More than forty years
ago, a simple lamppost was built on the grassy median of the principal roadway leading into Prospect Park. This lamppost
and its concrete base serve as a 'mirador.' This is the story of the Brooklyn Mirador.
|(A plaza, a watchtower, a window or a balcony with an interesting distant view)
The 3-point alignment which provides the view of the Empire State Building framed within
and bisecting Brooklyn’s Civil War Memorial Arch at a 90-degree angle along the axis of Grand Army Plaza is based on
the framework designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead.
Vaux and Olmsted designed Prospect Park Plaza
before the Civil War ended, aligning the elliptical plaza’s axis with the site of the future Tower, then owned by William
B. Astor, a leading anti-Lincoln Democrat who advocated Constitutional protection of slavery.
In October 1869, the first statue dedicated to Abraham Lincoln was unveiled in
the Plaza on this axis facing the Fifth Avenue Astor mansions. Four months later, Feb. 1870, at Boston’s
Lowell Institute, Olmsted stated that parks should be planned “with constant consideration of exterior objects, some of them quite at a distance and even existing
as yet only in the imagination of the painter.” Vaux and Olmsted predicted that the home
of a wealth-based American aristocracy, the ‘Elite 400,’ was destined to be a site of ‘perpetual prestige.’
For 26 years, the Union victory was celebrated
in front of the Lincoln statue. But political tides had turned in the city and country
In March 1895, Olmsted
wrote that Stanford White, the architect of the new Brooklyn Park Commission, “has been and is trying to establish
the rule of motives that are at war with those that rule in the original laying out of Brooklyn Park… They have struck
down Vaux and are trying their best to kill him in the name of the Lord and of France… It makes me grind my teeth to
see how Vaux is treated.”
1895 (one year before the Supreme Court ruled that states had the Constitutional right to require racial segregation) the
Lincoln statue was removed from his plaza and positioned in Prospect Park’s Concert Grove. Aligned
with the skylight of the 1874 Oriental Pavilion, it now faced Gravesend Bay where, in November, the embattled 70-year old,
4’10” Calvert Vaux would be found drowned. In December, equestrian statues of Grant and Lincoln were quietly installed on the Archway walls, facing North, with
no public ceremony.
In 1898, the Quadriga,
“Triumphal Progress of Columbia,”
was unveiled atop the Civil War Arch – facing South, confronting the the Prospect Park masterpiece. The Waldorf-Astoria had replaced the Astor mansions and now served
as the center of society. Brooklyn was consolidated into New York City.
In 1929, the Waldorf was demolished, making way for the Empire State Building which opened in 1931. Former head of
DuPont and General Motors, John Jakob Raskob, stood a pencil on its end to show his architect the building he wanted.
The alignment was now visible from the middle of the busy Prospect Park entrance roadway.
Bailey Fountain, unveiled in 1932, faced
1965, two years after his assassination, a
memorial to John F Kennedy was unveiled in Grand Army Plaza, facing North, near the spot where the Lincoln
In 1969, a year after Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr were
assassinated, the median on the entrance roadway was planned. A median lamppost marks the perfect
vantage point, the precise spot to stand to see the unobstructed view of the tip of the tower of the Empire State Building
bisecting the 1892 Arch, appearing to touch its keystone.
alignments are not historically unusual.
In 1806, Napoleon planned two triumphal
arches on either side of the Tuileries Palace and aligned with the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and Avenue de la Grande-Armée (the 'Axe Histotrique' of Paris).
The Arc du Carrousel was completed in 1808. Following Napoleon’s exile and defeat at Waterloo,
the deposed monarchy was reinstated. Bosio's Quadriga, “Restoration of the Bourbons,” was placed on top of Napoleon’s Arch. In 1836 the second arch, The Arc de Triomphe, and the Luxor Obelisk
were dedicated. The 1871 Paris Commune‘s burning of the Tuileries Palace provided the unobstructed view of the historic alignment
of the two arches and obelisk. In 1989 IM Pei placed an equestrian statue of Louis XIV adjacent to his Louvre
Pyramid, on the Axe. It is the best vantage point.
Nor was the Plaza’s axis Brooklyn’s first alignment with the future Tower.
In 1836, the cornerstone of Brooklyn’s City Hall was laid on land sold
by the Pierrepont and Remsen families. In 1838, Henry Pierrepont established Green-Wood Cemetery. A straight
line from the tip of the Empire State Building to the dome of Borough Hall, bisects it at a 90-degree angle and extends to
Green-Wood, to the Pierrepont family plot. Thirty years before Olmsted
and Vaux designed the Plaza.
view is the Crown Jewel of the Prospect Park masterpiece.
To protect this view, share it with your neighbors.
12 Brooklyn Artists
Celebrate 150th Anniversary of Grand Army Plaza
Sign Petition - "Save the View"
As viewed from the Brooklyn Mirador,
the Empire State Building is perfectly framed
Civil War Memorial Arch
in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza.
the Keystone of Defenders' Arch and
the Tip of the Empire State Building form
bisects the Arch at a 90-degree angle.
|View from the Brooklyn Mirador in January 2008
|The Empire State Building (1931), Civil War Memorial Arch (1892), Grand Army Plaza (1867)
May 25, 2014 - For new information regarding how Brooklyn's
alignment is closely related to Paris' Axe Historique and the Arc du Carrousel, please scroll to the very end. Thank
Hopefully the following words will convince
you to support the protection of this unique and beautiful distant view, an alignment of three New York City
landmarks. It is a great artwork. This view has evolved atop the framework which was
planned by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead, geniuses and artists. In creating Brooklyn's Civil War Memorial,
Vaux and Olmsted not only honored the Union victory, created a transition from the bustling city to the pastoral park, provided
a large outdoor public gathering area, but denounced the Manhattan clubhouse of their political and philosophical opponents
who sought to create a privileged class in America. Neither the original alignment (planned in 1865) nor the
placement of the Mirador (the perfect vantage point - planned in 1969) was coincidence. Today's alignment is the
result of a continuing 150-year work-in-progress. The 'View from the Brooklyn Mirador' is the Civil War Legacy of Vaux
and Olmslead. Please sign the petition to preseve this inheritance, this 'National
some words from Olmsted and Vaux.
