At opposite ends of the Garden are two charming sculptures. The Untermeyer Fountain (Fountain of the Three Dancing Maidens) is one of my favorite New York sculptures: it radiates delight, in a way few sculptures match, and there isn’t any point of view that doesn’t reveal some new, graceful aspect. The other sculpture is the Burnett Fountain, toward the south end of the Garden.
This sculpture – one of my favorites in all of Manhattan- is a hand-me-down from New York’s “Superman of Law”. As a corporate lawyer, Samuel Untermyer was reportedly the first to earn a million-dollar fee. Eventually he moved on to drafting legislation. His legal fingerprints are all over the Federal Reserve Act, the Clayton Anti-Trust Act, and the Federal Trade Commission, as well as the Securities and Exchange Act passed under FDR.
But let’s talk about something less depressing than massive government interference in the economy. In 1899, when Untermyer was in his 40s, he bought a 99-room mansion called Greystone. On its enormous grounds overlooking the Hudson River, a small army of gardeners tended 60 greenhouses, thousands of orchids, and millions of other flowers.
The walled Greek Garden boasted an amphitheater, 4 reflecting pools, a columned overlook, and sphinxes by Paul Manship. The elegant Temple of Love, with hearts in its wrought-iron canopy, hovered over a man-made grotto. A thousand steps descended - past gardens in a rainbow of colors - to a spectacular vista of the river.
One day a week, the fabulous gardens at Greystone were open to the public. On a bright October day in 1939, 30,000 visitors crowded in to see a flower show. A few months later Untermyer died, bequeathing his estate to the City of Yonkers. But given the lingering effects of the Great Depression, Greystone was a luxury Yonkers couldn’t afford. The house was razed. The gardens were left to go to seed, then sold off piecemeal. The fountain danced its way south, to be installed in the newly completed Conservatory Garden in Central Park. (For more on the Conservatory Garden, see Burnett.)