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The Conservatory Garden from “The Girl on the Train”

Jan 11th, 2017 | By | Category: Movie Locations

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One of my favorite places in all of Manhattan is, surprisingly, not a stalking location.  Or at least it wasn’t up until recently.  The Conservatory Garden, a six-acre oasis in East Harlem situated across from the Museum of the City of New York, is easily the most picturesque park I have ever set foot in.  I first learned about the site in 2007 thanks to Real City: New York City (sadly, the book is no longer in print, so I cannot provide a link), which described the “floral sanctuary” as “the most studiously tended area in Central Park.”  My interest was immediately piqued and I headed right on over there during our NYC vacation later that year.  (The photo above was taken during that trip, hence why I look sooooo different.  Winking smile)  In person, it was even more stunning than I had envisioned.  The Conservatory Garden has since become a regular stop during our New York travels.  I have wanted to blog about it ever since my first visit, but had never come across any filming done there.  So imagine my thrill when I spotted the Conservatory Garden while watching a SAG Awards screener of the 2016 thriller The Girl on the Train.  Now I can finally write about the place!  (For those who have not yet seen the movie and aren’t in SAG, have no fear – the DVD comes out on January 17th).

The garden was initially established in 1899 and consisted of a large e-shaped glass greenhouse, or conservatory (hence the name), surrounded by flowerbeds.  By the 1930s, the greenhouse had started to deteriorate and in 1937 NYC Parks Commissioner Robert Moses had it razed and commissioned a new, formal garden to take its place.  The site became known as the Conservatory Garden(not to be confused with the Central Park Conservatory Water).

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The lush property is actually made up of three distinct gardens – one English in style, one French, and another Italian.  The English garden, located in the southern portion of the park, is lined with annuals and flowering trees and features the Burnett Memorial Fountain, designed in 1936 by American sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh in honor of The Secret Garden author Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Its surrounding pool is dotted with water lilies.  (The fountain is pictured below and in the first image in this post.)

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The French garden, situated in the northern part of the park, features an astounding array of perennial flowers, including over 20,000 tulips during the spring months and more than 2,000 Korean chrysanthemums that bloom during the fall.  The garden also consists of the Three Dancing Maidens fountain, designed in 1910 by German sculptor Walter Schott.  (The fountain is also sometimes referred to as the Untermeyer Fountain, in honor of the family that donated it to the Conservatory Garden.)

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The central garden is Italian in style and boasts a sprawling lawn, a pergola strung with wisteria vines, a 12-foot high fountain, and a smattering of colorful crab apple trees.

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Though technically a part of Central Park, the Conservatory Garden is tucked away – hidden almost.  Its main entrance can be found on Fifth Avenue, just south of 105th Street.  There visitors wander through a towering wrought-iron gate that initially stood in front of the Vanderbilt Mansion, which was formerly located 47 blocks south.  Assembled in France, the ornate gate was designed by American architect George B. Post and donated to the park by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1939, twelve years after the Vanderbilt Mansion was razed.

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The Conservatory Garden is beautiful at any time of year, as my photos, which were taken on various trips to NYC during various seasons, attest to.

The Conservatory Garden in winter

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On any given day, even during the cold winter months, you will encounter people reading quietly under the shade of the trees, painters replicating the idyllic foliage via watercolor, and students sprawled out on the bucolic lawn, books surrounding them.  Designated an official Central Park Quiet Zone, the Conservatory Garden is one of the most peaceful places in all of New York.

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The Conservatory Garden is featured twice in The Girl on the Train.  It first appears in an early scene in which a distraught Rachel (Emily Blunt) tries to find solace after discovering that the woman she has been watching is having an affair.

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It then pops up again in one of the film’s closing scenes.  Interestingly, the Three Dancing Maidens fountain figures prominently in The Girl on the Train’s theme.   As is explained in the movie’s production notes, “Central Park provided the visual image that [director Tate] Taylor chose to frame the story: a sculpture of three dancing maidens at the Untermeyer Fountain, which graces the Conservatory Garden near 105th Street and Fifth Avenue.  Early in the story, unemployed and drunken Rachel goes to the fountain to kill time.  Later in the film, she returns there sober, with a new appreciation of the artwork’s three joyful females holding hands as they encircle the fountain.  ‘Tate connected with this idea of the three women in the sculpture and the three women in our story,’ says [production designer Kevin] Thompson.  ‘That was the poetry that he saw in that fountain.’”

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While a few websites state that the Conservatory Garden is where John Reese (Jim Caviezel), Lionel Fusco (Kevin Chapman), and Joss Carter (Taraji P. Henson) discuss HR in the Season 2 episode of Person of Interest titled “Bury the Lede,” that information is incorrect.  Though an overhead shot of the park is shown leading up to the scene . . .

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. . . actual filming took place elsewhere.  (Though I am not certain, I believe the scene was shot at Forest Park in Queens, where another portion of the episode was lensed.)

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Being that the Conservatory Garden is easily one of the most picturesque spots on the island of Manhattan, I’m shocked it has not been featured in more productions over the years.

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For more stalking fun, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Los Angeles magazine and Discover Los Angeles.

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Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: The Conservatory Garden, from The Girl on the Train, is located at 5th Avenue and 105th Street in New York’s East Harlem.  The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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