Bethesda Fountain and TerraceNov 16th, 2009 | By Lindsay | Category: Sex and the City Filming Locations
Just around the corner from the Central Park Boathouse Cafe, which I blogged about on Friday, is another New York landmark known as Bethesda Fountain and Terrace. Because the area is one of my favorite places in all of New York, I’ve actually stalked it numerous times during my many trips to the Big Apple, but, for some reason, never thought to blog about it. Which is actually quite ironic being that the fountain has been immortalized in countless movie and television productions over the years. So, with the mindset of ‘it’s better late than never’, today I thought I’d give it a go. The first time I visited Bethesda Fountain and Terrace was back in 2004 during my very first trip to Manhattan. My fiancé and I happened upon the fountain while walking through Central Park and I immediately recognized it from an episode of fave show Sex and the City and just about flipped out. Since that time, I’ve made it a point to visit the area at least once whenever I’m in New York. On a side note – Due to the below freezing temperatures, fountains in Manhattan are turned off during the winter months, which is why Bethesda Fountain is not running in the above photograph which was taken in December of 2004.
Bethesda Fountain, which measures 26 feet tall and 96 feet in diameter and is one of the largest fountains in New York, was the only sculpture that was included in “The Greensward Plan”, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original design blueprint for Central Park. In the plan, the fountain and terrace area were intended as a gathering place for park-dwellers, a picturesque spot for Manhattanites to congregate and socialize.
The statue that flanks the top of the fountain is named “Angel of the Waters” and was designed by Emma Stebbins, sister of Central Park Commissioner Henry G. Stebbins. The statue, which was built in Germany, took over seven years to construct and wasn’t unveiled until 1873, an additional five years after its completion. The idea behind the neoclassical statue was based on “The Pool of Bethesda”, a man-made bath in Jerusalem, which, as legend had it, was often frequented by angels who could cure the ailing. The fountain was built in commemoration of the Croton Aqueduct, Manhattan’s very first fresh water system, which had been completed thirty years prior. The statue’s largest angel measures eight feet tall and holds a lily in one hand symbolizing the purity of New York’s water, while blessing the waters of the fountain with her other hand.
The four cherubs which stand beneath the main angel represent Peace, Purity, Temperance, and Health.
British architect Jacob Wrey Mould designed the two large staircases which flank the terrace, as well as all of the area’s ornamental details, which include wildlife carvings and over 16,000 intricate Minton tiles.
The Terrace and Fountain area quickly became the focal point of Central Park and even boasted an outdoor restaurant at one time. But during the 1970s, Central Park fell into a terrible state of disarray and, sadly, remained that way for over a decade. When my parents checked into the Plaza Hotel during their very first trip to New York back in 1980, the concierge told them in no uncertain terms NOT to enter the Park under any circumstances. Today, Central Park is so incredibly beautiful and picturesque, that it is EXTREMELY hard for me to imagine it ever being a scary place. During that time, Bethesda Fountain became a haven for the homeless and drug addicted of New York and was even given the nickname “Freak Fountain”. It wasn’t until 1980, when the Central Park Conservancy stepped in with their plan to restore the Park to its original grandeur, that things began to change. The Conservancy’s first step was to renovate the fountain, which had actually been left dry for over a decade. A few months after the fountain was restored, the Terrace area was also renovated. Today, Bethesda Terrace is so grand and so tranquil that it’s hard to believe at one time it was one of the most dangerous areas of the park.
Because it is so incredibly picturesque, Bethesda Terrace is one of the most photographed areas of Central Park and has long been a favorite of movie producers. As mentioned above, I first recognized the area from a Season 2 episode of Sex and the City. In that episode, which was entitled “The Freak Show”, Carrie meets a “normal” guy while sitting by the fountain one spring day and, in an unprecedented move, gives him her unlisted phone number.
In Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, Kevin is chased onto Bethesda Terrace by Harry and Marv, aka the “Sticky Bandits”. He just narrowly escapes them by hiding in the trunk of a horse drawn carriage.
Not only does Nate run near the fountain in the Season 1 episode of Gossip Girl entitled “Poison Ivy”,
but in that very same episode the fountain shows up as the spot where Serena and Blair have a much needed heart-to-heart.
The Terrace is also the site of the grand finale of the “That’s How You Know” song and dance number from the movie Enchanted.
In Elf, while Will Ferrell is trying to save Christmas, Santa’s sleigh knocks off the tip of the “Angel of the Waters” statue and almost crash-lands on the Terrace’s top level.
The fountain is also the location of the New York City Junior Science Fair from which Mel Gibson and Rene Russo’s son is kidnapped in the 1996 movie Ransom.
It’s also the spot where George Clooney, Michelle Pfeiffer, and their two children frolic in some puddles while on their way to a soccer game in the movie One Fine Day.
The music video for the They Might Be Giants song “They’ll Need a Crane” was also shot in its entirety at Bethesda Fountain.
The fountain has also been featured in the movies The Producers, The Way We Were, Deconstructing Harry, Sunday in New York, Eyewitness, Stuart Little 2, Hair, Godspell, Everyone Says I Love You, Angels in America, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Tommy Boy, Bullets Over Broadway, It Should Happen to You, It Could Happen to You, Madigan, Green Card, and The Manchurian Candidate, and in episodes of TV’s The Amazing Race, Law and Order, and Lipstick Jungle.
Bethesda Fountain and Terrace is an absolutely beautiful spot and I honestly can’t recommend stalking it enough! It has long been considered “the heart of Central Park” and is definitely a New York must-see!
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: Bethesda Fountain and Terrace are located just off of 72nd Cross Street Drive in Central Park.