Mitchel was a reformer and politician who fought corruption during his term as mayor of New York City, between 1914 and 1917. One of his accomplishments while in office was to preside over the opening of the first water tunnel in 1917, which is why his memorial is located near the Reservoir.
After losing the election for a second mayoral term, Mitchel enlisted in the air force. While in training, he fell from his plane and died. Local newspapers immediately proposed a memorial, and the funds were provided by small donations from New Yorkers.
The memorial committee hired the prominent architect Thomas Hastings, who had created Pulitzer Fountain, to design the architectural features and sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman to create the bust of Mitchel. The memorial was dedicated in 1928. The bust is inset into a stone wall that is flanked by two stone urns on pedestals and the stairs leading up to the Reservoir. While most visitors may assume that this is the entire memorial, the entrance to the Park at 90th Street is also part of it. The ornamental pillars on either side of the entrance relate to the carvings that frame the portrait bust.