“What artist, so noble…directs the shadows of a picture
so great that Nature shall be employed upon it for generations, before the work he has arranged for her shall realize his
intentions.” Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England - Olmsted 1852
“It is a common error to regard
a park as something to be produced complete in itself, as a picture to be painted on a canvas. It should rather be planned
as one to be done in fresco, with constant consideration of exterior objects, some of them quite at a distance and even existing
as yet only in the imagination of the painter.” – Olmsted, Feb. 1870.
Vaux was hired to design Prospect Park in January 1865, before the Civil
War ended, he contacted his Central Park partner, Frederick Law Olmsted, to join him: 03/12/1865 Olmsted to Vaux (The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted –
have received your letters of 1/9 and 1/10 and map of Brooklyn Park as designed by General Viele. My heart really bounds (if
you don’t mind poetry) to your suggestion that we might work together about it. …I can’t tell you how I
abhor the squabbles with the Central Park Commission and politicians. It was a passion thwarted and my whole life is really
embittered with it very much and I think I shall feel it more as I grow older. I think a good deal how I should like to show
you what I really am and could do with a perfectly free and fair understanding from the start and a moderate degree of freedom
from the necessity of accommodating myself to infernal scoundrels
plans are excellent, you go at once to the essential starting points, and I hope the commissioners are wise enough to comprehend
it.”05/12/1865 Vaux to Olmsted (The Papers
of FLO – 5:362-3)
“We are both supposed to be dead
and buried two years ago [they had resigned from Central Park in 1863]…They [the CPCommissioners] have been living
on what they found in the houses of the murdered men but the day for that ceases and the cloven foot appears.
Now comes our opportunity.…The Brooklyn Park is all our own.
I shall tell them that I intend to ask you to go into it with me…
Our right unquestionably is to control matters from Washington Heights to the other side of Brooklyn…I value these
affairs as opportunities to develop the earnest convictions of my life… It was right that this work should help artists
to take a true position. It has not yet, but it is planned to achieve that result. I want to make a ‘frightful’
example of the Commrs…so that in the end all the dirt we have had to eat may result in something tangible and these
moneyed men may find that artists are their masters. For this, patience is necessary….The country wants artists.”
The excerpted Olmsted quotes below can be read
in full in ‘The Papers of FLO – Volume V.’
555-6 - 06/29/1866 (one year before Prospect Park opened). He speaks of houses near a proposed Berkeley campus. Prospect Park
is considered a loved extension of their home by many Brooklyn families. “It is desirable to be able to look out from
the house itself upon an interesting distant scene…It is not desirable to have such a scene constantly before
one. It should be held only where it can be enjoyed under circumstances favorable to sympathetic contemplation. The
distant scene should be natural and tranquil, but in the details there should be something of human interest…The
view from the window or balcony should... form a symmetrical, harmonious and complete landscape composition.”Before Prospect Park, while still in California, in August 1865 Olmsted expressed his views
on the preservation of the vistas of Yosemite Valley. Apply this to his vision for urban parks. Pages 502-5 – “It
is the main duty of government, if it is not the sole duty of government, to provide means of protection for all
its citizens in the pursuit of happiness against theobstacles, otherwise insurmountable, which the selfishness
of individuals or combinations of individuals is liable to interpose to that pursuit. It is a scientific fact that the
occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character…increases the subsequent capacity for happiness
and the means of securing happiness…It is for itself and at the moment it is enjoyed. The attention is aroused and
the mind occupied without purpose, without a thought or perception to some future end…The enjoyment of scenery employs
the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it, tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it…. Men who are rich enough provide
places of this needed recreation for themselves.” In Olmsted’s time, in Great Britain and Ireland “these
owners with their families number less than one in six thousand of the whole population…. It has always been the conviction
of the governing classes of the old world that it is necessary that the large mass of all human communities should spend their
lives in almost constant labor and that the power of enjoying beauty either of nature or art…is impossible to these
Page 426 – Aug 4, 1865 Letter
to Editor of SF Bulletin on the need for a SF park, Olmsted speaks of Central Park: “It is beyond all question that
the influence of the park is exceedingly favorable to moral as well as physical health, and that it exerts a highly civilizing
effect upon the population of the city. Not only its popularity with all classes, but the degree of propriety, civility,
good order and decorum with which all classes meet and enjoy themselves in it.”
“Preliminary Report to the Commissioners for laying out of a Park in Brooklyn”
in nature is made up of various parts; each part has its individual character and its possible ideal. It is unlikely that accident should group a number of these possible ideals in such a way that not only one or
two but that all should be harmoniously related
one to the other.” – Olmsted, 1866
from the median of the principal entrance into Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Mirador (1970), Soldiers'
and Sailors' Memorial Arch (1892). Bailey Fountain (1932) are precisely aligned
with the Tower (1931). The tip of the Tower, the middle of the Arch and the Mirador form a three-point-alignment
which bisects the Arch at a 90-degree angle. Twenty years before the Arch three other structures had already defined
this line. The Plaza was the first element of Prospect Park completed and opened to the public. The axis
of this elliptical plaza was the essential starting point, the frame on which all future alignments would be based.
"THE PARK THROUGHOUT IS A SINGLE WORK OF ART, AND AS SUCH, SUBJECT TO THE PRIMARY LAW OF EVERY WORK OF ART, NAMELY,THAT IT SHALL BE FRAMED UPON A SINGLE, NOBLE MOTIVE, TO WHICH THE DESIGN OF ALL ITS PARTS…SHALL BE CONFLUENT.” --- Frederick Law Olmsted
Link to Brooklyn Paper Story - November 27, 2012
this 'line of vision' has evolved through the original design of Prospect Park Plaza, the development of the
site of The Empire State Building and the precise placement of the Mirador (the sole vantage point of the alignment).
