Calvert Vaux

Calvert Vaux (/vɔːks/; December 20, 1824 – November 19, 1895) was a British-American architect and landscape designer. He is best known as the co-designer, along with his protégé and junior partner Frederick Law Olmsted, of what would become New York's Central Park.

Vaux, on his own and in various partnerships, designed and created dozens of parks across the country. He introduced new ideas about the significance of public parks in America during a hectic time of urbanization. This industrialization of the cityscape inspired him to focus on an integration of buildings, bridges, and other forms of architecture into their natural surroundings. He favored naturalistic, rustic, and curvilinear lines in his designs, and his design statements contributed much to today’s landscape and architecture.

Calvert Vaux
Calvert Vaux
BornDecember 20, 1824
London, England
DiedNovember 19, 1895 (aged 70)
Centralpark 20040520 121402 1.1504
An unobtrusive bridge in Central Park, designed by Calvert Vaux, separates pedestrians from the carriage drive.

Early life

Little is known about Vaux's childhood and upbringing. He was born in London in 1824, and his father, Calvert Vaux Sr., was a physician who provided a comfortable income for his family. Vaux was baptised at St Benet Gracechurch on 9 February 1825.

Vaux attended a private primary school until the age of nine. He then trained as an apprentice under London architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham, a leader of the Gothic Revival movement. Vaux trained under Cottingham until the age of 26, becoming a skilled draftsman.

First partnership

In 1851, Vaux exhibited in London a collection of landscape watercolors made on a tour to the Continent, an exhibit that captured the attention of the American landscape designer and writer Andrew Jackson Downing, who many consider "The Father of American Landscape Architecture." Downing had traveled to London in search of an architect who would complement his vision of what a landscape should be. Downing believed that architecture should be visually integrated into the surrounding landscape, and he wanted to work with someone who had as deep an appreciation of art as he did. Vaux readily accepted the job and moved to the United States.

Vaux worked with Downing for two years and became a partner in the firm. Together they designed many significant projects, such as the grounds in the White House and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. Vaux’s work on the Smithsonian inspired him to write an 1852 article for The Horticulturalist (of which Downing was the editor), arguing that the government should recognize and support the arts. Shortly afterward, Downing died in a steamboat accident.

Vaux and Withers

After Downing's death Vaux took over the partnership. He took up Frederick Clarke Withers, who was already at the firm, as a partner. [1] initially in an office in Newburgh, New York.[2] The partnership lasted four years[1] and the firm's projects included Jefferson Market Library and Rice Building, although the Rice Building has been attributed in other scholarship to George B. Post.

Family life

In 1854, Vaux married Mary McEntee, of Kingston, New York, the sister of Jervis McEntee, a Hudson River School painter. They had two sons and two daughters.

U.S. citizenship, affiliations, and publishing

In 1856, he gained U.S. citizenship and became identified with the city’s artistic community, “the guild,” joining the National Academy of Design, as well as the Century Club. In 1857, he became one of the founding members of the American Institute of Architects. Also in 1857, Vaux published Villas and Cottages, which was an influential pattern book that determined the standards for “Victorian Gothic” architecture. These particular writings revealed his acknowledgment and tribute to Ruskin and Ralph Waldo Emerson, as well as to his former partner Downing. These people, among others, influenced him intellectually and in his design path.

Collaboration with Olmsted

In 1857, Vaux recruited Frederick Law Olmsted, who had never before designed a landscape plan, to help with the Greensward Plan, which would become New York City's Central Park. They obtained the commission through an excellent presentation that drew upon Vaux's talents in landscape drawing to include before-and-after sketches of the site. Together, they fought many political battles to make sure their original design remained intact and was carried out. All of the built features of Central Park were of his design; Bethesda Terrace is a good example.

