Bethesda Terrace overlooks The Lake in New York City's Central Park. It is on two levels, united by two grand staircases and a lesser one that passes under Terrace Drive to provide passage southward to the Elkan Naumburg bandshell and The Mall, of which this is the architectural culmination, the theatrical set-piece at the center of the park.
Bethesda Fountain is the central feature on the lower level of the terrace. The pool is centered by a fountain sculpture designed by Emma Stebbins in 1868 and unveiled in 1873. Stebbins was the first woman to receive a public commission for a major work of art in New York City. The bronze, eight-foot statue depicts a female winged angel touching down upon the top of the fountain, where water spouts and cascades into an upper basin and into the surrounding pool. It was the only statue in the park called for in the original design. Beneath her are four four-foot cherubs representing Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace. Also called the Angel of the Waters, the statue refers to the Gospel of John, Chapter 5 where there is a description of an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda, giving it healing powers. In Central Park the referent is the Croton Aqueduct opened in 1842, providing the city for the first time with a dependable supply of pure water: thus the angel carries a lily in one hand, representing purity, and with the other hand she blesses the water below. The base of the fountain was designed by the architect of all the original built features of Central Park, Calvert Vaux, with sculptural details, as usual, by Jacob Wrey Mould. In Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted's 1858 Greensward Plan, the terrace at the end of the Mall overlooking the naturalistic landscape of the Lake was simply called The Water Terrace, but after the unveiling of the angel, its name was changed to Bethesda Terrace.
The fountain, which had been dry for decades, was restored in its initial campaign, 1980-81, by the Central Park Conservancy as the centerpiece of its plan to renovate Central Park. The Terrace, designed by Vaux with sculptural decoration by Mould, was restored in the following season. Resodding, and fifty new trees, 3,500 shrubs and 3,000 ground cover plants followed in 1986, most of which, having matured into dense blocks, were removed in 2008, to make way for plants native to the United States. The Minton encaustic tiles of the ceiling of the arcade between the flanking stairs were cleaned, restored, completed with additional new tiles and reinstalled in 2007.
Following an illustration in an 1891 book by the Superintendent of Planting in Central Park, Calvert Vaux's assistant and partner, Samuel Parsons, today in summer, the lower basin once again has water liles, lotus and papyrus, grown in removable pots.
New York news: until recently an insalubrious hang-out, a 19th-century arcade in Central Park has been magnificently restored. Louise Nicholson hits the (Minton) tiles.
May 01, 2007; Since its founding in 1980, Central Park Conservancy has spearheaded the ambitious project of restoring once-forlorn Central...