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Dancers in Central Park, 1961.
Dancers in Central Park, 1961.Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Dancers in Central Park, 1961.
Unicyclist in Central Park, 1961.
Warming up before a soccer match, Central Park, 1961.
Scene in Central Park, 1961.
A painter finds a secluded spot, Central Park, 1961.
Central Park's Bethesda Fountain, 1961.
Rowers on the Lake in Central Park, 1961.
Fishing in Central Park, 1961.
Sunbathers cool their feet, Central Park, 1961.
Scene near the Boat House, Central Park, 1961.
Model sailboats in Conservatory Pond, Central Park, 1961.
Nelson's flagship 'Victory' gets a tender launching by its builder, Arthur Langton.
Dogs in a fountain, Central Park, 1961.
Chess players, Central Park, 1961.
Water fountain, Central Park, 1961.
In a wonderland for climbers a bronze Alice is cluttered with children who have scrambled over Mad Hatter and other Lewis Carroll creatures.
A trio of newly graduated students strolls soberly past a trio of figures dancing ring-around-a-rosy at a fountain.
Central Park 1961
Scene in Central Park, 1961.
Elephants in Central Park, 1961.
Seals in Central Park, 1961.
Kodiak bears, Central Park, 1961.
Couple on a bench, Central Park, 1961.
A young woman is helped down from a horse-drawn carriage, Central Park, 1961.
Scene in Central Park, 1961.
Dancers in Central Park, 1961.
Leonard McCombe—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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Jewel of Manhattan: LIFE in Central Park, 1961

Jun 30, 2014

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.

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