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Close Encounters of the Castley Kind

I love the King Arthur legend, but grew up in Southern California where most buildings were one-story stucco numbers that pretty much all looked alike. So maybe that’s why I think castles are the awesomest! Any structure that looks like it fell out of a fairytale and is oozing history? Yeah, I’m hooked. And stumbling upon something like that unexpectedly is an even bigger rush. All I can say is, “Whoa!” My breath catches, my pulse quickens, and I’m drawn into the magic.

(Photo by Joe Joseph)

Belvedere Castle, Central Park, NYC

On my first trip to New York City, Belvedere Castle (just north of the 79th Street transvse in Central Park) was a totally unexpected surprise. I mean, who knew there was a CASTLE, right smack in the middle of Central Park? Not this California girl, that’s for sure. Some of you are snickering (I know who you are!), because you think it’s not a *real* castle. (Photo credit: Central Park Conservancy)

Maybe Belvedere Castle never kept warring barbarians at bay, or ever had a damsel held hostage in its turret. So what? It’s made of real stone and was built as a lookout at the highest point in Central Park (on top of Vista Rock). A strategic setting with a panoramic view of the surrounding areas … like any real castle. Belvedere Castle was completed in 1872, which makes it old enough to be a real castle too. Created of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (the chief architects of Central Park), it was designed in the Victorian tradition … a mashup of Norman, Gothic, and Moorish styles.

Belvedere Castle was originally built as a destination point in the park, and was popular with visitors who lounged on the terraces and took in the impressive views. In 1919 all that changed, when the castle was closed to the general public and taken over by the United States Weather Bureau. In the early 1960’s automated equipment allowed the Weather Bureau to move to new headquarters, and the vacant castle fell into disrepair. Park-lovers complained, and in the 1980’s the castle’s restoration was finally completed.

Today, Belvedere Castle is once again resplendent and a well visited lookout point. It is also the home of the Nature Observatory.

So Belvedere Castle has history … like any real castle. Though I’m not saying I couldn’t “improve” on that history with a few mystical embellishments … and just might someday in one of my stories. Because a castle that intriguing deserves some real magic!

So what’s YOUR “unexpected castle” … that thing that makes you feel like a kid again … on the Best Day EVER!?