Landscape Features and Historic Structures at Jerome Park Reservoir

A. Siting and Landscape Features

The Jerome Park Reservoir, the largest body of water in the Bronx, was set into the street plan designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and J. J. R. Croes, and over succeeding decades became the nucleus of a diverse residential community (Illustrations 1, 5 and 35). The surrounding parkland was originally part of the reservoir grounds. The residential and academic communities that evolved around the reservoir, were influenced by its open space, landscaped edge, and water views.

The adjacent parks, Old Fort Four Park, Fort Independence Park, Harris Field and Harris Park Annex, originally part of the reservoir grounds, share scenic vistas across the water (Illustration 36). Combined with surrounding roads such as the curvilinear, tree-lined Sedgwick (Illustration 6) and Reservoir Avenues, they are an extension of the greenbelt surrounding the reservoir. The elements of park, roadway, and reservoir, combined with their landscape elements of stone walls, paved walks, terraces, seating areas, and stairs, and natural elements such as trees and rock outcroppings, evoke the style of other Olmsted landscapes in the city, such as Central and Riverside Parks.

The connection with Van Cortlandt Park and Mosholu Parkway link Jerome Park with a fabric of green space extending from Riverdale to Bronx Park. The connection with the Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway links Jerome Park with an historic greenway extending from the New Croton Dam to the High Bridge. The Olmsted plan showed a promenade, over the Old Croton Aqueduct, connecting the Jerome Park racetrack site with the future Van Cortlandt Park.

The Jerome Park Reservoir exemplifies Olmstedís landscape and city planning principles, providing a naturalized setting, and serving to create beauty, serenity and outdoor recreation in the midst of urban residences and institutions. Were it not for this reservoir, there would not be a majestic, landscaped body of water in the Bronx.

The surrounding community also exemplifies the design principles of Olmsted, with curvilinear streets used to create intimate residential neighborhoods, and discourage inappropriate, large-scale or industrial development.

B. Historic Stone Walls

There are several types of stone wall on the Jerome Park Reservoir site. They generally fall into three categories: the original dividing wall (now the east basin wall); basin walls around the rest of the reservoir; and site retaining walls, used to accomodate site elevation changes, create boundaries, and provide dignified landscaping. There are some miscellaneous stone features of interest as well.

1. The East Basin Wall (Original Division Wall)

The East Basin Wall (the original division wall when there was an east basin) is a massive stone structure on which the Old Croton Aqueduct was reconstructed. It was created because the original foundation of the Old Croton Aqueduct was not large enough to withstand the hydrostatic pressure of a full basin on one side and an empty basin on the other. This structure was completed in approximately 1889. The roadway along the east bank of the reservoir is directly over the Old Croton Aqueduct.

The portion from the north end of the reservoir to Gate House No. 5 is 30 feet wide and contains the Old Croton Aqueduct and the horseshoe-shaped Branch Aqueduct of the New Croton Aqueduct (Illustration 37).

The portion of the wall from Gate House No. 5 south to the South Portal is 35 feet thick at the base, and contains the Old Croton Aqueduct on top with two 11 foot diameter brick conduits to supply the east and west basins side-by-side beneath (Illustration 39). The conduits end at the South Portal, where they open into the reservoir.

The Old Croton Aqueduct continues past the South Portal, carried alone atop a stone wall approximately 16 feet thick, to the southern end of the reservoir and on to Kingsbridge Road (Illustration 38).

The lower portion of these walls is constructed of large blocks and stone excavated at the site, and the upper portion consists of the coursed, rock-face granite of the Old Croton Aqueduct (Illustrations 40 and 41), laid with random range ashlar jointing.

2. Basin Walls

Most of the stone facing of the reservoir walls has a rock face finish, and is laid with random range ashlar jointing at the upper portion that is normally visible. The coping stones typically have a pointed finish. One portion of the west wall of the reservoir is finished as rubble masonry.

The lower portion of the walls is typically cyclopean blocks of stone excavated at the site and laid with mortared joints to make the wall watertight.

The typical height of the stone reservoir walls is twenty-seven feet from the reservoir floor to the top of the wall, with two and a half feet of wall exposed above the high water level. Typically, the water level is lower, exposing more wall.

The walls vary in thickness. The typical wall construction is about three feet thick at the top, battered out to about sixteen feet thick at its foundation. The resistance to the lateral force of the water in the reservoir was provided by the stone walls in conjunction with natural geological structures and large masses of compacted fill. The earthen dam along the north end of the reservoir from Gate House No. 2 to Gate House No. 7 has a masonry core.

