Grand Army Plaza Arch Picture

This description is from: Grand Army Plaza History
Prospect Park designers Olmsted and Vaux conceived the Grand Army Plaza as a grand, sweeping introduction to the Park, separating the active urban landscape from the expansive beauty of the Park's interior. The first section of the Park to be completed, in 1867 the Plaza featured little more than a simple fountain surrounded by Olmsted and Vaux's distinctive berms (banks of earth used as a barrier) with dense plantings. But two years later, John H. Duncan, the designer of Grant's Tomb in Manhattan, was commissioned to add grandeur to the Plaza, in the style of dramatic European plazas like the Parisian Etoile where the Arc de Triomphe is located. The plan was somewhat at odds with Olmsted and Vaux's original vision, however it was soon after the Union emerged victorious from the Civil War, and Brooklyn mayor Seth Low wanted to build a fitting tribute to the Union's war heroes. The construction of the memorial arch, created by John Duncan in 1889, took on national importance; Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman laid the first stone and President Grover Cleveland presided over its unveiling ceremony on October 21, 1892.

In 1896, sculptor Frederick MacMonnies was chosen to adorn the Arch with sculptures depicting heroic Civil War battle scenes attended by Greco-Roman mythological figures. The first was installed in 40 separate pieces towering over seven stories above the plaza. Known as the Quadriga, the piece includes the lady Columbia, an allegorical representation of the United States, riding in a chariot accompanied by horses and two winged Victory figures trumpeting her arrival. The other two groupings were installed upon each pedestal of the Arch; the left one was entitled The Spirit of the Army, the right entitled The Spirit of the Navy. Both depict frenzied scenes of soldiers amid unwavering officers charging through the chaos.

Other artists contributed works of sculpture to Grand Army Plaza, including bronze relief panels of President Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant astride their horses. The human figures were cast by William O'Donovan and the horses by Thomas Eakins in 1895. Throughout the century, other historical statues and busts were erected at different points in the plaza.

Just north of the Arch stands Bailey Fountain, the fourth fountain to occupy this prominent site. The original fountain, featuring a rather unimpressive lone jet of water, was replaced in 1873 by Calvert Vaux's Plaza Fountain. Although more appropriate than the first, with its gas-lit colored horizontal and vertical water jets, the next version of aquatic art far surpassed its predecessors. The Electric Fountain, designed by electrical engineer F.W. Darlington in 1897, featured 19 automatic focusing lights powered by the then modern marvel of electricity and a dancing display of water jets controlled by a conductor. Unfortunately, the Electric Fountain was removed during the 1915 construction of the IRT subway under the Plaza.

In 1926, the Plaza received its current name to honor the 60th anniversary of the Union victory in the Civil War. The Bailey Fountain, which currently stands in Grand Army Plaza, was built in 1932 by architect Edgerton Swarthout and sculptor Eugene Savage. The Fountain's construction was funded by Brooklyn-based financier and philanthropist Frank Bailey (1865-1953), who wanted to build a memorial to his wife Mary Louise. It features an elaborate grouping of allegorical and mythical figures, including Neptune, god of water, and a pair of female nudes representing Wisdom and Felicity.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument received landmark designation in 1973; in 1975, all of Grand Army Plaza became a National Historic Landmark.
Continue Reading: Neptune