Frederick Law Olmsted toured the South and Texas in the early
1850s, reporting for the New York Times on life in the 'Cotton Kingdom'. He supervised the building of Central
Park until war broke out, then, as executive secretary of the Sanitary Commission, managed the care of
wounded Union soldiers for President Abraham Lincoln. He co-founded the Union League and Nation magazine before he
designed Prospect Park.
In 1865, as the
Civil War ended, the Brooklyn Park's elliptical entrance plaza was planned so its axis would point at the Fifth
Avenue mansions of the sons of William Backhouse Astor Sr., a
leader of a group of influential Democratic politicians and merchants. This group, weeks after the election of
Lincoln in November 1860, in order to prevent war or secession, held the 'Pine Street Meeting'. They appointed
a committee headed by former President Fillmore that was to assure the South and Jefferson Davis of their support to amend the
Constitution to provide permanent protection for slavery. Their activities may have contributed to the atmosphere which
led to the Draft Riots of July 1863 and continuing strong northern anti-Lincoln sentiment.
The Plaza opened in 1867 with a simple fountain, a lone jet
of water, planned as its centerpiece. Named "The Fountain of the Golden Spray", this was a subtle message
aimed at the enemies of the assassinated President. In 1869, the first statue dedicated to Abraham Lincoln was positioned at the northern end of
the plaza's axis. He holds the Emancipation Proclamation and points to the words 'shall be forever free.'
Facing north, he confronts his enemies. Four months later Olmsted, speaking at the Lowell Institute indicated that
this positioning was intentional: “It is a common error to regard a park as something
to be produced complete in itself, as a picture to be painted on a canvas. It should rather be planned as one to be done in
fresco, with constant consideration of exterior objects, some of them quite at a distance and even existing as yet only in
the imagination of the painter.” – Olmsted, Feb. 1870.
In 1889, when the cornerstone of Duncan's Defenders Arch was laid, Lincoln's words and
the invisible corridor were to have been framed in stone. A simple arch, a simple message.
But political tides had already turned. Rutherford
Hayes was awarded the Presidency by a joint session of Congress in
1877 based on his campaign committee's promise to remove Union troops from the South, ending Reconstruction.
Brooklyn Park's commissioners were replaced in 1882.
In 1883, the Supreme Court reversed the Civil Rights Act of
In 1892 the Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch was completed. Following
Brooklyn's Columbus Day festivities celebrating the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World, Grover Cleveland,
between his terms as President, dedicated the Arch.
In 1895, a year before the
Supreme Court declared racial segregation Constitutional:
Lincoln Statue was turned around, marched into Prospect Park, and abandoned.
(3)...Vaux drowned in Gravesend
Bay in November.
By 1897, the Fifth Avenue Astor mansions had become the original Waldorf-Astoria
In 1898, The Arch was draped
in statuary. Brooklyn became part of New York City.
In 1931, The Empire State Building replaced the Waldorf-Astoria, revealing the visual corridor.
The follwing year, Bailey Fountain was unveiled. Wisdom and Feclicity, the figures atop the the fountain (who are split
by the alignment) appear to be parents leading their child from Prospect Park. Stopping at in the roadway leading into
the park (where the median and Mirador will later be built) they look through the Arch and see the Tower of
the Empire State Building framed within and precisely bisecting the Arch.
In 1954, racial segregation was ruled UNCONSTITUTIONAL. President
Eisnehower signed the Civil Rights Act of 1956.
Lyndon Johnson enacted the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
1965, two years after his assassination, the Brooklyn Memorial to John F. Kennedy was dedicated at the north end of the
Plaza's axis, facing north, at or near the spot where the Lincoln Statue stood.
In 1970, two years after the assassinations of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr and Senator Robert
Kennedy, the original Brooklyn Mirador was completed. It stands directly
on the southern extension of the Plaza's axis, inside Prospect Park.
This provided a vantage point that, eventually, some
observant and obsessive person with nothing particularly better to do, would trip over, wonder at and focus
on. Labor Day afternoon, 2010, while standing at the Plaza, I completed handing out Mirador-rated booklets
and documentation to Carribean Day Parade spectators, I headed to my studio in Gowanus. In the gutter, on
top of some debris from some street dig in front of the studio I found a crudified 1867 nickel. 1867
is the year the Plaza was dedicated.
The Lincoln statue could return
to the plaza. Its original location became the JFK Memorial in 1965. A spot which conforms to
the planners' motives would be along the Plaza's axis facing north, between the Arch and Fountain, overlooking the Fountain
basin area. The Plaza, a Civil War memorial, could be considered a Civil Rights memorial. The bust of JFK, dwarfed by
both the accomplishments of Lincoln and the size of the statue, sholud be joined by busts of General Eisenhower and
Lyndon Johnson - the Presidents, who 100 years after Lincoln and Grant, resumed the struggle. But the Lincoln statue
also has signifigant meaning in its existing Concert Grove alignment,
A glaring street light that blocks the illuminated night view should be hooded
or moved, and two traffic signs which block the only crosswalk from the park entrance should be relocated. This
narrow and obliquely angeled crosswalk should be widened and squared with the Arch
The view from the Prospect Park Mirador should be recognized as a National
Art Treasure - promoted and protected. The view goes through the landmark arch, the landmark plaza, and
to the landmark tower. This is a window view on our democratic rights struggle as a continuing work-in-progress.
Work on the Mirador itself, placed on the southern extension of the plaza's axis,
was begun in the year following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.
Currently, Building Six of Atlantic Yards threatens to eclipse the view.
copyright - brooklynmirador.com - 2009
Found a 1867 Nickle
Feb 4 2009 BrooklynPaper reports Lincoln Statue return --->
April 2011 - The Lincoln statue is returning to the Plaza.
I suggest it
stand between the Arch and Bailey Fountain,
facing north, along
the Plaza's axis, overlooking the fountain.
After 115 years of exile, the Lincoln statue should not be
hidden in yet another remote corner and face south,
across lanes of traffic,
looking at "his" Plaza .
From the large public area surrounding the Bailey Fountain basin,
would see Lincoln silhouetted before
Grand Army Plaza, transformed into THE Civil War Memorial
would draw school field trips, political speakers,
and become a locals' destination for after dinner family strolls.
