When The World Stops, Consider This Fairytale Escape
The Central Park castle facilitates dreams of princessing and even sweet treats.
Field Notes is a monthly column covering the beautiful and strange structures that decorate the New York City landscape. From playgrounds to whimsical hidden gems, the city’s finest forms of design and architecture are dissected here.
I’m going to be my own kind of princess. When I first saw this aspirational text presumably faux tattooed on the hip’s edge of a model coyly resting their manicured and on the waistband of their unidentified bottom while showing off a heart-shaped ring emblazoned with the same phrase. This was a new offering from the downtown designer Sandy Liang as part of her seventh jewelry collection that included a set of heart earrings to match the aforementioned ring outlined in dazzling clear crystals, a flat gold chain, and a butter yellow puffed scrunchie all emblazoned with the fanciful manifesto.
There are a handful of images on my Instagram feed that pop up and make me pause to save for later, but the quickness with which my thumb hit the bookmark outline for later use was nothing short of immediate. Upon seeing this I said to myself “Now that is a phrase worth inscribing on my skin in perpetuity!” I haven’t pulled the trigger on the tattoo gun for this aspirational epigram to grace my own hip bone just yet, but it has penetrated the layers of my mind.
Imagining myself as the princess of my own domain reminded me of one of the most pleasant surprises I have encountered while wandering the city. The day I inadvertently wandered onto the piazza of Belvedere Castle in Central Park brought me genuine joy when real life felt less comprehensible than fiction. It was the middle of March 2020, I was hurtling towards the finish line of completing my master’s thesis. As the world halted to a stop, I kept my mind moving by exploring everything the park had to offer. Time was on my side for once and in abundance. Prior to the global health crisis, I never had the time to take in anything but art historical methodologies, and professor critiques until this point of nearly two years living in the city.
The beautiful Belvedere castle was designed by the architect Jacob Wrey Mould and Calvert Vaux, who was also a co-designer of the park itself. Erupting out of the Vista Rock in the backyard of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this complex of pavilions was intended to be a focal point in the park for viewers to admire the scenic landscapes of the Great Lawn, Ramble, and Turtle Pond in addition to the surrounding and rapidly modernizing cityscape. The structure was completed in 1872 but was strictly intended as a strictly communal outdoor space as doors and windows were absent from the original floorplan.
To further enhance the experience of taking in the majestic New York City scenery, two additional balconies can be accessed via one-person-at-a-time narrow stairwells for a more superior vantage point. Like countless other buildings sprinkled throughout the city, this magnificent building was not immune from undergoing changes over the years. In 1919, it served as a weather station for the United States Weather Bureau. Windows and doors were finally carved into the metropolitan acropolis to make way for offices (what I would give to work in a castle!). By the 1960s, the castle was vacant, but I am sure there were a few lucky rodents who were able to call it home.
Ultimately, in 2019 the castle was restored to glory, but what is so glorious about a public castle if it isn’t being used for the most important purpose of all: PARTIES! Tea parties on the terraces! mean are tea Princess-themed birthday parties with tiaras and wands for each invited guest! Glitter galore! What good is having a public castle in a central location of Manhattan if it is not being used for royal-themed events?!
As this incredible piece of Gilded Age architecture continues to be uninhabitable with rooms that are not being utilized for fun, I headed over to the Met to view the period rooms in the American Wing to quench my visual thirst to see how the interiors could have been decorated at the time of the castle’s completion. If we're talking business, I for one would like to see the former office spaces redecorated with period-appropriate furnishings for events that could be held within these hallowed walls. Not to sound like the narrator of the game Clue, but the illuminated rooms that struck me the most were the parlor, the library, and the dressing room.
Similar to the neighbors residing outside the museum, these reimagined interiors comforted and dazzled the New York elite. The taste at the end of the 19th century craved European decadence in the form of revivals of both Gothic and Rococo styles. Ornately carved wooden chairs upholstered in lustrous fabrics, lace curtains offsetting the overall rich color pallet that dominates the space, and mother-of-pearl inlays galore for a jewelry box of a room would suit even a modern-day princess’s festivity furnishings.
My own unornamental life often causes me to fantasize about an imperial future of my own. Ambient viusals of fairytales are on repeat in my mind and I tap into them when I’m stuck on a stalled train, or when my eyes haze over text that I need to pay attention to. Even walking around the Upper East Side, where each block seeped in blue blooded history, I get lost in the fantasy of grandeur when I’m dodging six identical caramel-hued poodles (the current reigning royals of the neighborhood). Sometimes I try to resist my inner fantasy world in forced favor of reality, but the sweetness of breaking out of mundanity is the most delicious little treat I reward myself with.
Speaking of little treat, as I made my way home from the Met I stopped at the contemporary princess eatery Sant Ambroeus for a slice of their Principessa cake to serve as the soft domed, marzipan cherry to top off my day. The perfect wedge of lemon sponge cake layered with vanilla pastry cream and whipped cream was what my fantasies of a whimsical life taste like.
This royal treat originated in Sweden in 1948, called grön tårta and later renamed prinsesstårta, and conceived by Jenny Åkerström who taught the Swedish Prince Carl, Duke of Vastergötland’s three daughters who all went on to marry into royalty throughout Scandinavia and northern Europe. Sweden’s own Princess Madeleine is a former Upper East Side resident! There could not be a better dessert designed for me and my interests. This was the perfect union of both my Italian and Swedish roots, nourishing the dreams of a future filled with plush interiors and ornate treasures. As I came down from my sugar high and drifted off to sleep at the end of the day, the truism lulled me to sleep, I’m going to be my own kind of princess.