The Arsenal and its associated gallery are easily overlooked on the long list of things to do in Central Park. But even a quick visit to the 1847 fortress will enhance your appreciation of the entire New York City Parks Department. The crenelated building, despite its city landmark status, suffers by comparison to the nearby Park Avenue Armory and has been targeted by critics for demolition or replacement for 150 years. Having survived these efforts, in large part due to the sanctity of Central Park in the face of development, today the Arsenal houses a unique gallery space, an impressive WPA mural and is the base of many park tours, concerts, and events.
...an eyesore, fetid with the smell of the stables and the nearby menagerie
What You Will See
The third-floor gallery space presents seasonal exhibitions, usually with work from local New York City artists, and often with an environmental or conservationist theme. The views overlooking the seals' pool at the Central Park Zoo together with historical tchotchke from city landmarks (including chairs from the original Shea and Yankee Stadium) make it worth taking the stairs. Step inside the lobby of the Armory to see one of the most beautiful public interiors in the city. Lining the walls of the grand staircase is a hand-painted mural financed by the Works Progress Administration, depicting Gilded Age recreation, Union Army formations and stylized maps of major New York City Parks. Descend into the less-opulent basement for public restrooms, a small cafe and a hallway lined with photographs of city landmarks.
Why You Should Go
The beautiful Arsenal building predates Central Park and has a fascinating history, having served as a military munitions depo, police headquarters, the original home of the American Museum of Natural History, a primitive zoo (housing some of P.T. Barnum's animals). Currently, it serves as the central headquarters of the New York City Parks Department. While New York City has no shortage of gallery space or local artists to fill them, the Arsenal occupies a unique place, with its focus on local, conservation-aware art. The gallery is always free, as are most of the events held there or in the park. A complete exploration of the building and whatever is on display in the gallery takes no more than an hour.