3. Site Retaining Walls

There is a range of finishes and jointing, from rough uncoursed fieldstone to dressed stone elements such as gateposts. The most common type of retaining wall is of rock face stone laid as squared-stone masonry or coursed rubble (Illustration 42). The retaining wall along the south end of the reservoir is of particular interest for its large stones and dry-laid construction.

C. Structures

1. Gate Houses

The stone Gate Houses of the Jerome Park Reservoir were constructed between 1895 and 1905 in a Roman Revival style reminiscent of ancient public works. They have coursed ashlar jointing and stone voussoir arches. The field of the walls has a rock face finish. Portions, such as the intrados of the arches, have a rough pointed finish. The corners were accented with a small six-cut fascia.

The tops of the Gate Houses are set three and a half feet above the top of the reservoir walls. With the reservoir filled they appear only about six feet above the water level. They are in fact more than thirty feet tall, rising from the reservoir floor.

Gate House No. 1, north of the reservoir in Van Cortlandt Park, was constructed entirely below grade. No superstructure was built over it. This is where the New Croton Aqueduct divides into the Branch Aqueduct to the reservoir and Shaft No. 20 to the pressure tunnel below the reservoir.

Gate House No. 2 (Illustration 44), at the north end of the reservoir, Gate House No. 3 (Illustrations 45, and 47) along the West Basin Wall, and Gate House No. 4 (an element of the unfinished east basin whose remnants are located in the transit yard) were intended to control the outlet of water to local mains.

Gate House No. 5 is the central inlet for the Old and New Croton Aqueducts (Cover Illustration). It fed conduits through the original division wall (now the East Basin Wall) to the reservoir basins, connected the basins, and controlled the pipes feeding Gate Houses Nos. 2, 3 and 4. Gate House No. 5 also could direct water from the reservoir into either the new or old aqueduct, or allow water to bypass the reservoir and continue down either aqueduct (Illustration 48).

The most dramatic expression of Gate House No. 5 was a bridge of six stone voussoir arches linking the gate house to Shaft No. 21 (Illustration 57). This bridge was demolished in the 1980’s as part of the contract to build the new dividing wall.

The original Gate House No. 6 was in the East Basin at Kingsbridge Road. Remnants of it may have been incorporated in the foundation of the Kingsbridge Armory. The current Gate House No. 6 is not one of the gate houses from the 1890’s and does not have a stone substructure.

Gate House No. 7, at the north end of the reservoir, was designed late in the construction of the Jerome Park Reservoir. It connected to the Old and New Croton Aqueducts, and anticipated the construction of the Van Cortlandt Siphon of the Catskill Aqueduct. The cast-in-place concrete substructure of Gate House No. 7 has a horseshoe-arched tunnel portal facing the reservoir basin (Illustration 52). A mirror-image portal for the east basin is buried under Harris Park Annex.

The brick superstructures of the gatehouses were constructed in 1938 by the WPA in the restrained Art Deco style characteristic of public works projects of that era. They are of red brick masonry with limestone and granite trim, set on the original granite gate houses (Illustration 53 and 54).

The monumental entry stair and portal of Gate House 5 are constructed of stone matching the original granite, as a gesture of unifying the old and new construction (Illustration 3). Gate House 5 is a unifying structure in other ways as well. It at roughly the center of the reservoir, on axis with West 205th Street, with the most public face of any of the gate houses, as well as being the juncture of the Old and New Croton Aqueducts, and the central control point for the reservoir.

As is characteristic of Art Deco architecture, the gate house superstructures are designed with classical organizing principles, but contain few traces of classical ornament; the style is derived more from ancient near-eastern architecture, characterized by large, flat masses of masonry without projecting cornices, articulated with slightly projected or recessed panels of graduated height. The walls have small, punched openings, and broad, simple buttresses and full-height piers without projecting capitals.

The design of the gate houses is expressed through the articulation of the wall surfaces and use of contrasting stone trim. The main entry of the Gate House No. 5 superstructure, for example, is taller than the front wall and projected forward, creating a central stone pavilion, which is comprised of a portal flanked by solid piers. Other such articulated features of the gate houses are buttresses and recessed panels. Stone trim is used for cornices, water tables, string courses, window and door frames and sills, and carved, inset panels.

2. Waste Weir

The Waste Weir is a structure along the West Wall of the reservoir, just south of the new Dividing Wall (Illustration 56). It has no superstructure. It is located behind three rectangular openings in the basin wall that allow water to waste out of the reservoir.