C.Vaux - Samuel J.Tilden residence - NY - Albert Levy
Samuel J. Tilden House (1872), image from L'Architecture Americaine by Albert Levy

In 1865, Vaux and Olmsted founded Olmsted, Vaux and Company, which went on to design Prospect Park and Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn, and Morningside Park in Manhattan. In Chicago, they planned one of the first suburbs, called the Riverside Improvement Company in 1868. They also were commissioned to design a major park project in Buffalo, New York, which included The Parade (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Park), The Park (now the Delaware Park), and The Front (now simply Front Park). Vaux designed many structures to beautify the parks, but most of these have been demolished. Vaux also designed a large Canadian city park in the city of Saint John, New Brunswick called Rockwood Park. It is one of the largest of its kind in Canada. In 1871, the partners designed the grounds of the New York State Hospital for the Insane in Buffalo and the Hudson River State Hospital for the Insane in Poughkeepsie.

In 1872, Vaux dissolved the partnership and went on to form an architectural partnership with George Kent Radford and Samuel Parsons, Jr.

He returned to working with Olmsted in 1889 for one last collaboration: designing the City of Newburgh's Downing Park as a memorial to their mentor.

Other famous New York City buildings Vaux designed are the Jefferson Market Courthouse, the Samuel J. Tilden House, and the original Ruskinian Gothic buildings, now largely invisible from exterior view, of the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition to the New York buildings, Vaux also was the designing architect for The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, Maryland.

Less familiar are 12 projects Vaux designed for the Children's Aid Society in partnership with George Kent Radford; the Fourteenth Ward Industrial School (1889), 256-58 Mott Street, facing the churchyard of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral,[3] and the Elizabeth Home for Girls (1892), 307 East 12th Street, both survive and are landmarked.[4]


On a foggy November 19, 1895, Vaux accidentally drowned in Gravesend Bay, in Brooklyn while visiting his son, Downing Vaux. He is buried in Kingston, New York's Montrepose Cemetery. In 1998, the city of New York dedicated Calvert Vaux Park, situated in Coney Island overlooking the bay, to him.[5]


  1. ^ a b "Architectural Archives - PennDesign".
  2. ^ "The Olmsted Firms: The Men Around the Master - Frederick Law Olmsted - PBS". The Olmsted Firms: The Men Around the Master - Frederick Law Olmsted - PBS.
  3. ^ New York Mott Street; The Masterpiece next door: Fourteenth Ward Industrial School Archived 2012-04-06 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Christopher Gray, "Streetscapes: A House of Refuge, With Stories to Tell", The New York Times, 8 June 2008 accessed 15 April 2010; Gray notes some evidence that the design details were the work of Nicholas Gillesheimer, and that in 1930 the Children's Aid Society sold the building to Benedict Lust.
  5. ^ Calvert Vaux Park, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Accessed September 8, 2007.
  • Kowsky, Francis R., Country, Park & City: The Architecture and Life of Calvert Vaux, Oxford University Press, New York 1998; ISBN 0-19-511495-7
  • Rosenzweig, Roy, and Elizabeth Blackmar. The Park and the People: A History of Central Park. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-8014-9751-5.

External links

Abingdon Square Park

Abingdon Square Park is located in the New York City borough of Manhattan in Greenwich Village. The park is bordered by Eighth Avenue, Bank Street, Hudson Street and West 12th Street.

Abingdon Square Park is one of New York City's oldest parks, and at 0.25 acres (1,000 m2), one of it smallest. It is maintained by the Abingdon Square Conservancy, a community-based park association, in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

New York City acquired the land on which the park resides on April 22, 1831, and it was enclosed with a cast-iron fence in 1836. In the 1880s, an effort was initiated by Mayor Abram Stevens Hewitt to expand public access to parks. Architect Calvert Vaux was part of a group that created a new design for Abingdon Square.

