Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Grand Army Plaza

The Soldiers and Sailors Arch
at Grand Army Plaza

Grand Army Plaza is located in Brooklyn, New York at the main entrance to Prospect Park and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. 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 (currently under restoration), and a monument to John F. Kennedy, as well as statues of the Civil War General Gouverneur Kembule Warren, Henry Warner Slocum, Henry Maxwell Tablet and Alexander J.C. Skene.

Prospect Park designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux originally conceived the Grand Army Plaza, (at first called just The Plaza) as a grand, sweeping entrance to the Park, separating the noisy urban landscape from the calming beauty of the Park's interior. 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 that remain today shielding the local apartment buildings from the noisy traffic circle that has developed.

In 1889, John H. Duncan — who was also the designer of Grant's Tomb in Manhattan — designed the Memorial Arch in a classical style similar to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In 1896, Frederick MacMonnies, a well known New York sculptor, finished the three sculptural groupings on the Arch: the quadriga at the top of the arch which depicts 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, and two groups of soldiers known as the Army Group and the Navy Group. The Arch was dedicated in 1892. The architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White formalized the entrance to the Park and transformed the Plaza into a more classical form.

The quadriga
Victory in her chariot

Just north of the Arch, and away from Prospect Park, stands Bailey Fountain, the fourth fountain to occupy the Plaza. The original fountain, featuring a lone jet of water, was replaced in 1873 by Calvert Vaux's Plaza Fountain which had gas-lit colored horizontal and vertical water jets. The Electric Fountain, designed by electrical engineer F.W. Darlington in 1897, featured 19 automatic focusing electric lights with a dancing display of water jets controlled by a conductor. The Electric Fountain was removed during the 1915 construction of the IRT subway under the Plaza.

The Bailey Fountain — currently being renovated — was built in 1932 by architect Edgerton Swarthout and sculptor Eugene Savage. 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 female nudes representing Wisdom and Felicity.

The Green Market, 2003.

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 Victory figure on the quadriga on top of the Arch fell out of its chariot. The Arch was restored in 1980 and again in 2000.

For the past several years a Green Market is held on the Plaza in front of Prospect Park every Saturday from 8 AM to 4 PM. On weekends a free trolley service runs between 12 Noon and 6 PM from Grand Army Plaza with stops at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Boathouse, the Wollman Rink and the Brooklyn Museum of Art.