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A couple holding hands walks through the new Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Photograph: By Alvaro Keding

The verdant Theodore Roosevelt Park is open again at AMNH on the Upper West Side

More trees, more benches and more space to play.

Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Written by
Rossilynne Skena Culgan
Natalie Melendez

Nearly a decade in the making, a newly renovated green space is now in bloom in front of the recently expanded American Museum of Natural History on the Upper West Side. With a history dating back more than a century, the western portion Theodore Roosevelt Park is open once again, now with more trees and benches to enjoy the outdoors.

The park’s reopening is the final piece of the museum's major expansion, which added the architecturally stunning 230,000-square-foot Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education and Innovation earlier this spring. It’s located along Columbus Avenue between 77th and 81st Streets on the west side of the museum.

RECOMMENDED: See inside the American Museum of Natural History’s massive new expansion

Inside the park

Entering Theodore Roosevelt Park is now easier than ever. An enlarged entrance at Columbus Avenue welcomes visitors to stroll along meandering paths. Once-fenced-off areas are now more welcoming.

While the entire park land is located on is Theodore Roosevelt Park, encompassing about 18 acres, the renovation focused on the two acres on the western portion of the park. 

Once inside, you'll find the renovated portion of the park decked out in new greenery. Over 20 new trees tower above new curving pathways for shady, relaxed strolls. New trees include redbuds, dogwoods and serviceberry trees, which will offer beautiful pastel blooms in the springtime. Those trees join many notable older trees that were conserved during the renovation, such as oaks and elms.

The Gilder Center in view with Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Photograph: By Alvaro Keding

"The building nestles itself back within the trees," John Grove, principal at Reed Hilderbrand landscape architecture firm.

The addition of new shrubs and ground-cover are also unmistakable, creating the perfect scenery for summer picnicking at the now enlarged, 13,500-square-foot Margaret Mead Green lawn.

You'll also find 15 new benches throughout the park, increasing the total number of benches from 23 to 38. The new seating space is great for cooling off during sweltering summers and watching the foliage during the fall.

"Overall, the design increases the number of trees, benches and publicly accessible open space," per Reed Hilderbrand.

Grove envisions the space as "a place for respite, movement and occasional places off to the side to gather and play."

"It’s nice just to hang out, look at the birds and bees and sit in the shade," he said.

The city's parks department and the museum will work together on maintenance and upkeep of the park.

An overhead view of Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Photograph: By Alvaro Keding

Marvelous for Manhattanhenge

The museum expansion aligns with 79th Street, a prime viewing location for the Manhattanhenge phenomenon. During Manhattanhenge, the setting sun perfectly aligns with Manhattan's east-west grid. It happens every summer, and certain streets offer the best views. Today—July 13, 2023—happens to be a Manhattanhenge date.

To pay homage to the scientific event, the museum will host a grand reopening celebration for the park starting at 4pm today (Thursday, July 13) with great views and free mango-cherry-sunset ice cream.

The Gilder Center in view with Theodore Roosevelt Park.
Photograph: By Alvaro Keding

Adding to a century-long history

The park dates back to the 1870s with Calvert Vaux (of Central Park’s Vaux and Olmsted fame) and Jacob Wrey Mould leading construction. It was known as Manhattan Square until 1958, when a local law renamed it for Theodore Roosevelt, according to NYC Parks. It’s colloquially called "Museum Park" or "Dinosaur Park."

While the greenspace was designed by a park pro, over the years, it became what officials described as a "hodge podge," though it was beloved by locals. In fact, the park was so beloved that the Gilder Center expansion was met with opposition.

More than 5,000 people signed a letter of opposition against the park, worrying that the building would encroach on and destroy the land, Hyperallergic reported in 2018. A judge ruled that the museum’s expansion could continue, but protests also continued. In 2019, protestors (including tennis pro Billie Jean King) demonstrated in opposition to the expansion which they felt would damage the park, per CBS New York.

Museum officials today said they met with community groups throughout the process to ensure their concerns were met.

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