The square was part of a 300-acre (1.2 km2) estate purchased by Sir Peter Warren in 1740. Abingdon Square was named for a prominent eighteenth century area resident, Charlotte Warren, who married Englishman Willoughby Bertie, the 4th Earl of Abingdon and received the land as a wedding gift from her father. Although most explicitly British place names in Manhattan were altered after the Revolutionary War, Abingdon Square retained its name due to the well-known patriotic sympathies of Charlotte and the Earl.In 2005, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation recognized the park's then-recent renovation with a Village Award. On August 3, 2009, a small garden was established inside the park as a memorial to Adrienne Shelly, an actress and film producer who was slain in her office located in 15 Abingdon Square.

Abingdon Square Conservancy is a non-profit public charity exempt from federal income tax under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The Conservancy's mission is to enhance and maintain the Square as a scenic and historic landmark. The Conservancy is solely dependent on private donations for its operations and receives no public funding.The Conservancy employs a horticulturalist to design and maintain plantings, provide gardening services, liaise with the City, and supervise maintenance in the park. A groundskeeper is employed to keep the Square clean. The Square is maintained in cooperation with the New York City Parks and Recreation Department, which collects trash and locks and unlocks the gates.

Annual Conservancy events include a spring tulip display, Tulip Celebration (a member appreciation cocktail party), a carved Pumpkin Patch on Halloween night and a winter holiday decoration and light display.

The M11 and M14A bus lines terminate at Abingdon Square.


Ammadelle is a historic house at 637 North Lamar Street in Oxford, Mississippi. Built in 1859, it is an Italianate mansion designed by Calvert Vaux, which he regarded as one of his finest works. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

Belvedere Castle

Belvedere Castle is a folly in Central Park in Manhattan, New York City. It contains exhibit rooms and an observation deck, and since 1919, the folly has also been the location of the official Central Park weather station.Belvedere Castle was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the late 19th century. An architectural hybrid of Gothic and Romanesque styles, Vaux's design called for a Manhattan schist and granite structure with a corner tower with conical cap, with the existing lookout over parapet walls between them. To reduce costs it was revised in November 1870 and completed under the Tammany Hall regime as an open painted-wood pavilion.Belvedere means "beautiful view" or "panoramic view" in Italian.

Beth Olam Cemetery

The Beth Olam Cemetery is a historic cemetery in Cypress Hills is bisected by the border between Brooklyn / Kings County and Queens / Queens County in New York City.

It is a rural cemetery in style, and was started in 1851 by three Manhattan Jewish congregations in the city: Shearith Israel (Spanish Portuguese) on West 70th Street, B'nai Jeshrun, on West 89 Street and Shaaray Tefilah on East 79 Street.

In 1882, Calvert Vaux was commissioned to design a small, red brick Metaher house or place of purification and pre-burial eulogies, near the entrance to the Shearith Israel section. This is the only religious building that Vaux, the co-designer of Central Park is known to have designed.

The burial ground contains many examples of architecture and funerary art.

Blockhouse No. 1 (Central Park)

Blockhouse No. 1, colloquially known as The Blockhouse, is a small fort in the northern part of Central Park, in Manhattan, New York City, and is the second oldest structure in the park, aside from Cleopatra's Needle. It is located on an overlook of Manhattan schist, with a clear view of the flat surrounding areas north of Central Park. Finished in 1814, the fort was part of a series of fortifications in northern Manhattan, which originally also included three fortifications in what was then called Harlem Heights, now known as Morningside Heights. The fort is the last remaining fortification from these defenses. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the designers of Central Park, treated Blockhouse No. 1 as a picturesque ruin, romantically overrun with vines and Alpine shrubbery.

Bow Bridge (Central Park)

The Bow Bridge is a cast iron bridge located in Central Park, New York City, crossing over The Lake and used as a pedestrian walkway. It is decorated with an interlocking circles banister, with eight planting urns on top of decorative bas-relief panels. Intricate arabesque elements and volutes can be seen underneath the span arch. The bridge was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould, and completed in 1862. Measuring a total of 87 feet (26.5 m), it is the largest bridge in the park.

