New York’s Central Park has been around, in various incarnations, for more than 150 years. In that time it has been hailed as a masterpiece of landscape design; served as a punchline in jokes about muggings and violent crime; provided the setting for key scenes in books, plays and movies; and remains, for New Yorkers and for countless visitors to Gotham, one of the world’s urban wonders—840 acres of tree-lined paths, public plazas, open fields, gardens, ponds, lakes, bridges, arches, performance spaces, a castle on a hill, a quite charming zoo and, arguably, the world’s greatest museum.
Here, LIFE.com celebrates Frederick Law Olmsted’s and Calvert Vaux’s best-loved and most-frequented creation with a series of photos from 1961.
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.