Bryant Park

From the Archives

Learn About the Crystal Palace

Exhibit at Bard takes a look at an important chapter in the history of Bryant Park's location.

Bryant Park occupies an historic parcel of Manhattan. Designated as public space by colonial Governor Thomas Dongan in 1686, it trod upon by George Washington’s troops after the Battle of Long Island, and came under NYC’s jurisdiction in 1822 when it was turned into a potter’s field. In 1846, after the Croton Reservoir was built on the area now occupied by the New York Public Library, the city commissioned that the land next to the reservoir be made into Reservoir Square Park.  

The most spectacular event ever hosted by the new park was the Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations held in 1853. Modeled on the successful London Crystal Palace Exhibit of 1851, this proto-World’s Fair featured 4,000 exhibitors displaying the industrial wares, consumer goods, and artworks of many nations. In honor of the London show, this was also named the Crystal Palace Exhibition and featured a glass-and-metal structure built in the shape of a Greek cross with a domed roof 100 feet in diameter. This exhibit is credited as being one of the key events in NYC’s rise to being a world city.

You can learn more about this nearly-forgotten chapter in the life of NYC at an exhibition currently at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery. New York Crystal Palace 1853 explores the history and material culture of the “first world’s fair held in New York City, and includes full-color prints, silver medals, furniture, tableware, and many other artifacts from the original exhibition. Exhibits include one of the earliest Singer sewing machines, demonstrated by women at the fair, and rare salt prints by John Adams Whipple and Vicor Prevost.

New York Crystal Palace 1853 is at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery through July 30. The gallery is located at 18 West 86th Street, and is open 11am – 5pm, Tuesday, Friday – Sunday; and 11am – 8pm Wednesday and Thursday.

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