Buffalo, New York parks system

The public parks and parkways system of Buffalo, New York was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux between 1868 and 1896. It was inspired in large part by the parkland, boulevards, and squares of Paris, France. It includes the parks, parkways and circles within the Cazenovia Park–South Park System and Delaware Park–Front Park System, both listed on the National Register of Historic Places and maintained by the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

Cedar Hill (Central Park)

Cedar Hill in Central Park, New York City, is an east-facing slope used for reading and sunbathing, sledding in winter and a preferred area for dog owners. The hill indeed is home to many red cedars that form a line of clumps on its crest. Low outcroppings of rock in the mown turf were grooved and scarred by the last glacial period. The south slope is called by joggers "Cat Hill" for its statue, 'Still Hunt', of a large stalking cat. Eddie Coyle, a sportswriter for the New York Daily News, in his weekly running columns in the late 1970s, often called it "cat" Hill and the name became popular.

The frontage of Fifth Avenue apartment houses provides a backdrop to the east. At its southern perimeter stands the Glade Arch designed by Calvert Vaux, which originally provided carriage traffic with a conduit to Fifth Avenue. Hidden deep beneath the north end of Cedar Hill runs New York City Water Tunnel No. 3 with its valve chamber, completed in 1993, due to carry some of the city's drinking water in 2020.

Central Park Mall

The Central Park Mall is a pedestrian esplanade in Central Park, in Manhattan, New York City. The mall, leading to Bethesda Fountain, provides the only purely formal feature in the naturalistic original plan of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux for Central Park.

Delaware Park–Front Park System

Delaware Park–Front Park System is a historic park system and national historic district located in the northern and western sections of Buffalo in Erie County, New York. The park system was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux and developed between 1868 and 1876.

The park system was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

French Farm

The French Farm is a historic summer estate at the junction of Lake and Round Hill Roads in Greenwich, Connecticut. Developed in the early 1900s, it is a rare surviving estate from the period in which its size and major landscaping elements are preserved. Its major structures (main house and farm outbuildings) were designed by Henry Van Buren Magonigle, a protege of Calvert Vaux. The estate was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Gallaudet College Historic District

The Gallaudet College Historic District is a National Historic Landmark District encompassing the historic early campus of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.. Gallaudet is the first school of higher education to be devoted to the education of the deaf and hard of hearing. Its campus was planned by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and its Gothic buildings were designed by Frederick Withers. The main Gallaudet College building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. The landmarked area was increased to cover the southern part of the campus, and was renamed as a historic district in 1974.

George Truefitt

George Truefitt (1824–1902) was a Scottish architect. He trained under Lewis Cottingham.

Hillside Cemetery (Middletown, New York)

Hillside Cemetery is located on Mulberry Street in Middletown, New York, United States. Opened in 1861, it was designed in the rural cemetery style by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, later noted for their collaboration on Central Park. There are several thousand graves, some with excellent examples of 19th-century funerary art.

Many of Middletown's prominent citizens of the late 19th century were buried there, including three Civil War winners of the Medal of Honor and one former congressman. In 1994 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Morningside Park (New York City)

Morningside Park is a public park in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. The 30-acre (12 ha) area occupies 110th to 123rd Streets from Morningside Avenue to Morningside Drive at the border between Harlem and Morningside Heights. Much of the park is adjacent to Columbia University. Morningside Park's natural geography contains a cliff of Manhattan schist rock, with manmade features in the park such as an ornamental pond and waterfall. It is operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The park was first proposed by the Central Park Commissioners in 1867, and the city commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux to produce a design for the park in 1873. Jacob Wrey Mould was hired in 1880 to rework the plans, although he died in 1886 before the work could be completed. In 1887, Olmsted and Vaux were asked to modify the plans again, and construction was completed in 1895.Monuments were installed between 1900 and 1914, followed by softball diamonds, basketball courts, and playgrounds between the 1930s and 1950s. In 1960, Columbia proposed building a gym in the park at 113th Street, resulting in major student protests in 1968. Protestors argued that the gym's planned separate entrances would result in racially segregated facilities, which the university denied. After further protests in 1969, the plan was abandoned, and the excavation site was turned into a waterfall and pond in 1990. An arboretum was added to the park in 1998.

