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.