Monday, November 21, 2005

Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

At the entrance to Prospect Park, and I suppose a much more dramatic version of Columbus Circle, Grand Army Plaza is, as the name suggests, grand. However, historians point out that the plaza is grander even than Olmsted and Vaux might have been comfortable with. The triumphal arc, a Civil War Memorial and added some 30 years after the park’s completion. I decided to photograph it in the last few weeks because I realized that no one talks about it, nor does anyone seem to go there. I walk by once a week and this week was the first time I noticed anyone walking by it. Someone was in fact photographing it.
Not surprising I suppose, since the plaza is entirely surrounded by traffic: the plaza itself a kind of fountain entirely surrounded by rushing metal and lights. The prospect must have seemed delicious in 1932 when the version of the fountain we see today, was erected.
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.
Rumour has it that I live on a street that was once a soldier’s footpath and that at the corner was a garrison. Around the other corner there used to be a bar named The Teepee, and on my block once lived the largest Native American population outside of a reservation. The Mohawks who built the skyline took the subway home here, it would seem.

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