When one thinks of gondolas, they immediately think of Venice, Italy, certainly not Manhattan. But gondolas have been paddling their way across Central Park Lake only a few years after it was dug out.
Frederick Law Olmsted (the architect of Central Park) visited Venice with his sons to broaden their education in landscape architecture and fell in love with gondolas because they weren't simply "common" boats... they were "becoming".
He might have discussed plans for gondolas in Central Park, but the craft didn't appear on The Lake until 1862. An authentic Venetian gondola Christened Maiden City of the Sea was given to the park its commissioner, John A.C. Gray. It took a few years for the Park to hire an experienced gondolier who knew how to master the unusual swiveling paddle style needed to steer the asymmetrically curved, 45 foot long hull common to gondolas. Hiring a gondola became a romantic way to woo the object of a man's affection, and the attraction became so popular that in the 1890s, another second Venetian gondola was added.
Starting in 1936, a “Venetian Water Carnivale” was held on a yearly basis in the park. There was music and dancing at the Mall, and on The Lake “Venetian peasants” floated across The Lake on swan boats and gondolas, singling and playing mandolins. The event also included an “Approach of the Doge,” a “Dance of the Nymphs,” a fireworks display, and a 60 piece orchestra.
But don't feel sad about Olmsted's gondola obsession. He fulfilled his dream when he included gondolas in his 1898 Worlds Fair design.
The great news is, the gondolas are still plying the waters of Central Park today. Mostly rented by bachelorette parties, prom dates and marriage proposals, if you're looking for an authentic way to live la Vita Bella, even though you're not in Italy, book a cruise on a gondola the next time you are in the Big Apple. They charge $30 per half hour, weather permitting.
The Solo Mio song is complimentary.