The Empire State
Building is framed by
The Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Arch
Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, New York
|From Prospect Park's Mirador, Brooklyn (Jan 2008)
|The Empire State Building (1931) bisects the Arch (1892) in Grand Army Plaza (1867) Brooklyn
This view from Prospect Park should be protected as a National Art Treasure or as a continuing 150-year
work-in-progress historic visual corridor.
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.”
In June 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.
Fountain, unveiled in 1932, faced the Tower.
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.
Similar 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.
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
The purpose of the following pages is to support the protection
of this unique and beautiful view of the alignment of three of New York City's most notable landmarks.
Today's view has evolved atop the original framework planned by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead. In
creating Brooklyn's Civil War Memorial, Vaux and Olmsted not only honored the Union victory, but targeted the Manhattan
clubhouse of their political and philosophical opponents and condemned these enemies of Abraham Lincoln. 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 and should be protected
as either an 'Historic Visual Corridor' or a 'National Art Treasure.' Please, if you find the following information
relevant please sign the petition to preseve this continuing gift from our greatest artists.
“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.
Calvert 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 – 5: 324)
“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 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
…Your 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 –
“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). 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
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.
The 1869 alignment of the Lincoln statue along the axis of Grand Army Plaza and the
site of the future Empire State Building is the same line aligning the Mirador, Arch and Tower.
April 2011 - The Lincoln statue is returning to the Plaza.
As its original location is occupied
by a bust of JFK, and the area north of the site
now traversed by multiple lanes of roadway no longer presenting a meeting ground,
the statue should be placed
between the Arch and Bailey Fountain, facing north,
along the Plaza's axis, overlooking
the fountain's large open-air public gathering area.
After 115 years of neglect, the Lincoln statue should not be hidden in yet another
remote corner and face south, across six lanes of traffic, looking at "his" Plaza .
From the large public area surrounding the Bailey
you would see, atop the steps, Lincoln silhouetted before Defenders Arch.
Grand Army Plaza has been transformed into THE Civil War Memorial .
Political speeches. After dinner strolls.
Decoration Day ceremonies.
From the JFK Memorial, you see Lincoln through the fountain mist..
From Prospect Park, looking north through the Arch,
you see Lincoln confronting the Empire State Building.
and conforms to the 1865 reasons Vaux, Olmsted and Stranahan
planned 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
General Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson - three Presidents
who joined Lincoln and Grant in the struggle for Civil Liberties
ceremonies should conclude with
Howard Payne's "Home Sweet Home" (twice).
Imagine the brightly lit Tower through the
illuminated Arch at Night.
|Night View - Wisdom and Felicity at the Mirador
|Through the Arch, the Tower floats above the Fountain
Unfortunately, the glare from one street
light blots the view.
|Grand Army Plaza Feb 1, 2009
|Fountain View Blocked by Signs
The light pole that supports
the glaring light is set directly in the middle of the very narrow and obliquly angled only crosswalk between the park
entrance and Plaza.
traffic signs block the street level view of the the Plaza, Arch and Bailey Fountain while hindering access to the
already blocked crosswalk to the Plaza.
Physical and visual blockades discourage passage to the Plaza.
The signs, poles and glaring light should be repositioned.
should be widened and squared to the Plaza's axis.
|February 1, 2009 - Bailey Fountain
|Wisdom and Felicity
Felicity and Wisdom, atop Bailey
Fountain, are also bisected by the Tower.
State Building was completed in 1931.
In 1932, Bailey
Fountain was unveiled.
1869 statue of Lincoln should return to the Plaza
|1869 Statue of Lincoln
|H.K.Brown - Sculptor
|The 1867 Fountain of the Golden Spray
|Feb 2009 - See the back of the Lincoln Statue facing Rink
Link - June 20 1867 Brooklyn Eagle reports on Plaza's progress.
October 19 1867 the
Plaza opened, a simple jet of water planned as its centerpiece.
October 21 1869 the Lincoln Statue is unveiled at the northern end of the Plaza's axis.
"Shall be Forever Free"
Today the two original elements face the skating rink south of the
In 1873, the Vaux Fountain replaced
the simple fountain.