Perhaps a resumption of Decoration
From the JFK Memorial, Lincoln appears through the fountain mist..
From Prospect Park, looking north through the Arch,
you see Lincoln confronting the Empire State Building.
This respects and conforms to the 1865 motives of Vaux, Olmsted
Their plan was that Lincoln would face north in Brooklyn's Civil War Memorial Plaza.
The JFK Memorial,
dwarfed by the size of the statue, could be enhanced by
busts of General Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson -
who joined Lincoln
and Grant in the struggle for Civil Liberties
Rededication ceremonies should conclude
John Howard Payne's
"Home Sweet Home" (twice).
The alignment began with the placement of
"THE PARK THROUGHOUT IS A SINGLE WORK OF ART...
IT SHALL BE FRAMED UPON
A SINGLE, NOBLE MOTIVE,
WHICH THE DESIGN OF ALL ITS PARTS…SHALL BE CONFLUENT.”
--- Frederick Law Olmsted
This line of vision was planned
before the end of the Civil War.
25 years before the Arch.
65 years before the Empire State Building.
More than 140 years ago.
|North is to your right.
|Detail from map found at Brooklyn Historical Society and Brooklyn Public Library
By 1865 Grand Army Plaza’s shape and location had been determined.
Even before the actual boundaries of Prospect Park
Whether Flatbush Avenue
ran through the center of the Park as planned in 1861,
the eastern boundary of the Brooklyn Park as Vaux proposed in early 1865,
the size, shape and location of the planned Plaza was not affected.
axis line of this elliptical plaza extended north, towards the Fifth Avenue mansions of
William Backhouse Astor's
sons. William Astor Jr.'s 350 Fifth Avenue mansion would become
the center of Manhattan’s elite 400
society, the cream of the 'upper ten thousand.'
25 years pass
In 1892, with Duncan’s Arch
centered on the line,
Olmsted, Vaux and Stranahan succeeded in
framing the message of the Emancipation Proclamation.
In 1931, this work-in-progress revealed itself as
The Empire State Building was built on the site of
the Astor brothers’
Fifth Avenue mansions.
In 1932, Felicity and Wisdom, the figures atop Bailey
sail through the Arch along the axis and see
the Tower as they leave the park.
The photo at the top of this
site is the 'line of vision' as we
see it today, with the Empire State Building above the Fountain, framed by the Arch.
this same 'line-of-vision' was clearly visible between 1892 and 1895.
|Lincoln, Vaux Fountain. Park south of Arch.
|William Lee Younger - Photographer
This early 1890s photo shows the
Plaza's alignment of the
Arch, the Vaux Fountain and the Lincoln statue.
When the Plaza opened on October 19, 1867,
the first element to
anchor the planned 'line of vision'
was to be a simple fountain, a single stream of water.
Months before the opening a reporter on the
Brooklyn Eagle reported on the Plaza's progress.
Link to the June 20, 1867 Brooklyn Eagle progress report
In 1867, the elements along the axis are the planned fountain
and the grounds of the Astors' Fifth Avenue mansions.
The first statue dedicated to the assassinated president Lincoln
unveiled October 21, 1869 at the
northern boundary of the Plaza.
the Emancipation Proclamation, pointing to the words
"shall be forever free".
1869, the elements on the line
are the fountain,
the Lincoln statue,
and the Fifth Avenue mansions.
In 1873 the original fountain was replaced by the above pictured Vaux Fountain. Olmsted
and Vaux completed major involvement in the park and dissolved their partnership.
In 1882, Stranahan (president of the
Brooklyn Park Commission since 1860)
and the entire park
commission were replaced.
to redesign the Plaza in the neo-classical tradition.
Arch was started in 1889 and dedicated October 21, 1892.
The bas-relief figures in the spandrels on the south face of the granite Arch
are 'Victory' and 'Public Order', sculpted by Philip Martiny,
below the inscription "To the Defenders of the Union 1861-1865".
1892, the line runs from the Arch,
through the second
Lincoln statue, to the Fifth Avenue mansions.
In 1895 the Lincoln Statue was
moved into the Park
today's Wollman Rink from the Concert Grove).
His gaze extends through Bath Beach to Gravesend Bay
November 19, Vaux was found drowned inGravesend Bay.
Olmsted retired due to senility during this year.
In 1897, the Vaux Plaza Fountain replaced by Darlington's 'Electric Fountain.
Olmsted was consulted and blessed the fountain's placement.
1898, the Arch was adorned with MacMonnies' quadriga on top
and with his Army (1900) and Navy (1901)
groupings on the sides.
(MacMonnies' statue of
Stranahan was placed inside the park's entrance in 1891.)
The line ran from the Arch through
to the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel at 350 Fifth Avenue, which had
replaced the Astor mansions on Fifth Avenue between
33rd and 34th Streets.
In 1931, the Empire State Building replaced the Waldorf. Started at
the same time,
the fourth fountain, today's Bailey
Fountain, was unveiled in 1932.
The two figures atop
the fountain, Wisdom and Felicity, are
split by the Tower.
In 1965, less than two years following his assassination, Brooklyn’s JFK Memorial
was dedicated at the north end of the Plaza’s axis, where the Lincoln Statue
In 1969, following the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy,
construction of the Brooklyn Mirador began. Positioned
on the southern extension
the Plaza’s axis. This view is intended to remind us of something.
In 1970, the concrete 'balcony', the Brooklyn Mirador,
was completed, providing the perfect view of the alignment,
the continuing work-in-progress that is our democracy.
The Alignment - Google Earth
This lamppost is labeled S1-10. DOT - Dept of Street Lighting
- Dated 11/17/1969 - Job 66-09 - Drawing
BT9061-3 - Contract MJ-12
Replaced by 'M' Type - Date 03/08/2005 - Drawing B61736 - Contract No 84104MBTR646
The 1969 Plan - Medain Map
Backing into Prospect Park, to see if the tip
of the Tower touches the center of the Arch,
I discovered 'The Brooklyn Mirador'.
Stand on the concrete 'balcony'
with your back against this lamp post
though the center of the Arch.
