This past February 5th the New York Times carried a story on the reopening of the Tavern on the Green on the west side of Central Park. The Tavern on the Green, which has lasted almost a century and a half, has seen many transformations. Back in 1871 it began as a sheepfold when Central Park was one great green pasture. Over the years the sheepfold had become a miniature zoo which had come to include camels, bisons, pumas, llamas, and buffalo, besides the sheep. By the 1930s the sheepfold had been transformed into a small restaurant. The wildlife had been auctioned off or moved to Prospect Park in 1934. The caretaker of this menagerie, Frank Hoey, the last shepherd on Manhattan island, was transitioned into caring for the sea lions and bears in the Central Park Zoo. The Tavern of the Green, bereft of its animal life, went through many stages of life growing from a 8,000 square foot sheepfold to a 10,000 square foot restaurant and on to a series of expansions into the late 1970s reaching a 30,000 square foot elegant restaurant and dancing pavilion.
The story of the rehabilitation of the Tavern on the Green brings back memories of high school days in the late 1930s. After graduation from Junior High School 30 in Yorkville on mid-town East Side, five of us went on to the High School of Commerce on west 66th St. For three years we made the two mile daily trek from Yorkville on the East Side to the High School of Commerce on the West Side. Along the way coming and going we passed the Tavern on the Green in west Central Park. Beginning in the Fall of 1939, Johnny Palazotto, Jack Saitta, Saul Mines, Hank Yost and myself, a miniature League of Nations, began our daily early morning two mile jog from the East Side beginning at 7:10, Johnny Palazotto starting out at 85th and York Avenue, ringing my bell at 7:20 at 82nd and First Avenue, picking Jack Saitta up at 81st St. and First Avenue, and then meeting Saul Mines and Jack Yost at 81st St. and Second Avenue. We headed west for the 79th St. entrance to Central Park, jogging diagonally through the park and aiming for the Tavern on the Green exit on the West Side. When we reached the Tavern on the Green we made our mad dash for 66th Street and Amsterdam Avenue and into Commerce High hoping to beat the 8:00 AM late bell. The journey was repeated in reverse each afternoon. For three years we passed the Tavern on the Green as a major marker on our daily circuit. We regarded the Tavern as a special place. We looked upon it as a symbol of success: frequented only by people of means. On the morning of Monday, December 8th of 1941, in our senior year, we were called to gather in the assembly hall of the High School of Commerce. Over the speakers that morning, in the intense quiet of the hall, the voice of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke the silence with the U.S. declaration of war on Japan. In June we graduated into the War. I never heard from my four high school mates again. The Tavern on the Green closed in 2010. The High School of Commerce is gone. As well as Junior High School 30. The 2014 rehabilitation of the Tavern revives the good memories of my high school friends, our jog through Central Park to the Tavern and our race to the High School of Commerce to beat the 8:00 AM bell. Hear the continuing story on: www.onthesidewalksofnewyork.com