Since first setting eyes on the Three Maidens Dancing a.k.a. Untermyer Fountain, in the Conservatory Gardens in Central Park, I’ve wanted to visit philanthropist and famed lawyer Samuel Untermyer’s Gilded Age garden in Yonkers. Untermyer, a Jewish-American and Zionist and his wife, Minnie, were intent upon creating a diverse garden on their Greystone estate along the Hudson River. What a garden it was – with allusions to the gardens of India, Persia, Italy, and Spain, with overlays of classical architecture.
Once called “America’s Most Spectacular Garden”, Samuel spared no expense; hiring renown Beaux-Arts architect William Welles Bosworth. Entering the Garden of Eden within the Walled Garden, feast your eyes on what was considered one of the finest Persian Gardens in the Western Hemisphere. A pair of Paul Manship’s sphinxes (similar to a feature at the Boboli Gardens in Florence) atop Cipolino marbled columns and amphitheatre lie at the end of the criss-crossing canals representing the four ancient rivers. Another prominent feature is the Grecian Temple in the Sky (consisting of fourteen Corinthian columns with a mosaic Medusa lying in the center) which overlooks a once intricately mosaic-tiled floor (reminiscent of Tiryns and ancient Romans villas) swimming pool and lower terrace.
Traversing the North loggia, a modest doorway opens to descending stairs The Vista (similar to ones at Villa D’Este in Italy, descending towards Lake Como), and Vista Overlook, enhanced by monolithic Cipolino marble columns imported from Italy by Stanford White. Soak in the uninterrupted vistas of the New Jersey Palisades and the Hudson River flanked by recently planted (2015) Japanese cedars, restoring it to the original allee – resembling the dark cypress of the original.
Explore the dense Woodland Trail enroute to the cantilevered Temple of Love (not the original), with cascading rocky waterfalls culminating in a serene pool and intimate seating area. I chose this idyllic spot (where Samuel once napped) to witness the day’s end with an unexpected, yet most welcome sunlit-kissed Monarch.
I appreciate the generosity of the Untermyer children who donated the Three Dancing Maidens to Central Park in 1947 after the death of their father.Samuel Untermyer was a much respected man, known for his Zionist views; described as “Hitler’s Bitterest Foe” in 1933. Samuel Untermyer remained a crusader for anti-Semitism and a critic of Hitler until his death in 1940.
The criss-crossing canals are currently undergoing a restoration – note the amphitheatre behind the sphinxes at the end of the North axis.
These views all overlook the lovely Temple in the Sky
The Temple in the Sky and lower terrace – the swimming pool will require a $2 million restoration
Below – the ruins of the once gatehouse – entrance to the Greystone mansion
Woodland Trail winds through the garden ending at The Temple of Love with Hudson river views
The park closes at sunset – the sun had just begun to set behind the New Jersey Palisades – a lovely, serene place to reflect and appreciate the generosity of a great man – Samuel Untermyer – husband, father, horticulturist, lawyer, Zionist and crusader.
The Untermyer Garden is managed by the Untermyer Garden Conservatory (founded by Stephen F. Byrnes) and the City of Yonkers. It is their intent through ongoing donations and restorations, to once again bring Untermyer Gardens back to its glory of the 1920’s and 1930’s. I think Samuel would be quite pleased to see that his intent for these extraordinary gardens to be enjoyed by the public just as they were when he was alive, is being honored.
Untermyer Park and Gardens – 945 North Broadway, Yonkers, NY 10701 Telephone: 914-613-4502.
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