Bethesda Fountain Restoration

Dedicated in 1873, Bethesda Fountain is the focal feature of Bethesda Terrace, the architectural centerpiece of Central Park. At the top of the fountain sits Angel of the Waters, a bronze figure of a robed angel with raised wings by the American sculptor Emma Stebbins. Water cascades from beneath the angel’s feet into the upper and lower basins and fills a large circular pool at the fountain’s base. The pool and lower basin were created first, based on a design by Jacob Wrey Mould, who detailed most of the terrace's other architectural features.

The name Bethesda and the angel's design reference a passage in the Gospel of John that describes an angel blessing the Pool of Bethesda and giving it healing powers. This theme was chosen to commemorate the opening of the Croton Aqueduct, which first brought fresh water to New York City in 1842. Prior to the aqueduct, the City's water sources were often contaminated, resulting in devastating disease outbreaks.

Over time, a few ornamental elements of the fountain were lost, including a cladding with water sprays above the lower basin, a toothed edge along the lower basin, and a sculptural ornament in the niches below the lower basin.

The fountain underwent significant restoration efforts in the 1980s during the early years of the Central Park Conservancy. A recirculating pump system was introduced in the 1950s and replaced (with a new plumbing vault) as part of this work. In the years since, our staff has continued conserving the fountain, focusing on the bronze sculptural elements.

Four decades after the 1980s project, the fountain is in need of additional work, particularly on its lower pool and mechanical and plumbing systems. The project is currently in design.

Project Objectives

  • Modernize mechanical, plumbing, and control systems to improve performance, efficiency, and ease of maintenance while maintaining a relative simplicity of operation
  • Address areas of deterioration and routine wear and tear since the last comprehensive restoration, extend the lifespan of fountain components, and prevent further deterioration
  • Bring fountain basin into the code compliance for depth
  • Where feasible, restore lost historic fountain features that contribute to fountain flow effects and visual appearance
  • Explore improvements to the overall visual effect of the fountain with aquatic plantings and lighting

Scope of work

  • Fabricate and install missing historic cladding and sculptural ornaments
  • Waterproof the basin and upper and lower bowls
  • Improve water flow in the upper and lower bowls
  • Repoint and reset bluestone coping
  • Replace fountain mechanical systems
  • Install new filtration and UV disinfection system
  • Develop lighting scheme for the fountain
  • Develop new aquatic planting design