Places that Matter

Canal Street Triangle/Canal Park

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Canal Park, photo by Elena Martinez
Canal Park, photo by Elena Martinez
Canal Park, photo by Elena Martinez
Site of a now restored park
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Place Matters Profile

The history of Canal Park is a microcosm of the development of Manhattan from the earliest times. It was a transportation hub, a marketing center and a focus of social reform. The triangular open space has hosted flower gardens, armies preparing to march and sail for war, celebrities, dignitaries as well as construction crews and armies of demolition.

Canal Park in Lower Manhattan was restored in the fall of 2005, nearly 80 years after it was decommissioned as a park, thanks to the research efforts of a group of dedicated neighborhood residents. One of the oldest parks in Manhattan, its historical significance and original intent were realized only after these residents (many of whom are now members of the Canal Park Conservancy and the Canal West Coalition) began researching the history of this mysterious triangle of land. When they started researching, the park was being used as nothing more than a parking lot for the Department of Sanitation. But findings revealed that, although the site played many roles throughout the years, its primary function was that of a public open space.

The site was established in 1833, and was operated as the Clinton County Market. After nearly 30 years, the public market was torn down and, in 1871, replaced with the M. A. Kellogg/I. A. Pilat design plan, which included the installation of a perimeter fence, which offered no public entrance. The pavement surrounding the park was used for the City’s Flower Market. In 1888, a Calvert Vaux/Samuel Parsons, Jr. plan replaced the Pilat design, inaugurating the Small Parks Act, which enabled the City to renovate and open to the public many of the City’s smaller parks which were previously locked and inaccessible to the public.

The re-creation of Canal Park was also made possible thanks to the research and continued efforts of the Canal Park Conservancy and Canal West Coalition, the group of dedicated area residents who first approached Parks & Recreation in 1998 with historical findings regarding the park’s original design.  Members of the Tribeca Community Association realized the possible negative effects from the revamped Highway 9A (West Street).  Traffic circulation was important  and also to make the park a pedestrian thoroughfare between Canal Street and the Hudson River waterfront, as well as creating  green haven. Thus the Coalition was formed.

The $2.7 million renovation project, completed in 2005, was funded entirely by the New York State Department of Transportation. The new .66-acre Canal Park features the original ornamental fencing, granite bollards, hoof benches, and a distinctly-shaped central pathway. The park was raised one foot above the existing levels, due to underground utility constraints. Green lawns, evergreen and flowering plants, cobblestone street tree planting strips, distinctive tree guards and custom cast-iron bollards enhance the landscape. An interpretive granite planter depicting historic images was installed at the tip of the triangular-shaped site. Parks & Recreation landscape architect Allan Scholl designed the new Canal Park, which was inspired by the original designs of Calvert Vaux and Samuel Parsons, Jr., a design implemented at the site in 1888.