The crisscross of Columbus Avenue and Broadway in the Lincoln Square area forms two triangular parcels of land. Dante Park, also referred to as one half of the bowtie (the other half is Richard Tucker Square), occupies one of those triangles. It sits directly across from Lincoln Center between 63rd and 64th Street and is one of 77 public parks located in Manhattan. Both parks were once known as Empire Park until they were split into Empire Park North and Empire Park South.
In 1921, the southern portion was renamed Dante Park in memory of the great Florentine writer, Dante Alighieri. A nine-and-one-half foot bronze monument of Dante, by Artist Ettore Ximenes (1855-1926) perched on top of a large granite pedestal sits at the base of the park. Dante, best known for his epic poem, The Divine Comedy, had an interesting life story, but I would rather tell you more about how this statue came to reside her.
Carlo Barsotti was the founder of the Il Progresso Italo-Americano newspaper, the first Italian daily newspaper in the United States, published in New York City from 1880 to 1988. He was known for having grandiose ideas. Having already raised funds, (mostly through donations from his newspaper’s readers), to have statues of four other renowned Italians placed in prominent locations throughout the city, he was determined to find an equally important place for a statue of Dante. Statues he already successfully had erected included, General Giuseppe Garibaldi (1888) in Washington Square Park, Christopher Columbus (1892) in Columbus Circle, composer, Giuseppe Verdi (1906) in Verdi Square and Giovanni da Verrazano (1909) in Battery Park. In 1912, he began working on his plan to have a massive monument of Dante placed in Times Square. The first statue, at 50 feet tall, was rejected by the Art Commission and the Times Square location plan also backfired. Finally, after 9 years and a much smaller version ,Empire Park was finally chosen as the new location and the park was renamed for Dante.
In 1999, “TimeSculpture” by architect Philip Johnson was installed in the northern point of the park. The four clock faces have recently been removed for restoration. As part of the city’s goal of improving the traffic flow in the area and adding more pedestrian and seating areas, the triangle was recently expanded and more tables and chairs were added. The Lincoln Square BID does a great job helping to keep the park clean and green and this week it hosted the 17th annual Winter’s Eve Festival, a huge holiday celebration that included a grand ceremonial tree lighting of a 25’ Balsam Fir Christmas tree in Dante Park. The decorated tree is lit each evening throughout the holidays.