The Empire State Building precisely
and seems to balance the Arch.
(And a badly placed street light).
1930 my grandparents were here with their children to see
the Empire State Building under construction through the Arch.
My grandchildren and I should be able to stand on
our Brooklyn Mirador tonight and see the 'long view'
But the glare of that single street
light blocks the night view.
The three main objectives of this website:
1. Recognize the view from the Mirador as a National Art Treasure.
It should be
promoted and protected.
|The View from the Brooklyn Mirador at Night
|Wisdom and Felicity looking through Duncan's Arch at night
Enable this historic ‘long view’ at night. Remove the glare.
3. Return the Lincoln Statue to Grand Army Plaza.
|Brooklyn sculptor H. K. Brown's statue of Lincoln
|Dedicated October 21, 1869 - Holding the Emancipation Proclamation - "Shall Be Forever Free"
Now the "Why"
Why, in 1865, did
the axis of Grand Army Plaza point to 350 Fifth Avenue?
Why did the Memorial Arch come to frame the world's tallest building?
and Astor were among leaders of opposing political groups throughout the Civil War Era. The Civil
War ended and the elements on the 'line of vision' conveyed a simple message to the defeated. But
amid changing political tides, the plaza's future shifted to others who revised the message.
Do you believe that Vaux, Stranahan and
Olmsted could have been unaware of this
Lincoln was elected in November 1860. On Dec 15, William
Backhouse Astor Sr (1792-1875), son of the John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), to save the Union, protect their investments and
prevent secession or war, held the 'Pine Street Meeting' in New York City with the most influential Democratic politicians
and merchants. They passed resolutions urging added protection for slavery and appointed a committee headed
by former President Fillmore (who had signed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850) to assure the South and Jefferson Davis of
their support to amend the Constitution to provide permanent protection for slavery.
In 1856, William Backouse Astor Jr. (1830-1892) built his mansion at 350 Fifth Avenue
and 34th Street (replacing an 'unused' red brick structure William Sr had built some time after 1827 while the family
continued to reside on Layfayette Place). The mansion of his older brother, John Jacob Astor III (1822-1890), was
built in 1859 on the south half of the block, at 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The two Astor mansions shared a large
backyard. (From the Empire State's first advertisement: "In 1799
John Thompson's 20 acres cost him $2,500. No record exists of the sale of his farm by Thompson. It was sold in
1825 by one Thomas Lawrance to Charles Lawton for $10,000. Lawton and his wife, Sophia, in less than two years,
made a substantial profit. They accepted the sum of $20,500. The buyer was William B. Astor.")
John Jacob Astor III, was a Union General under George McClellan
(the Democratic candidate who opposed Lincoln for re-election in 1864). Earlier he had funded the tugboat 'Yankee'
to reinforce the troops at Fort Sumter. His wife, Augusta, helped raise New York's first black regiment
in 1864. William B. Astor Jr. married Caroline Schermerhorn, his Layfayette Place neighbor, who became the Mrs.
Astor, hostess to the 'Elite 400.'
of the Arch in Grand Army Plaza began 1889, the son of John Jacob Astor III, William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919) razed
the family's mansion on Fifth Avenue and 33rd Street and built the 13-story Waldorf Hotel which opened in 1893.
He moved to England to become the 1st Viscount Astor and is buried in Buckinghamshire. After his mother Caroline
moved uptown, the mansion at 350 Fifth Avenue, was converted to the 17-story Astoria Hotel in 1897 by John Jacob
Astor IV (1864-1912) who died on the Titanic. He was the only son of William Backhouse Astor Jr.
Link to see the original Waldorf-Astoria, Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets
In 1850 Olmsted traveled to Europe to visit public gardens. He published Walks and Talks of an American Farmer in England in 1852.
In 1851, The
New York Times was established as the New York Daily Times. The paper commissioned the 30-year old Olmsted to travel
through the American South and Texas beginning in 1852. His dispatches were also published in book form as 'A Journey
in the Seaboard Slave States' (1856), 'A Journey Through Texas' (1857) and 'A Journey in the Back Country' (1860). These
were reprinted and revised as 'Journeys and Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom of America' in 1861, during the first six
months of the Civil War, helping inform and strengthen antislavery sentiment in New England and Union support in Europe..
From 1857 to mid-1863, Vaux and Olmsted were the architects
of Central Park.
Dec 20, 1860 - South Carolina secedes from the Union.
April 13, 1861 - Fort Sumter surrendered.
From 1861 to 63, he worked for Lincoln as Executive Secretary of the United States Sanitary Commission,
for the relief of suffering among the Union soldiers. In July 1862, Olmsted influenced military policy, urging
enactment of a military conscription act. He proposed the policies of substitution and commutation.
On September 22, Lincoln announced the Emancipation Proclamation. Olmsted suggested the
draft version be publicized in the South by having the passing Union armies post and distribute printed linen handbills.
These would be passed on hand-to-hand, by the curious and motivated to those in distant corners and plantations.
Jan 1, 1863 - The Emancipation Proclamation was issued.
Olmsted co-founded the Union League in Feb 1863. (More on the Union League follows).
March 1863 - Enrollment and Conscription Act
July 1-3 - Lee defeated at Gettysburg. July 4 - Grant's successful Siege of Vicksburg is concluded.
July 13-16 - The NYC Draft Riots. The rioters targeted the offices of the Times
on Park Row, and the Union League, overlooking Union Square, but were repulsed by well-armed defenders. Olmsted lobbied for martial
law and for the hanging of the city's Copperhead political leaders who he held responsible for the rioting. Sept 14 - Olmsted leaves NYC and arrives Oct 14 in Bear Valley, Calif. Oct 1863 through Sept 1865, he managed the Mariposa Company's gold mines
near Yosemite Valley.
Nov 8, 1864, Lincoln is re-elected, defeating
Democrat candidate Gen. McClellan, who had been relieved of his command. March
4 1965 - Lincoln inaugurated. April 9, Lee surrenders. April 14, Lincoln assassinated. May
26, Last rebel troops surrender. Dec 6, Ratification of the 13th Amendment,
In June 1865, Olmsted co-founded the Nation magazine to cultivate Americans.
