Mid141-2.jpg (85180 bytes) New York Architecture Images- Midtown

Paley Park


Zion and Breen


5 East 53rd Street, just east of Fifth Avenue 




International Style II


Brick, stone






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  Located within Midtown's cultural district and surrounded by high-rises, this celebrated "vest-pocket" park is a welcome respite from the sights and sounds of urban living.

Why It Works
A small vest pocket park in midtown Manhattan, the park was developed (and every detail considered) by the person who paid for it, William Paley, former Chairman of CBS. Mr. Paley was involved in all aspects of planning the park from its conception to the selection of just the right hot dog (which is still served at a reasonable price). Featured in William H. Whyte’s film City Places, City Spaces, the park is a success for several reasons.

For one, it is located directly on the street so that people are attracted to look in and enter. It has good, reasonably priced food, as well as moveable chairs and tables that let people be comfortable and have some control over where they sit. A waterfall provides a dramatic focal point and a reason to enter the park; its noise blocks out the sounds of the city and creates a sense of quiet and privacy. There's adequate shade in the summer from the trees, though they allow a beautiful dappled light to pass through their leaves.

People that PPS interviewed in the park said that they liked it because they could be "alone" in a busy city and it gave them a quiet, restful feeling. In reality, Paley Park is a quite heavily used place, but the movable chairs allow people the freedom to sit where they choose. It is also very noisy - but the noise is white noise from the waterfall.

History & Background
Completed in 1967, Paley Park is celebrated as one of the smallest manageable urban parks, and a prime example of a successful privately owned public space. The design for this 4200 square foot space, created by Zion and Breene Associates for the William S. Paley Foundation, proves that in even a small space can serve both a popular meeting ground and a place for relaxation and calm. Slightly elevated from street level, the sidewalk blends with the park allowing for easy access from passer-by. The park’s 20-foot cascading waterfall, running at 1800 gallons per minute, creates a backdrop of sound that causes the city noise to fade away.

The walls are covered with dense, green ivy and 17 honey locust trees provide a thin overhead canopy. The park's wire mesh chairs and tables help to make it a popular luncheon spot. Paley Park has an intimate relation with the street. Low and inviting steps and trees that canopy the sidewalk often influence passer-by to stroll through the park on impulse.

Contact Info:
William S. Paley Foundation, Inc: 1 East 53rd Street, #1400, New York, NY; 212-888-2520 


Felice Frankel and Jory Johnson. Modern Landscape Architecture: Redefining the Garden. New York: Abbeville Publishers, 1991. ISBN 1-55859-023-4. SB470.53.J64 1991. discussion and photos, p191-197. plan drawing, p192.

Lawrence A. Martin, University of Oregon. Slide from photographer's collection, September 1993. PCD.3235.1012.0545.090. PCD.3235.1012.0545.084.

Walter F. Wagner Jr., ed. "In Midtown Manhattan a Small Park Located Where the People Are", Architectural Record. August 1967. Vol 142 Number 9. p117. drawing of plan, p117. drawing of section, p17.

  I ate two chili dogs in Paley Park for lunch last Friday. The concessionaire was friendly, and the menu was wonderfully quirky ("I don't have any sauerkraut"). The park was nicely crowded, and somehow each conversation was isolated from the next. My favorite activity was to sit and face the street, watching people as they slowed down to gape inside, stop, double-take, keep walking, as if all of us inside the park were playing hookey, and the passerby was tempted to join us, but then thought better of it. I think the thought made both of our days better.
- Andy Wiley Schwartz (08/26/02 02:57 PM EST)

Paley Park spawned a number of other similar spaces in New York, also referred to as "vest pocket" parks, but Paley stands apart. Its subtle difference--not mentioned in the text about the park, I believe--is the slight elevation above the street, so one enters an outdoor room. One ascends a few steps and already feels a bit removed from the urban din. Paley is really an ingenius space.
- felix pfeifle (11/03/02 11:29 PM EST)

I'm a wheelchair user, and when I went to Paley Park the other day, I couldn't access it because of steps. Is there a way to get into the park that I'm not aware of? And if there isn't, why not? It's such a lovely park and it should be for ALL the public.
- Jean Ryan (11/16/02 04:06 PM EST)

To Jean Ryan: There are ramps on either side of the steps. While I remember them to be steeper than current code would allow for new construction, they seem wide enough and include rails. It would be terrible if the ramps were useless for the wheelchair user.
- felix pfeifle (03/11/03 04:52 PM EST)

Paley Park is a place I go in my head when I need to escape...since I live in Ohio. It was the most amazing surprise presented before me. I will visit it every time I return to NYC! It's a tremendous space that has left a huge impact on me, emotionally and intellectually with regard to the importance, value and purpose of our living spaces.
- Katharyne Marcus (07/21/03 03:16 PM EST)

Paley Park’s intrigue lies in what Tony Hiss, author of Experience of Place calls a "lovable object." This is something we can talk about, describe, and ultimately give us a reason to return to in the future. A rippling wall of water is just that element that we all are drawn to and bring us back time and time again.
- adam ravestein (11/24/03 12:08 PM EST)

The ramps on either side are totally unsafe and unusable for someone who uses a wheelchair. They are too steep. Adding railings would not help. We would not be able to get onto the ramp and if we could, we'd tip over backwards. It's not good to be shut out of such a tranquil oasis. I wanted to bring out-of-town guests to the park this month because we'll be nearby, but not if I have to be on the outside looking in. I am going to write to the William S. Paley Foundation, Inc. about access to this park for people with disabilities.
- Jean Ryan (12/05/03 11:53 AM EST)

I got engaged in Paley Park on January 24th 2003. My wedding is July 17, 2004. It was the most amazing setting and a place my fiancé and I continue to go to whenever we want to have a romantic moment. Paley Park will always be my favorite place in NYC the greatest city in the world!
- Carol-Ann Grippo (01/15/04 12:14 PM EST)

Up through the early 1980's there was a college prep school on 54th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues (Rhodes School - 11 W. 54th). Paley Park was one of the favorite lunch locations for students at Rhodes during good weather days. And in early June every year the place would be flooded with Rhodes students cramming for final exams while eating hot dogs and other food from the concession stand. It was a great place to study for tests (or at least pretend we were studing for tests!).
- David Marlowe (07/06/04 02:42 PM EST)