Grand Army Plaza
Grand Army Plaza is also the name of a plaza at the intersection of 59th Street and 5th Avenue in front of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, and opposite the southeastermost corner of Central Park. Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, New York is an 11-acre (4.4 hectare) oval plaza that forms the main entrance to Prospect Park. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1867. It consists of concentric rings arranged as streets, with the outer ring being named Plaza Street. The inner ring was originally intended to be a circle, but it actually was arranged as a main street ”“ Flatbush Avenue ”“ with eight radial roads connecting: Vanderbilt Avenue; Butler Place; Saint John’s Place (twice); Lincoln Place; Eastern Parkway; Prospect Park West; Union Street; and Berkeley Place. As completed, the only streets that penetrate to the inner ring are Flatbush Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Park West, Eastern Parkway, and Union Street. Originally known as Prospect Park Plaza, but renamed in 1926, it is perhaps best known for the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch, Brooklyn’s version of the Arc de Triomphe. It is also the site of the Bailey Fountain and a monument to John F. Kennedy, as well as statues of Civil War generals Gouverneur Kemble Warren and Henry Warner Slocum, along with busts of notable Brooklyn citizens Alexander J.C. Skene and Henry W. Maxwell.

The Arch
Prospect Park Plaza (as it was originally known) was conceived by its designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, simply as a grand entrance to the Park. It was meant as a gateway, to separate the noisy city from the calm nature of the Park. Olmsted and Vaux's design included only a single-spout fountain surrounded by berms (earth embankments) covered in heavy plantings. They still shield the local apartment buildings and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library from the noisy traffic circle that has developed. On August 6, 1889, a blind jury of two experts, appointed by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission, selected the design of John H. Duncan from a field of thirty six entries that had been submitted the previous year. Duncan, who designed Grants Tomb in the following decade, proposed a free-standing memorial arch of a classical style similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. After two and a half months of site preparation, William Tecumseh Sherman laid the cornerstone of the arch on October 10, 1889. After almost three years of construction, President Grover Cleveland presided over the unveiling on October 21, 1892. Inside the arch and on facing walls are equestrian relief sculptures of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. William Rudolf O'Donovan (1844”“1920) sculpted both men and Thomas Eakins (1844”“1916) did the two horses. The Arch gained its monumental statues nine years later. They were first suggested by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White as part of a plan to formalize the plaza in the spirit of the City Beautiful movement. Park Commissioner Frank Squire liked the proposal and in 1894 engaged Frederick MacMonnies to design three sculptural groupings for the Arch, the Quadriga, The Spirit of the Army, and The Spirit of the Navy. The Quadriga resides at the top and depicts the lady Columbia, an allegorical representation of the United States, riding in a chariot drawn by two horses. Two winged Victory figures, each leading a horse, trumpet Columbia's arrival. The lower pedestals facing the park hold the Spirit of the Army group and the Spirit of the Navy group. Installation of the groups began four years later, starting with the Quadriga on December 4, 1898, and finishing with the Navy group on April 13, 1901. The work took nearly seven years to complete, about twice as long as the construction of the arch itself. The arch is 80 feet high (23 m) and 80 feet wide with an interior arch height of 50 feet (15 m).

Notable surrounding buildings
The Brooklyn Public Library's Central Library is located on the southeast corner of the plaza. When the library was built, it was hoped that a new station on the BMT Brighton Line could be built almost directly under the building, but the $1 to 3 million cost was too much. The closest BMT (B & Q) station is Seventh Avenue, several blocks northwest of the plaza, while the closest IRT subway (2, 3) station is the Grand Army Plaza station directly adjacent. Other notable buildings surrounding the plaza include On Prospect Park by Richard Meier, 47 Plaza Street West and the Union Temple.

Plaza fountains
Just north of the arch, and away from Prospect Park, stands Bailey Fountain, the fourth fountain to occupy the site. Three other fountains occupied the site in the latter decades of the nineteenth and early decades of the 20th century.

Calvert Vaux's Plaza Fountain
The original 1867 fountain, called "The Fountain of the Golden Spray" and featuring a lone jet of water, was replaced in 1873 by Calvert Vaux's Plaza Fountain. Vaux's Plaza Fountain was a two-tier, double-domed, circular structure constructed from cast iron and molded sections of Beton Coignet. Vaux placed gaslights in the 37.2 foot (11.4 m) diameter dome, each visible through one of 24 colored glass windows for evening illumination. Additional gaslights mounted in the guardrail illuminated the surface of the pool. With such abundant gas lighting and a flow rate of 60,000 gallons an hour, Brooklynites were enthralled with the fountain. It became the plaza's focal point, though Brooklyn Mayor John W. Hunter criticized the fountain's extravagant use of water.

