NYC aims to reclaim drawings by architect who helped craft noted Central Park features

By Jennifer Peltz, AP
Thursday, August 12, 2010

NYC seeks to reclaim notable Central Park drawings

NEW YORK — A noted architect’s 19th-century drawings for features in Central Park and other famous public spaces have resurfaced, and officials want them back from a New Jersey real estate broker who says his late father found them in a trash bin more than half a century ago.

The city went to court last month after learning that owner Sam Buckley had placed 86 of the Jacob Wrey Mould drawings with Christie’s auction house for potential sale, while keeping at least 41 more himself, according to the city’s court papers.

Christie’s and Buckley have since agreed not to sell the works while settlement talks play out.

City officials “expect an amicable resolution,” city lawyer Gerald E. Singleton said in a statement Thursday.

As an associate and later chief architect for the city parks department from the 1860s through about 1885, the British-born Mould was known for importing the flair and flourishes of British high Victorian architecture to his U.S. work. He died in 1886.

The design of the park itself is credited to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. But Mould was responsible for designing the storied Tavern on the Green restaurant, said Central Park Conservancy historian Sara Cedar Miller. The conservancy is a nonprofit group that helps maintain the park.

He also helped design famous features including as Bethesda Terrace — seen in such iconic New York movies as “Annie Hall” and “Hair” — and Belvedere Castle, according to the city’s legal papers. The castle is a whimsical stone structure that provides panoramic views from the park.

He infused Central Park with his decorative sense and love of color, seen in such places as Bethesda Terrace’s elaborately tiled arcade.

“The park is a work of art largely because of the work of Jacob Wrey Mould,” Miller said.

Mould also helped design the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s initial 1880 building on its Central Park site, according to the museum’s website.

The works now being held at Christie’s include drawings for items — some built, some not — including a drinking fountain for horses in Central Park, a music pavilion for Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village and an approach to the American Museum of Natural History, according to a list compiled by the city. All were prepared by Mould or under his direction, the city says.

“The drawings are historical records and works of art with great historical and cultural value,” Singleton wrote in legal papers. The works, he said, are “priceless antiquities” — and city property.

The city asked a court to order the drawings turned over or award at least $1 million in damages.

It’s unclear how and when the drawings were lost or discarded. Buckley told Christie’s officials he inherited them from his father, who had discovered them in a Manhattan garbage container sometime before 1960, according to the city’s legal papers.

Buckley, a commercial real estate agent who lives in Boonton, N.J., said Thursday that he was working closely with the city to resolve the matter. Christie’s declined to comment.

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