Riverside Historic District (Riverside, Illinois)

The Riverside Historic District, also known as Riverside Landscape Architecture District, encompasses what is arguably one of the first planned communities in the United States. The district encompasses the majority of the village of Riverside, Illinois, a suburb just west of Chicago. It was planned and designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, and features a number of architecturally distinguished buildings.

Samuel J. Tilden House

The Samuel J. Tilden House is a historic townhouse pair at 14-15 Gramercy Park South in Midtown Manhattan, New York City. Built in 1845, it was the home of Samuel J. Tilden (1814–1886), former governor of New York, a fierce opponent of the Tweed Ring and Tammany Hall, and the losing presidential candidate in the disputed 1876 election. Tilden lived in the brownstone from 1860 until his death in 1886. From 1881 to 1884, Calvert Vaux combined it with the row house next door, also built in 1845, to make the building that now stands, which has been described as "the height of Victorian Gothic in residential architecture" with Italian Renaissance style elements. Since 1906 it has been the headquarters of the National Arts Club, a private arts club.

Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital

The Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, known to many simply as Sheppard Pratt, is a psychiatric hospital located in Towson, a northern suburb of Baltimore, Maryland. Founded in 1853, it is one of the oldest private psychiatric hospitals in the nation. Its original buildings, designed by architect Calvert Vaux, and its Gothic gatehouse, built in 1860 to a design by Thomas and James Dixon, were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

The Pond and Hallett Nature Sanctuary

The Pond and Hallett Nature Sanctuary is the southeast area of New York City's Central Park, U.S. state of New York, located at the corner of Grand Army Plaza, across 59th Street from the Plaza Hotel, and abutting Fifth Avenue. The Pond is one of seven natural-seeming bodies of water in Central Park.Hallett Nature Sanctuary, the only permanently fenced-off section of Central Park aside from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, occupies 3.5 acres (14,000 m2) of the wooded promontory that juts into The Pond. The area had been set apart by Robert Moses as a bird sanctuary in 1934, but decades of neglect were repaired in the 1980s; invasive alien plants like ailanthus and Far Eastern wisterias were extirpated, and the equally invasive though native black cherry was thinned, the woodland was enriched with native shrubs, and the reserve was renamed the Hallett Nature Sanctuary in 1986, in honor of George Hervey Hallett Jr (1895–1985), an ardent birdwatcher and naturalist and executive secretary of the Citizens Union.

The Central Park Conservancy routinely offers half-hour tours; they avoid nesting season and the height of migratory season, because Central Park is a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway. The perimeter affords one of the prime bird watching areas of the Park. Formerly, deadfalls remained where they lay, to provide for insects that feed birds. However, the experiment ended after an Asian longhorn beetle was discovered in 2002. Another unexpected visitor in the Sanctuary was Hal the Central Park Coyote, who received his nickname from the Hallett Sanctuary and passed through briefly in March 2006.The simple fieldstone arch of Gapstow Bridge was built in 1896 to replace the original more ambitious but less rustic structure designed by Jacob Wrey Mould. As originally laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the Pond was considerably larger. A large piece of its upper reaches, beyond Gapstow Bridge, once spanning a narrow neck of water, was paved over to form the Wollman Memorial Skating Rink, opened in 1949. Nearby, on stone plinths, bronze busts commemorate the poet Thomas Moore and the composer Victor Herbert (by Edmond Thomas Quinn).

The Central Park Conservancy completed a reconstruction of the Pond in 2001, which included new shoreline and perimeter plantings, an island habitat for birds and turtles, and beyond Gapstow Bridge, a series of small pools and cascades.


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