In 1892, Soldiers' and Sailors'
Memorial Arch was dedicated
|The alignment between 1892 and 1895
|Arch 1892, Vaux Fountain 1873, Lincoln Statue 1869
In 1895 the Lincoln Statue was turned around and moved into the
In 1896 the Supreme Court ruled racial segregation
The location of Lincoln Statue in Grand Army Plaza has significance.
'The park is a single work of art framed upon a single, noble
motive to which the design of all its parts shall be confluent' Olmsted
Link - Feb 4 2009 -BrooklynPaper reports Lincoln Statue to return
|April 2008 - Sullivan Hill
In 1823 Payne wrote the words to 'Home Sweet Home' ("There's
no place like home") while sharing a Paris apartment with Washington Irving.
In 1842 President Tyler appointed Irving Ambassador to Spain, Payne Consul to Tunis.
In 1862 'Home Sweet Home' was sung at the White House as
the Lincolns mourned the loss of their 11 year old son Willie.
Looking for the John Howard Payne Monument on Sullivan Hill, as a southern extention of the axis into
the park, I found only the grave of a family feline "Tyler".
Bibliography - Quotes
The Complete Illustrated Guidebook
Park and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Berenson and deMause q917.4723B
...pg 43 - "...times change and
Prospect Park Handbook
974.723 L241P...pg 99 - "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, IN SOME MORE OR LESS SUBTLE WAY, SHALL BE CONFLUENT
FLO – A Biography of Frederick Law Olmsted
...pg 280 - 'It [The Nation Magazine] should advocate measures and tendencies that
...educate Americans slowly from the brutal cconditions of pioneers.
...pg 282 - Olmsted regarded himself less as an artist than...an
educator of hearts
whose function was
to civilize men... and to raise the general level of
American society by exerting a beneficent influence on environment and by
modifying unfavorable surroundings through art.
The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted
David Schuyler and Jane Turner Censer
wrote Bigelow 02/09/1861: “Belmont
and Fields have both been doing all the harm they could from the adoption of the plan. They
have thrown every possible obstruction in the way of business and this with direct and avowed intention.”
(James C. Fields was
the sole vote opposing Olmsted’s 1857 appointment )
America’s First Millionaire
John Jacob Astor
B Astor M
Gotham at War
– New York City 1860-1865
The Last Mrs Astor
B Astor K
- 'Fifth Avenue - A Very Social History' by Kate Simon.
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 New York City Draft Riots
The Civil War and New York City
The Devils's Own
Civil War Draft Riots and the
Fight to Reconstruct America
Brooklyn Historical Society
New York Historical Society
...Iconography of Manhattan Island
Brooklyn Eagle Archives
Abraham Lincoln Papers
at the Library of Congress
Transcribed and Annotated by the Lincoln Studies Center,
Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois.
(Letter from Olmsted to Preston King,
July 9, 1862)
(Letter from Olmsted to John G. Nicolay, Oct 10, 1862)
The World Almanac
and Book of Facts 2008
of Hugh R King,
Director of "Home, Sweet, Home" Museum,
6/13/2002, on John Howard Payne at East Hampton Library.
"Henry Kirke Brown and the Development of American
Public Sculpture in New York City, 1846–1876” (City University of New York, 2005). Order No. DA3169946.Lemmey,
Cities - Writings on City Lanscapes" Frederick Law Olmsted - Edited by S.B.Sutton
1895 Supreme Court - Income Tax Unconstitutional
Astor's Pine Street Meeting
- Online References
LINK to National Association for Olmsted Parks - Online Reference
A few words about
myself. An artist, I worked since age 18 as a computer programmer until
2003. I connect dots and recognize patterns and know the 'aha'
I had noticed the Empire State Building through the Arch
many years ago. But in January 2008 I realized that the Tower definitely bisected the Arch at a 90 degree
angle and I could not believe this was coincidence, regarless of what local historians told me. Bailey Fountain,
also bisected, was built at the same time as the Tower. And the concrete base in Prospect Park where I came
to this realization was on the line.
Finding no documentation
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 come to my attention, I will revise 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 my efforts come to the attention of accredited and recognized authorities who
may find a deeper revelvance in the works of Vaux and Olmsted. Whatever happens, the view is great and
it should be preserved. Richard F Kessler.
Link - Why Vaux and Olmsted planned this line of vision --->