Pomona, the young lady swinging her basket of fruit atop the multiple basins of the Pulitzer Fountain, partly owes her prominent location to the World's Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in 1893. (See Columbus in Central Park.) The "White City" was built with the collaboration of America's greatest architects, including Richard Morris Hunt, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and McKim, Mead and White. Frederick Law Olmstead, landscape architect of Central Park, laid out the grounds. Sculptors Augustus Saint Gaudens, Karl Bitter, Frederick MacMonnies and Daniel Chester French contributed their efforts as well.
When the Fair closed, after six months and 20 million visitors, many visitors vividly remembered the thousands of works of art displayed there, the Midway with its exotic exhibits, and that gargantuan new invention the Ferris Wheel. Others recalled the sights, smell and ambience of the Fair. It was clean, well-lit and safe - the opposite of American cities such as New York and Chicago. Think Disney World vs. the South Bronx.
Memories of the White City spurred the City Beautiful Movement, which lasted from the 1890s until World War I. In part it was a drive to improve cities physically – to make them safer, cleaner, more sensibly laid out. But it also aimed to improve the cities' residents morally and intellectually. Many of New York's grandest public buildings date to this era: the New York Public Library at Fifth Ave. and 42nd St., the Customs House at Bowling Green, Pennsylvania Station, Grand Central Station, and the Brooklyn Museum. The sculpture that decorated these buildings, or was erected at the time in Central Park or other public venues, was meant to edify passersby with illustrations of patriotism, good government, technological progress, civic harmony, etc. Wealthy and cultured residents felt that the floods of immigrants (in 1900, 41% or about 850,000 residents of New York City were foreign-born) needed to be shown the values and virtues of American citizens.
Sometimes, though, the statues were not didactic, but simply meant to elevate the minds of passersby by their beauty. Pomona is such a sculpture.
Joseph Pulitzer (4/10/1847-10/29/1911) was the enormously wealthy editor of the sensationalist New York World,which played a large role in the Spanish-American War (1898).
Pulitzer left three bequests guaranteeing that his name and his power would endure.
To Columbia University, he left millions of dollars for a school of journalism – New York’s first.
He left another substantial sum for the Pulitzer Prize.
And he bequeathed $50,000 for a fountain. Not just any fountain: a fountain “as far as possible like those in the Place de la Concorde, Paris, France.” And not just anywhere: “preferably at or near the Plaza entrance at 59th Street” - which had always been the most prestigious entrance to Central Park.
Karl Bitter's other works in New York include Carl Schurz at Morningside Heights, Henry Hudson at Spuyten Duyvil (Bronx), and Franz Sigel (Riverside Dr. at 106th St.). Bitter was a protege of William Morris Hunt: the Hunt Memorial at Fifth Ave. and 70th St. includes a small replica of Hunt's Administration Building for the Columbian Exposition.