. â€œHe authorized the release of funds to build. Kuhn explained that many of the features of the building, including its Fifth Avenue entrance, have been significantly altered since its original construction.
Kuhn paused in the lobby to talk about the Works Progress Administration mural inside. Overseen by artist Allen Saalburg and painted during the Depression, the mural features historical scenes from when the Arsenal was first constructed. In one, women practice archery, while in another scene, a mother and child peer at animals in a zoo cage.
Framing the lobby elevator are two impressive bronze-colored eagles with outspread wings. â€œThey were stolen from McCarren Park Pool in the 1980s, Kuhn explained. Later recovered, the birds will return to the pool after renovations are completed there.
Kuhn stepped into the Arsenal"s free art gallery, which is open to the public Mondays through Fridays, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
â€œOccasionally there are Parks" functions [here], Kuhn said, so call ahead to make sure the gallery is open. That day, the gallery featured the work of Brooklyn-based artist Shane McAdams. The show, named Fresh Green Beast, runs through April 15 and features a number of mixed-media pieces that combine landscapes with abstract images. â€œWe thought his work was intriguing, Kuhn said.
Arsenal Gallery exhibits range from holiday wreath interpretations to those specifically related to parks.
â€œIt"s a way to promote what we do, Kuhn said of the gallery. â€œAnd it"s where employees can occasionally get away from their offices.
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