Dante on Broadway
An Essayby Hal Crowther
One of New York City’s most neglected historical landmarks is a tiny park almost directly across Columbus Avenue from Lincoln Center, the cultural mecca where multitudes of New Yorkers satisfy their passions for opera, dance, theater, jazz, and classical music. Situated at Sixty-Third Street where Broadway crosses Columbus and bends to the east, the park is a perfect triangle that measures one-seventh of an acre of Manhattan’s precious real estate. Though I lived in the city for more than a decade, attended many Lincoln Center performances, and once rented an apartment just thirty blocks up Broadway—though I’ve visited Manhattan hundreds of times since I moved to the provinces—I never noticed the park or the statue that graces it until last spring. How many times had I passed it in a taxicab, passed deep beneath it in a subway car, or even walked within sight of it, never registering that tall figure on the pedestal, standing there among the trees?
New York City guidebooks describe the park as an overlooked, all-but-forgotten curiosity and mention the trees that obscure the statue with their branches, even when you’re almost in its shadow. Even if you were staying at the Empire Hotel, with its front entrance a few yards across Sixty-Third Street from the park, you might miss it if you were in a hurry. I had never stayed at the Empire before this visit in May; since I was in no hurry one morning, I sat down at a little iron table at the edge of the park with my Starbucks coffee and the New York Times—and looked up.