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Riverside Park View, about 1910.
The final Olmsted park designed for Buffalo was the city's northernmost park, Riverside Park. 22 acres in size, this park was built on the site of a private picnic ground overlooking the Erie Canal and the Niagara River. Its formal feature was a fountain and music court, with a carriage drive separating them a play area devoted to ball fields and from a series of minnow pools nestled amongst a dense grove of trees. A footbridge provided access to the park from a boat landing, both of which were already present when the site was obtained. Olmsted designed the formal features of the park to align visually with the footbridge. The carriage drive connected Niagara Street, which runs parallel to the river, with the park. The carriage drive also connected with Roesch Avenue, which was visualized as a part of a northern parkway system, but never developed as such.
In 1912, another 17 acres was added on the southern side of the park, but never completely developed. The abandonment of the Erie Canal allowed additional riverfront space to be added. However, that added space was lost along with the footbridge and boat landing in the 1950s as the Niagara Thruway was constructed on the Niagara river shore, cutting Riverside Park off from the water.
Presently, Olmsted's design for Riverside Park has suffered considerably from intrusions and neglect. A senior citizens' center, a covered ice rink and set of swimming and diving pools cover much of the formal area of the park, blocking sight lines to the river as well. The diving pool is no longer used. The noise of the Niagara Thruway is a significant distraction along the western portion of the park. A modern footbridge connects to the Niagara Riverwalk, but not along the axis of the of the original. The walk and bike path connects to is sterile asphalt, devoid of trees. No parkway link to the rest of the park system was ever completed. The carriage drive, now Hotaling Drive, is in poor repair. The minnow pools have long since been filled and turned into lawn, and the once dense tree stand has been considerably thinned by age and disease. Utilitarian picnic shelters dot the area adjacent to Hotaling drive. An ill-sited parking lot now adjoins it, and a new driveway has been built across former lawn leading to the senior citizens center's entrance. Almost no integration of the southern addition to the main park has been developed. Access is primarily from the perimeter rather than from the original park. Where they were constructed, modern interior pathways show little consideration for pedestrian amenity or park enjoyment.
As the result of the formation of a steering committee for Riverside Park in 1994, a master plan for the park was prepared. Covering both the Olmsted area as well as the later addition, it called for considerable landscape improvements including tree plantings and landscaping of an improved river linkage, and for a more coherent development of the newer section as the site of the park's active recreation activities. The minnow pools, while not restored, would be recreated as low lawn areas. It called for the replacement of the dilapidated picnic shelters, removal of the parking lot at the east end of Hotaling Drive, and the restoration of the early cobble curbs along the drive. The diving pool and the driveway to the senior citizens center would be removed, and a performing arts stage constructed on the site of the original park bandshell. The document also called for the eventual removal of the buildings from the site once their life expentancy is reached, and for their replacement in adjacent areas outside the confines of the park when that time should arrive. The 2008 Olmsted Parks master plan incorporates many of the 1994 recommended improvements, but also proposes that the minnow pools, with modifications to address the shortcomings of the original implementation, be restored.
Copyright 1996-2010 Stanton M. Broderick
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