Situated along the Hudson River, with panoramic views of New York City, Ellis Island, and the Statue of Liberty, is one of New Jersey’s national treasures - Liberty State Park. This wondrous park celebrates its 36th anniversary this year, having been dedicated on Flag Day, June 14, 1976.
This date always surprises me. As a transplant to New Jersey, I made the assumption that Liberty State Park was an historic site. What a surprise to find out how young the park actually is, a mere 36 years old. With the State of New Jersey being one of the original Colonies it would seem more fitting to refer to the “historic Jersey City Park, opened in 1886”. It still feels awkward to refer to the park opening in 1976.
The evolution of the park is rooted in transportation. Accessibility of the shoreline made the area a natural arena for major transportation. During the boom of the Industrial Revolution, Central Railroad of New Jersey developed the site into a bustling transportation hub. “At its peak, the area of the park was crisscrossed by nearly 100 miles of railroad tracks and surrounded by a web of docks and piers. The site was a virtual beehive of activity with hundreds of trains, ferries, barges and tugboats, and a variety of other water and land crafts arriving and departing daily.”1 Jersey City was one of the first stops for immigrants arriving from Ellis Island. But, as the era of train transportation declined the CRRNJ eventually declared bankruptcy in the late 1960’s, leaving behind vacated structures, miles of metal tracks and soiled land.
This is where the story begins.
Upon the arrival of the Statue of Liberty, New Jerseyans spent years and years traveling through the Lincoln or Holland tunnels to New York City, then down the West Side Highway to Battery Park, to then catch a ferry to go back towards New Jersey to Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty. Total travel time would generally exceed two hours, one way. This of course would have been completely reasonable except for the logistical fact that the Jersey City shoreline, (now the official park) is only half a mile from Liberty Island! Today, Commuters and travelers alike would find a two hour trip to an historic location that you can see from your kitchen window not only unreasonable but I feel certain a social media firestorm would be ignited for change.
Morris Pesin is the Father of Liberty State Park and the original social networker. In 1957, Mr. Pesin and his family took the arduous journey from Jersey City to Manhattan to see Lady Liberty. The three plus hour trip not only sparked outrage in Mr. Pesin but ignited in him the fight that would last 19 years that would eventually become a reality. He began a public crusade to re-develop the old CRRNJ abandoned shoreline into a public park with water access to Liberty Island. His first public relations strategy was an actual canoe ride from Jersey City through the New York Harbor to Liberty Island. The much publicized ride took all of 8 minutes. Citizens took notice and began to follow Pesin’s activities and joined in the cause to take back the “New Jersey Gold Coast”. Mr. Pesin’s crusade - to turn a blighted, polluted heap of metal into rolling, beautiful green space - is one of New Jersey’s best kept secrets.
Today, Liberty State Park is 1,212 acres of hiking, biking and nature trails; picnic areas; playgrounds; concessions stands; with fishing and crabbing. Visitors can enjoy Ferry service to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the Park’s boat launches. Sweeping views of the New York Harbor can be enjoyed from a kayak or canoe ride along the Hudson Bay. The Park also boasts the Liberty Science Center, Liberty National Golf Course, and Interpretative Center.
The views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan provide the New Picnic Area at Liberty State Park with one of the most dramatic backdrops of any park in New Jersey. From this vision, USA designed and sited the picnic area pavilions to best showcase these iconic views.
Drawing inspiration from the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey Terminal (located elsewhere in the park), as well as the designs of noted architect E. Fay Jones, the pavilions’ motif creates a light, elegant shelter that frames the view of the Statue. The design seats 150 occupants with the flexibility of being segregated and used for private functions.
Additionally, the paths around the site bring the occupants up onto the existing berm located to the east of the site. From there they can access the paths that crisscross the park or stop at one of the two pavilions that provide further views of the Statue.
USA Architects is very proud to be a part of the continuing evolution of this beautiful landmark.