This weekend, as Wollman Rink in Central Park re-opens for the 2023 ice skating season, we remember another ice skating spot in the park that has disappeared into the landscape. When proposals for the park’s design were requested in the 1850s, all submissions were required to include an area for ice skating. In Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted’s original plan for the park, they envisioned ice skating on The Lake in the wintertime. They also built in a more secluded body of water nearby where the ice was reserved solely for ladies.
No men were allowed at the Ladies’ Pond unless accompanied by a woman. An 1861 New York Times article reported “one malignant male, who would persist in skating on the ladies’ pond unaccompanied by ladies, was arrested.” Located just inside the west side of the park near 78th Street and Balcony Bridge, the Ladies’ Pond was one of the first sections of the park to open in 1858, along with The Lake (which was called the Skating Pond on original maps).
The Ladies’ Pond, though scenic and pleasant as it may have been, was short-lived. In the restricted society of Victorian New York, ice skating provided an activity where societal rules could be stretched, especially in regard to the behavior between men and women. On the ice, while chaperones were at a safe distance on land, single men and women could hold hands, lean on each other for support, and have private conversations. Ladies could also show a bit of ankle in their shorter skating skirts, something that would have been scandalous off the ice. “Many a young fellow has lost his heart, and skated himself into matrimony,” one 1860s guidebook noted.
This co-mingling of the sexes seems to have been more of a draw than a hindrance to female skaters, and so Ladies Pond was abandoned by 1870. More bodies of water also popped up in the park and became popular skating sites, including Conservatory Water and the Pond. At some point near the turn of the century, the Ladies’ Pond was drained.
Today, the former location of the Ladies’ Pond is a small grassy field ringed with trees. Nearby, there is another remnant of Central Park’s sex-segregated sections, an ornate pavilion designed by Jacob Wrey Mould. Called the Ladies Pavilion, this gazebo was originally a trolley shelter. It was built in 1871 and originally situated at the park entrance at 59th Street and 8th Avenue. It was moved in 1913 to make way for the Maine Monument and found a new home at the edge of The Lake on the Hernshead. This spot is where the Ladies’ Cottage once stood, the shelter where female skaters could rest and get into and out of their skates.
The Ladies Pavilion is now a popular spot for weddings, and is one of the stops on our Untapped Central Park walking tour! Join us on an upcoming tour to hear more about the park’s skating ponds, locate a secret remnant of Manhattan’s original street grid survey, see the first public art commission given to a woman in New York City, and more!
Untapped Central Park Walking Tour
Next, check out A Look Into Three Centuries of Ice Skating in NYC