Bethesda Terrace

Bethesda Terrace

Bethesda Terrace reliefs

Jacob Wrey Mould

This is an excerpt from a forthcoming, heavily illustrated Guides Who Know app on Central Park. For more on the Terrace, see Bethesda Fountain.

Jacob Wrey Mould (1825-1886) was a bit of a beast. George Templeton Strong, who admired him, called him “ugly and uncouth.” A leading architectural magazine labeled him “brilliant, accomplished, ingenious, erratic.”

But the beast could create beauty. As associate architect for Central Park for a quarter century, he produced colorful, exquisitely detailed designs ranging from bird cages and water fountains to whole buildings. Among the Park’s earliest structures was Mould’s shelter for musicians. An early guidebook said the Music Pavilion, with its star-studded ceiling and bands of bright colors, was “too beautiful to be left outdoors.” His fountain at Cherry Hill – created as an elegant watering trough for horses – is strikingly similar to its big brother at City Hall.

The work most often associated with Mould is the architectural centerpiece of the park: Bethesda Terrace. On the overall design of the Terrace he collaborated with Calvert Vaux. But the fantastically detailed reliefs are very much Mould’s style. So are the brilliant colors of the tiles under the esplanade, which hark back to Mould’s early training with Owen Jones.

Mould also collaborated with Vaux on the stables, which today house the Central Park Police Precinct. In the 1870s he worked with Vaux on the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. The decorative details on their original staircases are probably Mould’s work.

Under Boss Tweed, Mould had a brief but glorious stint as chief architect for Central Park. Next to the Arsenal, he designed a colorful building to house some of the menagerie animals. To replace the other half of Belvedere Castle - deemed too expensive for even Boss Tweed’s budgets - Mould built a brightly colored wooden pavilion. For ladies waiting for the trolley, he created a charming cast-iron shelter. Most memorable of his solo buildings is the Sheepfold, boldly striped and vividly tiled, which most of us know by its later name: Tavern on the Green.