In December, he returned to New York to work with
Vaux on Prospect Park.
With the disputed electoral election
of Hayes in 1877 and his promised removal of Union troops from the South, Reconstruction was effectively stalled
until the 24th Amendment, barring the poll tax in federal elections, was ratified under Lyndon Johnson, four score and
seven years later. In 1883, Supreme court reversed 1875 Civil Rights Act.
In 1895, Olmsted retired, the Lincoln Statue was abandoned in the Concert Grove and Vaux
was drowned off Gravesend Bay, Brooklyn.
18, 1896 - Landmark Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson holds that racial segregation
is Constitutional, paving the way for the repressive Jim Crow laws in the South.
Link to Olmsted web site
The Union League ... from Wiki
The club dates its founding from Feb. 6, 1863, during the Civil War. Tensions were running high in New York City at the time, as much of the city's
governing class, as well as its large Irish immigrant population, bitterly opposed the war and were eager to reach some kind
of accommodation with the Confederate States of America. Thus, pro-Union men chose to form their own club, with the twin goals of cultivating
"a profound national devotion" and to "strengthen a love and respect for the Union."
The Union League (also known as Loyal Leagues) was actually a political movement before
it became a social organization. Its members raised money both to support the United States Sanitary Commission, the forerunner of the American Red Cross, which cared for the Union wounded following battles, and the Union cause generally.
Why was the axis of Grand Army Plaza pointed at
the Fifth Avenue mansions?
After the military
victory preserved the Union and abolished slavery, a simple message was sent to the leaders of the losing faction in
New York City.
The plaza opened with the
future site of the Fountain of the Golden Spray, a simple single jet of water at its center. The plaza's
axis was aimed at Astor's circle. And two years later, the Lincoln statue confronted them with the Emancipation
Proclamation. Duncan's simple, unadorned Arch, was to frame
this message in stone.
Political tides turned. Lincoln
was banished. The message lost.
'line of vision' retells the story. American history. And the view is great..
A few related questions.
Why did Olmsted,
a Civil War activist, leave NYC two months after the Draft Riots to manage a gold mine? For financial
gain, exile or a safe haven? He was involved in the matters of the Western Sanitary Commission and helped
Lincoln carry California in the 1864 election. He was active in promoting large landscaping projects on the West
Coast - municipal parks, colleges and cemeteries. And active in the preservation of the natural beauties of Yosemite
Valley for the benefit of all.
What role did Olmsted play in
planning the plaza before he returned to NY in December 1865? Was the positioning of the axis Stranahan and Vaux showing
Olmsted he would have a free hand. In the 1866 Report to the Brooklyn Park Commission, a Vaux draft dated Feb 4, 1865 shows
the oval plaza as the principal entrance to the park. Or had Olmsted and Vaux been aware of the potential for such
an alignment even before the Civil War, when there were several Brooklyn sites contending for a major park to compete
with Central Park?
Was there eye-contact between the original
Waldorf Astoria and the top of the Arch? Or was the hotel visible thru the Arch from the park roadway above the
I have found no photos showing the Empire State
Building under construction as viewed thru the Arch. Did the simultaneous construction of Bailey Fountain in the
Plaza obstruct the view?
What else is on the axis? It extends
south beyond the park.
In the Concert Grove, does the line from the
eight-pointed star skylight of the Oriental Pavilion to the Lincoln statue extend to the pier in Gravesend Bay where Vaux
body was found in Nov 1895, months after Lincon was moved?
planned that may block the view? Building 6 of the proposed Atlantic Yards.
I am looking for photos of the Plaza's original fountain 1867-1872 and the Payne Monument.
Unrelated but interesting details
Many sources indicate that in 1803, John Jacob
Astor bought a house at 233 Broadway from NY Senator Rufus King, when William was 10. After the
death of his wife in 1834, John Jacob razed the entire block and built the fabulous Astor House hotel. President-elect
Lincoln spoke there in 1861. In 1913, the Woolworth Building, at 233 Broadway, became the tallest building
in the world (until 1930). Like father, like son? The homes of William's sons, John Jacob Astor III and William
Jr., at 338 and 350 Fifth Avenue became the original Waldorf Astoria by 1897, before becoming the Empire State
Building in 1931, the new 'tallest building in the world'.
the Rufus King house was actually 223 Broadway.
The acknowledged hoax was
that Captain Kidd buried treasure on land that was deeded by Indians to Olmsted’s ancestors in 1699.
Stolen from the Olmsted family’s Deer Isle, Maine property in 1800 by a trapper working for John Jacob Astor, this was the original source
of the Astor fortune. After the Arch was built in 1892 Olmsted, walking on his property, learned
of the treasure, its theft and brought suit against the Astor family for millions. “A Notable Lawsuit” – Franklin H. Head- 1898.
Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted – Volume V” (Schuyler and Censer)
Page 324 - 03/12/1865 Letter from Olmsted to Vaux
“I have received your letters of 1/9 and 1/10 and map of Brooklyn Park as designed by General Viele.
My heart really bounds (if you don’t mind poetry) to your suggestion that we might work together about it…I cant’ tell you how I abhor the squabbles with
the [Central Park] commission and politicians… It was a passion thwarted…I
should like to show you what I really am and could do with a perfectly free and fair understanding from the start and a moderate degree of freedom from the necessity of accommodating
myself to infernal scoundrels….Your plans are excellent, you go at once to the essential starting points, and I hope
the commissioners are wise enough to comprehend it.”
Page 362 - 05/12/1865 Letter from
Vaux to Olmsted [footnote is authors’].“They
have been living on what they found in the houses of the murdered men but the day for that ceases and the cloven foot appear. [The Central Park commission revealed
as devils for using the plans and advice of Olmsted and Vaux, after their 1863 resignations, without credit or pay].”
“The Brooklyn Park is all our own.I shall tell them I intend to ask you to go in to it with me.”
Page 423 - 08/01/1865 Letter from
Olmsted to Vaux“I like what you say of the spirit
and ways of the Brooklyn Park commissioners.”