3. Pipe Vault Portal

The Pipe Vault Portal is an arched doorway providing access to the Pipe Vault behind Gate House No. 2 along Sedgwick Avenue (Illustration 2). It has a semicircular stone voussoir arch, approached by stone stairs. It is of particular interest for its design and workmanship. Behind the portal is a masonry barrel vault that passes through the entire earthen embankment behind Gate House No. 2. It is intended to prevent structural damage to the dam from pipe leaks.

4. South Portal

The South Portal is an arched opening in the east wall of the reservoir (Illustration 58). It terminates the conduit from Gate House No. 5 and feeds the water of the Old or New Croton Aqueducts into the West Basin. It is a projecting stone element with a large stone voussoir arch. Buried beneath the Lehman College parking lot is an equivalent opening that would have served to feed the abandoned East Basin: this opening is circular rather than arched.

D. Summary of Condition Report

The stone structures of the reservoir complex, including walls, gate houses and other structures, are generally in good condition, with the following exceptions:

The masonry above the water line is soiled and has some plant growth.

Mortar joints are weathered or deteriorated. Voids behind open mortar joints could be seen at localized areas. One facing stone of the Old Croton Aqueduct had displaced and fallen to the floor of the reservoir.

Some stones at localized areas, particularly at the lower portion of the reservoir basin retaining walls, are extensively eroded layers of softer constituents.

The site retaining walls require extensive maintenance and repair to address loose stones, intrusion of roots and saplings, and deteriorated anchorage of iron fence posts.
The brick gate house superstructures range in condition from good to poor. They appear to have received minimal maintenance for several decades. The Gate House No. 2 superstructure is in urgent need of stabilization. Overall, the conditions observed were:

Weathered, deteriorated and open mortar joints.

Masonry displaced or cracked over openings, and at corners and parapet walls.

Deteriorated brickwork and missing brick at localized areas.

Pitted and decayed brick at localized areas.

Soiled masonry.
A condition survey and masonry restoration program are necessary, and should be performed by an architect/conservator with expertise in historic restoration. The program should be prioritized and should begin with stabilization at required areas, followed by a comprehensive masonry restoration.

Contour Map of the Surface Elevation at the CWTP

We wonder what is that big thing at the end of the IRT at the Woodlawn Station in Van Cortlandt Park. It seems like it is supposed to be a park, but it is more like an industrial facility — that is clearly a non-park use. The community was told that the facility was going to be under the ground, but it is not. It is at least 20 feet above the level of the sidewalk. To those who assured us that the facility was going to be underground, we invite you to come and see for yourself.

Jerome Park Reservoir Landmarked

The Jerome Park Reservoir adjacent to the Lehman College campus has been named a state and national historic landmark. The decision was announced June 7, 2000 by the New York State Board of Historic Preservation at its quarterly meeting.

“This is a validation of everything we have been saying,” said Anne Marie Garti, president of the Jerome Park Conservancy, which submitted the application for landmarking in the winter of 1998. “The official government bodies are giving the reservoir the recognition it deserves.”

The reservoir is the largest body of water in the Bronx. It was built by Italian stone masons at the turn of the last century. When it opened in 1906, it was a reservoir park, with handcrafted stone walls, a white pebbled path, and wrought iron fences ringing the water. During WWII, the reservoir was fenced off from the community.

The Jerome Park Conservancy has been working since 1994 to recreate a 125-acre park at the reservoir, to preserve and restore its features, and to make it an ecological resource for the 25,000 students who go to school across the street from the water.

“The designation recognizes the site’s architectural and historical significance,” said Robert Kornfeld Jr., chair of the Conservancy’s preservation committee, whose research became the basis of the historic register application. “One of the things that distinguishes the reservoir is that it’s also a park and was made to be a part of our community,” he said.

Listing on the state and national register does not provide the level of protection a city landmark would provide, but it opens up matching funds from the state and federal government for preservation and restoration efforts. “We don’t want it landmarked so it can be dipped in preservative,” Mr. Kornfeld told the Riverdale Press. “We want people to enjoy it and learn from it.”

The Conservancy seeks to open the reservoir’s outer fence to joggers and walkers, similar to the reservoir in Central Park. In addition, the Conservancy wants to make Jerome Park more accessible to students by offering classes that cover the site’s history, the water system and how the reservoir’s construction helped expand New York City’s population. Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-creator of Central Park, laid out the streets of Van Cortlandt Village, adjacent to the reservoir, and designed a park whose centerpiece was to be the reservoir. Work on the New Croton Aqueduct began in 1895. Italian stone masons began building the Jerome Park Reservoir on the site of a former horse racing track. Construction was completed in 1906.

