Central Park's Bandshell Gets a (Modest) New Shine

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WQXR's chief engineer Edward Haber snapped this photo of the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park, ahead of Tuesday night's live broadcast of the Knights chamber orchestra.

The photo shows what some concertgoers at the Naumburg summer series feel has been long needed: The Neoclassical, limestone bandshell has just undergone a cosmetic cleaning, and the structure's gold leaf inscription, which sits just below the edge of the stage, has been given a fresh gilding.

The inscription reads "Presented to the City of New York and Its Music Lovers by Elkan Naumburg," referring to the banker who founded the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts and donated the structure in 1923. It was last gilded in the 1970s, according to Elizabeth Kaledin, a spokeswoman for the Central Park Conservancy, which financed the job.

The Conservancy says the modest facelift cost $15,000, which also included some minor repairs to damaged stonework at the front of the 1905 structure. The gilding, which involved gold leaf of nearly 24 karats, was first reported by the New York Times.

Situated in a grove of elm trees just below 72nd Street, the Naumburg Bandshell has long suffered from neglect even as the park around it has seen steady improvements. Despite the latest cleanup, problems persist. Its stone urns are missing. Vegetation grows out of the dome. Waterproofing is needed to slow down the effects of brutal winters.

Christopher London, president of the five-concert Naumburg Orchestral Concerts (which WQXR broadcasts) and the great-grandson of Elkan Naumburg, won a court injunction in 1993 to keep the city from demolishing the structure. At that time, the shell was severely dilapidated and a dangerous haven for addicts.

Now, after having allocated some of the Naumburg organization's own money towards the Bandshell's upkeep, London, who is an architectural historian, sees the Conservancy's cleaning as a positive sign.

"It looks like a ruin, which is fine," he said. "But you can go to Europe if you want to see ruins." He added, "We see the re-gilding as a visual appetizer."