“The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted – Volume VI” (Schuyler and Censer)
Page 155 is a photograph of the
Plaza with the Lincoln statue, before the Arch.
thirty years later
”FLO – Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted” (Roper)
Page 464 - 03/10/1895 Letter from
Olmsted to William Stiles of “Garden and Forest.”
“White has been and is trying to establish the rule of motives that are at war with those that rule in the original laying out of Brooklyn Park…They have
struck down Vaux and are trying their best to kill
him in the name of the Lord and of France.”
“It makes me grind my teeth to see how Vaux is treated.”
Page 464 – Author Roper quoted.“If Olmsted was harsh toward White, he was also prophetic.
The unobtrusive mode of park architecture he and Vaux had installed on Prospect Park was on its
way out; in its place, for better or worse, the firm of McKim, Mead and White and their like-minded associates fastened on
the park conspicuous classicism and imposing monumentality.”
- Page 76 of 'Fifth Avenue - A Very Social History' by
"On the southwest corner of Thirty-fourth Street and Fifth Avenue, part of
the land that son Wiliam Backhouse had bought in 1827, William built a red brick house which he didn't use - the family stayed
in the colonnaded row of Layfeyette Place - but later willed to his son, the second William Backhouse. William's brother,
John Jacob Astor III, placed his house on the northwest corner of Thirty-third Street and that one was inherited by his son,
William Waldorf Astor. The short block became a busy arena of social competition between branches of the family; the
fiercest and most durable competitor, Mrs. William B. (nee Caroline Schermerhorn), clawed her way to the apex of society as
the Mrs. Astor. But that came later, and later still the conversion of the two Astor houses, 338 and
350 Fifth Avenue joined (some said carefully separated) by a garden, to become the first Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1890."
October 21, 1869, the Lincoln statue is presented at the north end of the Plaza. The New York Times reported
the statue was facing West. Days earlier, Olmsted had written
sculptor Brown: “I am instructed to inform you that the Park
Commission can not allow the Statue of Lincoln to stand in its present position with its face to the west.The objections to
it are of such a character that I am quite sure that when they havebeen explained to you, you will at once acknowledge the
necessity for a change.” Brown, wanting Lincoln’s
face to be presented in the best light possible, wrote he could “see by your design of the plaza that it would be more
in unison with the main idea to have it face to the north, but to do so would sacrifi ce the Statue to its position.”
These quotes are from "Henry Kirke Brown and the Developement of American Public
Sculpture in New York City, 1846-1876," the Dissertation of Karen Yvonne Lemmey (2005), page 266.
the Line extend South, into the Park?
1871 the bust of Washington Irving (1783-1859) was installed in the park
facing the Concert Grove. He was a pallbearer and executor of John Jacob Astor's will
in 1848, and biographer of Astor's Oregon fur trading
business. In 1857, his endorsement made Olmsted superintendant of Central
In 1873 a bust of actor John Howard Payne
(1791-1851) was placed on Sullivan Hill by the Faust Club. It should be across the Long Meadow
from the Picnic House today. I believe that
this bust would be at the Southern end of the line - the mansion, Lincoln
statue, fountain, and this bust. This Spring, when
I went to Sullivan Hill to find Payne, all that was there
was a wooden cross, "Tyler, beloved feline, June 2000 - April 2008". The bust
is on loan to the 'Home Sweet Home' Museum in East Hampton,
NY following an attempted 1973 vandalization.
In 1823, Washington Irving and
John Howard Payne shared an apartment in Paris after Payne
was released from debtors prison in London. Payne wrote the lyrics "There's no Place Like Home" for
the operetta 'Clari - Maid of Milan' which opened in
London in 1823.
In the 1830s, Payne was jailed by the
Georgia militia for passionately defending the rights of the Cherokee, against removal
from their Native American lands. His multi-volume works documented
the Cherokee's society and history. He believed the Cherokees
to be one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Isreal.
1842, President Tyler appointed Irving Ambassador to Spain and Payne consul
to Tunis. Polk's administration recalled them. President Fillmore reposted
Payne to Tunis 1850, where he died.
In 1862 soprano Adelina Patti sang Payne's
'Home Sweet Home' at the White House as the
Lincolns mourned the death of their 11 year old son Willie. A tearful Lincoln
requested an encore. The song was a Civil War standard. Patti played the role of
Margueritte in Faust in 1875.
John C Fremont
General John Charles Fremont, commander of the Western Division, imposed martial law in Missouri,
August 20, 1861, confiscating suspected secessionists' private property and emancipating their slaves.
Fremont refused Lincoln's request to rescind the unauthorized and premature order and was relieved of command on
November 2. In March 1862, he was placed in command of the Mountain Department of Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Fremont, the 'Great Pathfinder', had
been the Republican's first Presidential candidate, in 1856, running on an anti-slavery platform.
He and American (Know Nothing) Party candidate Fillmore lost to Federalist Buchanan. Lincoln had made 50 speeches supporting
The Mariposa Estate, near Yosemite, was purchased by
Fremont in 1847. He sold it to the Mariposa Company in June 1863. This was the gold mining interest that
Paris - Arc
du Carrousel and the Axe Historique
The 1808 Arc du Carrousel, begun in 1806, was built to celebrate Napoleon’s
victories. Napoleon placed the 'Horses of Saint Mark' (which he had removed from the basilica in Venice in 1797) atop his
Arch. Following his defeat at Waterloo, the allies re-instated the Monarchy which was deposed by the
1789 French Revolution. The 'Horses of St.Mark' were returned to Venice and, in 1828, the Arc du Carrousel was
crowned by Bosio’s Quadriga, “The Restoration of the Bourbons.” The Quadriga refuted
the French Revolution and the achievements commemorated by the arch on which it stands.
aligned with the Arc du Carrousel along the Axe Historique, you see the Luxor Obelisk and the Arc de Triomphe.
The obelisk was a gift from Egyptian viceroy Mehemet Ali to King Charles X in 1833. Charles abdicated and
the Obelisk was unveiled by King Louis Philippe in 1836, the same year that the Arc de Triomphe (also begun in 1806 by Napoleon)
was finally completed.