“The reservoir is a living, breathing work of art,” said Ms. Garti. “We’re going to maintain it.” During a recent cleanup project around the reservoir, a decorative wrought iron fence dating back to the 1800s was found. Landmark designation could lead eventually to the placement of a replica of that fence around the reservoir.

Jerome Park Reservoir National Register of Historic Places Registration Form

Click here for the Jerome Park Preservation Report

Jerome Park Reservoir Fight that will never end

For more than 40 years, I have been involved in the Reservoir and Pigeon Park. It started with trying to find the right agency to clean up around the reservoir. Then it was creating a running path so people would not have to run on the dirt. I also had to fight to get the inner fence put in after a bunch of youth went swimming and fell in. After that I found out that the government wanted to build a plant in the reservoir, and so I had my people organize. In the end, I never did get it cleaned, and they are just getting the jogging path, but it is only built half way around.

This is a story about the construction administration which failed to care about people but instead chose the goal of productivity, along with those who quietly acquiesced to go along for the ride. This policy left a complete breakdown of community building, activity and participation. Evidenced by the worst unemployment figures in the state — more than 12%, this policy did little to spur the promised boost to the local economy. Spending close to $4 billion on the Croton Water Treatment Plant in the northwest Bronx, and other mega projects, has made little or no impact on the local or borough economy.

In 2004, in return for building a filter plant in Van Cortland Park, the City Council signed an agreement to spend $200 million to create parks — the largest capital budget expenditure for Bronx parks, which should have been completed within five years. As soon as the vote was taken, the government immediately closed off the Mosholu Golf Course and contractors broke ground. The promised parks projects were slower to start — they had the funding, but not the personnel to assure timely management and completion.

In 1970, Jerome Park Reservoir was the original site of the filter plant. When the people found out what the government had been planning, they rose up and fought for their beloved reservoir. In 1993 they asked for permission to walk on the inside roadway near the water, which was granted. The people did this upstate and in Central Park. Since that time, the community has asked for permission to walk inside the level roadway alongside the water. Every year the agency in charge put it off.

After 1999, when it became clear that they could not build the plant in Jerome Park Reservoir, the DEP went after the Golf Course, but would not give up the reservoir. They also held up the nomination of the reservoir on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2006, they told the community they had important work to do around the reservoir but it would not take long – they were going to consolidate the work and put it across the street from Bronx HS Science. In August 2013, this work was exclaimed to be completed in a press release — but alas the sound wall is still up, construction is still ongoing, and the trailers are still on parkland.

The December 2013 Croton monitoring committee explained that access to inside the fence would not be allowed until 2021 after they — complete the filter plant around 2015, complete reservoir capital projects around 2016, and then use it to prepare for the closing of and switch to a new valve for the Delaware Aqueduct. The area that they are using for construction is on parkland that they have been in control of since 1985.

Mosholu Golf Course has been off limits since December 2004. The federal agreement to build the Croton plant was signed in 2005 and it stated that if the plant were not completed by October 2011 the agency would be fined. These delays have cost the public money, removed 43 acres from public use for almost ten years, including the Mosholu Golf clubhouse, putting range and part of the course, itself.

New Parks for the 21st Century was the promise made to the City Council and the media, that $200 million would be spent on Bronx Parks. The latest report from the Comptroller shows only $146 of $186 million mitigation completed after 10 years. So what was $40 million per year is now $15 to $20 million per year, which is not a big mitigation deal.

Jerome Park Reservoir Jogging Path is one of the delayed parks projects. This work is progressing outside of the fence on Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) land. There is also not enough money to put the jogging path around the whole 2 miles of the reservoir (including the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail part).

150 or so trees were removed but never replaced. Delays incurred at JPR Jogging path were for many reasons including the need to have trees removed due to encroachment of the berm of the reservoir – a task that could have been taken care of by the DEP over the forty years the community has asked for maintenance. Trees were cut down, but the agency will not agree to pay the cost of replacing the trees.

The Old Croton Aqueduct Trail Pedestrian Bridge was part of the original ULURP approved in 1999, along with $43 million in mitigation of Van Cortlandt Park and Mosholu Golf Course. The DEP stalled on doing the study and then when it was done, stated that they do not have enough money to do it. Everything is continuous south of the Highbridge — which is part of the Old Croton Aqueduct. The full length of the trail in Westchester is a continuous path, but not in the Bronx! Guess where: the part along the Jerome Park Reservoir.