Jewel of Manhattan: LIFE in Central Park, Summer 1961

Dancers in Central Park, 1961.
Leonard McCombe—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Dancers in Central Park, 1961.
Culture
'60s

New York’s Central Park has been around, in various incarnations, for roughly 150 years. In that time it has been hailed as a masterpiece of landscape design; has served as a punchline in jokes about muggings and violent crime; provided the setting for key scenes in countless books, plays and movies; and remains, for New Yorkers and for millions of visitors to Gotham every single year, one of the world’s great urban wonders — 800 acres of tree-lined paths, public plazas, open fields, gardens, ponds, lakes, bridges, performance spaces, a castle on a hill, arguably the world’s greatest museum and a small, quite charming zoo.

Here, on the birthday of Frederick Law Olmsted — the father of American landscape architecture and the man who, with his senior partner, Calvert Vaux, designed and brought Central Park into being — LIFE.com celebrates Olmsted’s best-loved and most-frequented creation with a series of photos from 1961.

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