The view of this alignment was not possible until 1871, when the Paris Commune burned down the Tuillieres
From the proper elevation,
I believe that the tip of the Luxor Obelisk will appear to touch both the keystone of the Arc du Carrousel and the keystone
of the Arc de Triomphe (and perhaps the arch at La Defense). The Louvre's Glass Pyramid in the Cour
Napoleon does not lie along the Axe Historique. But the Pyramid's architect, I. M. Pei, requested a
statue of Louis XIV, as 'Alexander the Great,' be
placed adjacent to the Pyramid and in the direct path of the Historical axis. I wonder if this achieves the proper perspective.
a single vantage point, the tip of the tower of the Empire State Building bisects the Civil War Memorial Arch in Brooklyn’s
Grand Army Plaza at a 90-degree angle. The tower appears to touch the arch’s keystone.
Calvert Vaux and Landscape Architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the elliptical Plaza in 1865, with its axis pointing North,
to the site where the Tower would rise 65 years later. In 1869, the first statue dedicated to Abraham Lincoln
stood on this axis, facing North, towards that site, twenty years before the Arch. Four months later,
“It is a common error to regard a park as something to be produced
complete in itself, as a picture to be painted on a canvas. It should rather be planned as one to be done in fresco, with
constant consideration of exterior objects, some of them quite at a distance and even existing as yet only in the imagination
of the painter.”
For 26 years, ceremonies celebrating the Union victory were
held in front of the Lincoln statue. On March 10, 1895, Olmsted wrote that the architect hired by the new
Commissioners of Prospect Park
“has been and is trying to establish the rule of motives that are at war
with those that rule in the original laying out of Brooklyn Park…They have struck down Vaux and are trying their best
to kill him in the name of the Lord and of France…It makes me grind my teeth to see how Vaux is treated.”
On Decoration Day, Union Army veterans marched from the Henry Ward Beecher statue at
city hall to Prospect Park Plaza. Orator Rev. Henry A. Powell confronted the enemies of the Grand Army.
wonder these men, on approaching the statue of Lincoln, do not tremble lest the bronze lips open and denounce them.”
Days later, the Lincoln statue was removed from the Plaza, a year before the
Supreme Court ruled racial segregation Constitutional, ‘separate but equal.’ Moved into Prospect
Park and aligned with the Concert Grove Pavilion, the statue now faced Gravesend Bay where, on November 19, 1895, the embattled
70-year old, 4’10” Calvert Vaux was found drowned. In 1898, the Civil War Arch was crowned
with MacMonnies’ (an American ex-patriot working in his Paris studio) Quadriga facing South.
1928, John Jacob Raskob, head of DuPont and GM, became chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Al Smith ran for
President. They lost and formed the Empire State Corporation. Raskob stood a pencil
on its end to show his architect, William Lamb, the building he wanted. (Looks like an obelisk to me). The
Empire State Building opened in 1931 as Bailey Fountain was unveiled in the Plaza. Felicity marvels at
the Tower, but Wisdom seems skeptical. After fellow Democrat Roosevelt became President in 1932, Raskob and Smith joined
the American Liberty League, which opposed FDR's 'New Deal.'
The alignment was now visible, but only from the middle of the busy roadway leading into Prospect
In 1965, two years after his assassination,
a memorial to President John F Kennedy was unveiled in Grand Army Plaza, facing North, on the spot where the Lincoln statue
was removed 70 years earlier. In 1969, the year after his brother Senator Robert Kennedy and Reverend Martin
Luther King Jr. were assassinated, a median on the Prospect Park entrance roadway and a lamppost were planned, providing a
safe vantage to view the alignment.
The Quadriga atop the Civil War Arch in Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza, was installed
two years after the first statue dedicated to Abraham Lincoln was removed from the plaza and the United States Supreme Court
ruled it Constitutional for states to require racial segregation.
The Quadriga refuted the Civil War and the achievements commemorated by the arch on which
it stands. 'Jim Crow' would officially replace emancipation as the law of the land for the next 60 years.
one more item:
cornerstone and foundation of Brooklyn’s city hall were laid in 1836 (the same year the Arc de Triomphe and Obelisk
were dedicated in Paris and thirty years before Vaux designed the Plaza) on land donated by the Pierrepont
and Remsen families. During the Panic of 1837, Henry Pierrepont bought Dutch farmers’ land and in 1838 established Green-Wood
Cemetery. A line drawn from the Empire State Building to the dome
of Boro Hall extends to Green-Wood’s Section 68 (the family plot of Hezekiah Beers and Anna Maria Constable Pierrepont,
Henry’s parents) and on to the Crescent Water. Anna’s family was New York State’s largest landowner.
She and Hezekiah received 500,000 acres as a wedding present from her father who, in 1797, had commissioned the
best known Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington. Hezekiah’s grandfather was of a founder
of Yale University.
LINK - Express version - Sources, Plaza Fixes
A few words about myself. An
artist, I have earned my living since age 18 as a computer programmer, systems analyst and security
administrator until 2003. I connect dots and recognize patterns
and know the 'aha' moment.
I had noticed the Empire State Building
through the Arch many years ago. But in January 2008 I realized that the Tower, Arch and Mirador completed a precise
three-point-alignment which definitely bisected the Arch at a 90 degree angle. I could not accaept that this was coincidence,
regarless of what local historians and park officials thought. Bailey Fountain, also bisected, was built at the same
time as the Tower. And even the concrete base in Prospect Park, where I came to this realization had
a relevant association to the alignment.
Finding no documentation,
written or pictorial, of this alignment I spent 2008 putting pieces together while making art at the Brooklyn
Artists Gym near Gowanus Canal. As new facts or my errors came to my attention, I revised my related web sites
and books already in print. I consider everything to be works-in-progress. I
think there is important history here, and hope the results of my efforts come to the attention of accredited
and recognized authorities who may find a deeper meaning in the works of Vaux and Olmsted. Whatever happens, the
view is great and it should be preserved for our children. Richard F Kessler.
Another link to my artwork.