F. W. Darlington's Electric Fountain
Vaux's fountain did not age well; by the 1890s it leaked and was frequently dry. In its place, rose Fredric W. Darlington's Electric Fountain, a multi-colored electrically lit fountain that was greeted with some wonder in an era when electricity was still in its infancy. Park Commissioner Frank Squire had originally planned to replace Vaux's Plaza Fountain with an unobtrusive, single-spout affair that would not obstruct a view of the arch from Flatbush and Vanderbilt avenue approaches. However, Darlington's detailed plans, presented in May 1897, and quick responses to questions from Brooklyn Bridge chief engineer C. C, Martin swayed the Park Commission to invest in the electric fountain. Darlington's design called for a flow rate of 100,000 gallons an hour, but, using a circular pump, it would make few demands on the capacity of the nearby Mount Prospect Reservoir. It featured nineteen 6,000 candlepower electric arc lights, wired in three series circuits, with each circuit controlled by its own dimming rheostat. Each arc lamp could be remotely focussed in narrow and intense, or soft and wide beams. These were housed beneath the water's surface in an underground chamber and projected through a thick glass ceiling into the water jets above. The arc lamps were laid out in concentric rings around a central light and spout. The hydraulics consisted of over 2,000 separate jets, also below the surface. Many were situated in rings around the electric lamps and had various kinds of nozzles for different effects. A lighting conductor could impart distinct colors to each of the nineteen lamps through rotating wheels of colored gels. A second hydraulic conductor managed the fountain's spouts. Both operated from an underground control room located just off the south end of the basin, near the arch. The operators could view their efforts through three closely spaced windows set in the basin wall just above the water's surface. The fountain was situated in a 120-foot-diameter (37 m) basin. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted placed the fountain at the intersection of two broad paths, arranged as a Georgian cross, with grassy, treeless plots situated at the quadrants. Attendance on opening night, 1897-08-07 was around 100,000 people, and regularly scheduled performance on Wednesdays and Saturdays generally drew 20,000 to 30,000 spectators. In an era when most homes were still gaslit, the shifting colors and ever-changing spouts of the electric fountain invoked a sense of awe and wonder that is hard to grasp today.

The Bailey Fountain
The Electric Fountain's career was brief ”“ a mere eighteen years. It was removed during the 1915 construction of the IRT subway under the Plaza and was not restored; the subway tunnel left no room for the infrastructure which the electric fountain required. For over a decade, no fountain occupied the Plaza; it remained a grassy, treeless oval. The Bailey Fountain is approaching seventy five years old and the fourth and longest-lasting plaza fountain. It was built in 1932 by architect Edgerton Swarthout and sculptor Eugene Francis Savage (1883”“1978). Named after Brooklyn-based financier and philanthropist Frank Bailey (1865”“1953), he funded it as a memorial to his wife Mary Louise. It features an elaborate grouping of allegorical and mythical figures that includes the god of water Neptune and a pair of nudes, one male, one female, representing Wisdom and Felicity. It is a frequent backdrop for Wedding photography. The Bailey Fountain was renovated in 2005 and 2006 by the Prospect Park Alliance.

Current use
The Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument received landmark designation in 1973; in 1975, all of Grand Army Plaza became a New York City historic landmark. In 1976 the Lady Columbia figure on the Quadriga fell out of its chariot, underscoring the need for restoration of the then seventy-eight year old installation. The Arch was restored in 1980 and again in 2000. The interior of the Arch is usually closed to visitors, but is sometimes opened for art shows and performances held inside. Only the eastern end is ever open to the public, with a staircase leading to a platform at the top by the Quadriga. The symmetrical western end, with its degraded stairway, is only used for storage. The area around the Arch forms the largest and busiest traffic circle in Brooklyn, being the convergence of Flatbush Avenue, Vanderbilt Avenue, Eastern Parkway, Prospect Park West, and Union Street. In decades past, the circle hosted Brooklyn's "Death-O-Meter", a sign admonishing drivers to "Slow Up" and displaying a continually updated tally of traffic accident deaths in the borough. For the past several years a popular green market/farmers market is held on the plaza in front of Prospect Park every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.. The Grand Army Plaza subway station is on the north end of the Plaza and furnishes transportation to the site and the nearby park.

Developments and future
In 2008 a competition was held for designs to reorganize Grand Army Plaza to make it a more integral part of Prospect Park and more accessible to pedestrians. At the same time the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) made improvements in accessibility, putting sidewalks and planters in many of the striped areas in the photo above. These improvements made it somewhat easier and safer for pedestrians and cyclists to cross from the park to the library and to the plaza. The changes made by the NYC DOT were modest in comparison to those in the designs in the competition, most of which called for the rerouting of some of the vast traffic flow.


11 photos

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings removed 3 media and updated 29 media
    about 6 years ago via
  • updated a digital reference
    about 6 years ago via Annotator