History of NYC Rooftop Gardens
Rooftop garden theaters in the Gilded Age had elaborate decorations and its owners enjoyed indulgent entertainment. With the recent implementation of electricity, it was an exciting time for New Yorker’s to peer down into the streets.
The NYC rooftop garden has been rediscovered as valuable real estate.
Its entertainment past is being revisited and the respite offers nature-hungry citizens of industrial New York an accessible, uplifting view in a landscape of steel and glass.
The rooftop garden theaters of the 1880’s through the 1920’s were grandiose and extravagantly ornate.
Thousands of dollars were spent on flowers and lush foliage that surrounded promenades leading to streams, ponds and even a lake. A variety of animals were kept in the gardens, Russian swans and ducks for the water, cows for the country escape and South American monkeys for no other reason than having monkeys.
Encompassing a single rooftop to an entire city block, these whimsical skyward retreats were often lit by thousands of bulbs, thanks to the newly realized power distribution centers being built across New York.
Lavish frosted glass and sliding glass ceilings kept the party going in the rain and when it was dry the views of the city were the main attraction.
Frivolous in the best way, these rooftop theaters fulfilled a desire that all New Yorkers share at one time or another – to get away from the clamor and the radiating heat of cement to a place of breezy amusement.
There’s a sky-high bar and restaurant in every borough now, but one, in particular, has some of the charm and extravagance of the old rooftop theaters.
Today’s Rooftop Gardens are Watering Holes
Magic Hour Rooftop Bar and Lounge is truly a New York playground that enchants with antique carousel rides, a titillating mini putting course aptly named Foreplay, design elements incorporating proper garden party, urban industrial and, of course, an alluring carnival where DJ’s bewitch patrons nightly.
The heart of entertainment for garden theaters was variety pomp showcasing acrobats, exotic dancers, one-man shows and performing cats, but as air conditioning and talkies grew in popularity live theater went by the wayside. Today The Rooftop Cinema Club lets you mix the best of both worlds, amazing views, cool streams of fresh air and a culled selection that includes cult classics and new releases. You can lounge in deckchairs, snuggle up, laugh, cry, and dream as dusk slowly paints the sky pastels.
Although the Gilded Age rooftops were capitalized on, the public saw the potential for living spaces, farms and private or community gardens. Homes, like the Murray Hill Grecian House, were built on top of the roofs for the spectacular views and the distance from the din. Farms like the Ansonia Hotel Farm were functional and thriving and then shut down by the health department. Rooftop living and growing was for anyone who wanted out of teeming apartments and streets, anyone who wanted fresh air and anyone who needed the beautiful colors of bounty and verdure in a nature-deprived city.
Rooftop gardens still provide cheery hues of vibrancy in the canopies of our cement jungle. The gardens warm our spirits with stout red tomatoes, violaceous eggplant and the golden ochre of squash. Fall offers earthy, spicy and sweet sustenance from beets, radishes and cabbage and we are nourished not only by the fresh produce but by the proximity of garden to plate.
Our own NYC rooftop garden
At The Washington Square Hotel we happily pluck from our own rooftop garden so you can enjoy fresh vegetables and herbs on the North Square restaurant menu.
Rooftops have been and continue to be perches of exceptional revelry and refreshing fare. Next time you need a break from the hullabaloo, take an elevator up and gaze at the sky, the screen or the succulent vegetation, feel the breeze and enjoy the view.