Having had grandparents in Brooklyn, I had been coming to New York my whole life. But it was only as a newly minted New York City university student, with a first time kind of freedom to explore “The City” as my oyster, that I began discovering Manhattan for myself.
I took notice of it all: the architecture, the parks, the museums, the lions at the entrance to the library, the shops, the various districts (the flower district, the theater district, etc.), South Street Sea Port, The Hudson, Grand Central Station, the skyscrapers, the subway trains, the fountains . . .
One day I noticed a beautiful romantic fountain, and ever since then, whenever I pass one by, it makes me stop and pay attention.
Over the years, as I walked Manhattan more and more, I kept noticing certain fountains. With each of my periods of living in NYC and my many visits here over the years, I kept coming back to certain fountains.
Water has its appeal during the heat of summer. The thought of our warm skin being sprinkled by the refreshing feel of water is so inviting.
Especially in NYC, on some of those windless summer days, where the heat feels like it is melting you away, the thought of even being in the vicinity of water is enough to perk you up. Just the thought of seeing a spray of water can bring life to a sagging summer spirit, not to mention a sweaty body.
For the days when a two-hour ride to a beach or even a swim in the pool is not an option, when you are stuck in the concrete and boiling hot asphalt of the city, the hot air feeling so settled and oppressive, those fountains laced throughout the city sure are a sight for sore eyes.
Beyond this, though, is their beauty, and their sound.
Be it the gently falling sound of trickling water, or the intensity of water jets, it truly does transport you.
By now, I have my personal NYC fountain walk that each summer season I take from time to time.
It truly is such a pleasure.
Nearby where I live are Central Park’s Conservatory Gardens at 105th Street. There is a huge elegant fountain right in the center of a large swath of emerald, manicured gardens. It could be England or anywhere else in Europe, but it’s right here, within a graciously demarcated space in Central Park. Nearby is a charming little fountain, more modest in size, and literary in nature; it’s of Mary and Dickon from The Secret Garden, quaintly standing in a not so secret yet beautiful New York City Garden.
In the nineties, within the park is the Reservoir. It is a large round body of water, bluebird blue, with birds’ wings almost always flying over; a walking path encircling it. At the center of the Reservoir is a geyser-esque jet of water, spraying at its fulcrum, coming to life, shooting up toward the sky. It reminds me of Geneva’s Jet d’Eau. No matter what point you are on of your walk, sometimes it seems smaller and other times it’s as if you can reach out and touch it, but you always see the jet spraying upward, as if moving along right with you.
In the eighties, on the Upper East Side, flanking each side of The Met, are jets that rise and fall, with a crashing sound of water that is all too thrilling to hear.
In the heart of Central Park, off of 72nd Street, is the iconic Bethesda Fountain. Even before you reach the fountain, as you approach the top of the grand terrace overlooking it, its bronze angelic sculpture replete with cherubs comes into view, even before you descend the wide regal steps. The lake beyond the fountain, with rowboats gliding, is the backdrop, and almost always music from a street performer punctuates the air. It’s perfect.
The fountain in front of Lincoln Center is round and low, concentric circles of low jets of water encircled by granite, which is almost like a bench. It’s meant for sitting around the fountain. The proximity is amazing. You are right there. The noise from the water is so loud it is mesmerizing. Hypnotizing. It truly transports you, especially if you are there late at night. It’s dark, the plaza is pretty empty, the fountain framed by the distant arches of the performing arts center.
One night I was there, transported and blissed out, just sitting there doing a little people watching, but mostly the sound of the water jets drowned out all thoughts; it was almost meditative. Then, boom! Suddenly it shut off and the regular sharp street noises came alive again. In a snap, I was back in NYC. It turns out the fountain shuts off at midnight. Be advised.
Columbus Circle is yet another round fountain, but it’s more of a series of thin arcs of water surrounding a monument, so it’s not full-on thick jets of water all at once. More of a graceful arc of thin waterfalls. It’s at the center of a traffic circle, a wrap around fountain, with yellow cabs whizzing by in circles all around you. It’s so New York. There’s a Whole Foods right there, so I’ve sat there with a friend, sipping a drink or munching on a treat, the lit up arcs of water enveloping us. It’s loud and noisy, yet, like all fountains, it gives a sense of an oasis in the middle of the city.
Rockefeller Center is next. But on the way there, right near Radio City Music Hall, you pass another fountain. It’s right in the middle of a busy pedestrian sidewalk, it doesn’t lend itself to the usual mellow feeling a fountain can bring on. It’s a huge square block and its lovely, though.
At Rockefeller Center there’s the famous, golden Prometheus fountain, a wall of water rushing behind it, falling into a pool of water. It’s the center of the rice skating rink in winter, or the summer tea garden in summertime.
And Bryant Park, that charming tall tree-d, Parisienne-esque park, flowers blooming along its wrought iron gates, a carousel right in the heart of midtown Manhattan. In a valley of skyscrapers, you can see the sunset through the mist of the fountain at Bryant Park, as the rainbow mists gives way to the radiance of the sun setting, bathed by the steel shadows from the narrow, tall modern buildings crowding the outskirts of the park.
There are so many more fountains, but these are the ones I often visit on my summer time walks.
On a perfect hot NYC summer night or day, with some time on hand, that’s my New York City Fountain Walk from the upper West Side.
What are the fountains you love in your city?
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