Since the 1880’s various ideas have been floated for how best to use the space we now know as Inwood Hill Park. From a World’s Fair that never took place to an ambitious plot to build a Coney Island style amusement park called Wonderland, developers, speculators and entertainment promoters long had their eye on the last large parcel of green on Manhattan’s northern tip.
So, why not an amphitheatre capable of seating thousands?
Think the Central Park Summerstage on a much grander scale, with bleachers lining the hill creating a Coliseum-like view.
That was the plan in 1914—A plan that could have provided a venue for Shakespeare in the Park on a scale the likes of which New York had never seen.
The plan, which would have denuded the forest of many of its trees, was, surprisingly, pitched in the name of preservation. “Better do something with the space before the developers move in,” seemed to be the rallying cry.
Alas, Bruce Springsteen will likely never play the Inwood Amphitheatre, but it’s probably just as well.
New York Herald
May 17, 1914
Would Dedicate Inwood and Isham Hills to National Pageants
Tablelands at Head of Spuyten Duyvil Creek Is Recommended for Pageants
By Clifford N. Shurman
“Ten years have elapsed since the American Scenic and Historical Society proposed the preservation of the romantic northwest portion of Manhattan Island that posterity might see some part of the present borough in its original state. And yet the proposal has not borne the fruit of which it was so richly deserving.
Some part of Manhattan should be devoted to the fostering of national ideals—to something other than trade and commerce. And what better spot is there than that which it was proposed, ten years ago, to call “Indian Park”?
No spot seems to answer this purpose better than the twin hills of Inwood and Isham and the valley between. Even if all Manhattan were available, a more secluded, more historic and more distinguished spot could scarcely be found.
The historic associations of this locality have made Inwood Hill an ideal spot for our Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, who in the last years have amused themselves there. Isham Hill, by the generosity of its owners, already has become city property and is being improved.
Not only the two hills, also the small valley between, offers through its situation and formation great opportunities for public use, forming a natural scene and, through its varieties, a romantic background for historical pageants and open air performances. The two hillsides, bending around this valley, form a natural open-air theatre.
Isham Hill descends on this side in two or three terraces, which can be transformed rapidly into seating accommodations for thousands of spectators. Facing the west where Inwood Hill rises and Spuyten Duyvil opens itself toward the Hudson, the brightness of the sunlight can never spoil but only enliven the view. The valley itself is long shaped and somewhat triangular. Every part of it can be seen, except the deep bed of a little stream hidden behind a rather steep and sudden elevation of the lawn.
The encroachment of the place for exclusive building purposes seems almost to be imminent at the present. Yet this can be averted and the features of the place saved. The Mayor and Board of Aldermen would confer lasting honor on themselves by conserving to the future this last remaining available parcel of unimproved historic ground.“
A quick note: To read the above article in its entirety, click on the image below. The author covers quite a bit of neighborhood history not mentioned in this short post.