Wright Brothers Playground
This fountain is named for civic-minded businessman John Hooper (1812–1889). Having left the United States Military Academy (West Point) after two years, Hooper went to work as a civil engineer during the construction stages of the New York and Erie Railroad in the 1840s. He then joined Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, where he began what was claimed to have been the first advertising agency in New York.
Hooper used the connections he made at the Tribune to go on to become a successful businessman; the one-time director of the Iron Steamboat Company, Hooper also served as president of the Colwell Lead Company and the North River Savings Bank. Hooper owned extensive real estate in New York and Brooklyn, was a trustee of the Tribune Association and supported many charitable institutions in the New York area. When Hooper died in 1889, he willed the cities of Brooklyn and New York $10,000 to construct two fountains “whereat man and beast can drink.”
Though the fund set aside in Hooper’s will was subject to an inheritance tax, and the bequest was correspondingly reduced, the work went forward. The Washington Heights Association paid for the laying of the fountain’s foundation, and in 1894, the erection of this simple yet elegant fountain in northern Manhattan helped realize half of Hooper’s philanthropic vision; another fountain was built in Brooklyn at Flatbush and Sixth Avenue near his Bedford-Stuyvesant home, but was dismantled long ago. The fountain, designed by George Martin Huss, consists of a large round horse trough, carved pedestal drinking fountain and a central Ionic column topped by an ornamental globe-shaped lantern.
When the pink granite fountain was erected, the streets of Manhattan were frequented by thousands of horses on a daily basis—equine transport being the principal means of conveying goods throughout the city—and numerous watering fountains and troughs could be found along thoroughfares and traffic intersections. Many were erected by humane societies such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and besides serving a necessary function in preserving the health of beasts of burden, these roadside fountains often exhibited a degree of artistry in their design and ornamentation. The decline of horse-drawn commercial vehicles resulted in the virtual elimination of these fountains by World War II.
Having long lost its original function, in 1935 (when many of the city’s monuments were cleaned as part of a WPA-funded project), parks officials considered relocating the fountain to an appropriate spot along a bridle path. “Horse and sturdy ox have vanished in a cloud of gasoline exhalations,” said a Parks official. “[The fountain] stands there in the traffic with the serene inconsequence of a megatherium [sic] on Broadway.” The plan went unrealized and in 1981 vandals toppled the shaft, damaged its capital, and destroyed the lantern on top; the remaining elements were salvaged and stored.
In 1992, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Macombs Dam Bridge, 155th Street Viaduct, and Maher Circle, which encompasses the Hooper Fountain, as an official landmark. The bridge, a metal-truss swing bridge, a marvel of modern engineering, was built between 1890 and 1894 under the auspices of the New York City Department of Public Works and the Department of Public Parks. It is the third oldest major bridge and oldest of its type in New York City.
The renovation of the Hooper Fountain has been achieved through a cooperative effort between the Department of Transportation and Parks & Recreation, as part of the reconstruction of the bridge and viaduct. The column and basins, including the plumbing, have been restored with newly designed bronze lion-head spouts, the lantern, weathervane and bronze plaque have been recreated and the fountain has been set within a larger landscaped wheelchair-accessible island, filled with roses suitable to the beauty of this historic monument.
Hooper Fountain Details
- Architect: George Martin Huss
- Description: Ornamental horse fountain with lantern, plaque
- Materials: Fountain--granite; Lantern and plaque--bronze
- Dimensions: Lantern H: 15'
- Cast: ca. 1894
- Dedicated: 1894
- Donor: John Hooper
- Inscription: PRESENTED TO / THE CITY OF NEW YORK / BY / JOHN HOOPER / ERECTED MDCCCXCIV