The Jerome Park Reservoir adjacent to the Lehman College campus has been named a state and national historic landmark. The decision was announced June 7, 2000 by the New York State Board of Historic Preservation at its quarterly meeting.
“This is a validation of everything we have been saying,” said Anne Marie Garti, president of the Jerome Park Conservancy, which submitted the application for landmarking in the winter of 1998. “The official government bodies are giving the reservoir the recognition it deserves.”
The reservoir is the largest body of water in the Bronx. It was built by Italian stone masons at the turn of the last century. When it opened in 1906, it was a reservoir park, with handcrafted stone walls, a white pebbled path, and wrought iron fences ringing the water. During WWII, the reservoir was fenced off from the community.
The Jerome Park Conservancy has been working since 1994 to recreate a 125-acre park at the reservoir, to preserve and restore its features, and to make it an ecological resource for the 25,000 students who go to school across the street from the water.
“The designation recognizes the site’s architectural and historical significance,” said Robert Kornfeld Jr., chair of the Conservancy’s preservation committee, whose research became the basis of the historic register application. “One of the things that distinguishes the reservoir is that it’s also a park and was made to be a part of our community,” he said.
Listing on the state and national register does not provide the level of protection a city landmark would provide, but it opens up matching funds from the state and federal government for preservation and restoration efforts. “We don’t want it landmarked so it can be dipped in preservative,” Mr. Kornfeld told the Riverdale Press. “We want people to enjoy it and learn from it.”
The Conservancy seeks to open the reservoir’s outer fence to joggers and walkers, similar to the reservoir in Central Park. In addition, the Conservancy wants to make Jerome Park more accessible to students by offering classes that cover the site’s history, the water system and how the reservoir’s construction helped expand New York City’s population. Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-creator of Central Park, laid out the streets of Van Cortlandt Village, adjacent to the reservoir, and designed a park whose centerpiece was to be the reservoir. Work on the New Croton Aqueduct began in 1895. Italian stone masons began building the Jerome Park Reservoir on the site of a former horse racing track. Construction was completed in 1906.
“The reservoir is a living, breathing work of art,” said Ms. Garti. “We’re going to maintain it.” During a recent cleanup project around the reservoir, a decorative wrought iron fence dating back to the 1800s was found. Landmark designation could lead eventually to the placement of a replica of that fence around the reservoir.