The ox head mosaic fountain hiding on First Avenue

The Queensboro Bridge is an architectural treasure, with some of its loveliest features off to the side or under the bridge approach, at least on the Manhattan side.

Two examples: the original lamppost dating back to the bridge’s opening in 1909, and the blue and white tiles on a First Avenue ramp leading to the bridge.

But there’s another little-known gem built alongside the bridge, accessible through a gate on 59th Street or from the exit of the TJ Maxx store on First Avenue.

It’s a small, park-like plaza decked out with benches, flowers, and trees—and a granite water fountain with an ox head spout and a kaleidoscopic glass mosaic of a dreamy woman rising from a pile of produce.

With a description like that, you just know this plaza and the fountain inside it must have a pretty interesting backstory.

First came the mosaic fountain, in 1919. It was conceived and funded by a woman named Evangeline Blashfield.

A feminist, writer, and intellectual, Blashfield (below left) decided to install a fountain on what was then one of the city’s largest open-air farmers markets.

She wanted the vendors (and their horses), who came over the bridge from the farmlands of Queens with their wares, to have fresh water.

In the 1910s, Blashfield “noticed that the market under the ramp at the Manhattan end of the Queensboro Bridge had only one unsightly water faucet for all of its vendors,” wrote John Tauranac in his book, Manhattan’s Little Secrets.

Blashfield, who would have been described as “strong-minded” by men and women of her era, was also a supporter of public art.

“Inspired by the beauty she saw in European cities, Mrs. Blashfield championed for changes in the urban environment, particularly the installation of public art in this country,” states the Municipal Arts Society of New York (MAS).

Blashfield’s husband happened to be an artist (and a founding member of the MAS). She served as his model for the fountain, lending her image to the allegorical figure Abundance.

“The nine-by-four-foot mosaic panel, composed of thousands of brilliant colored tesserae, depicts a regal female figure reclining on a cornucopia laden with fruits and vegetables sold in the marketplace,” explains the MAS.

The ox head and granite basin (a drinking bowl also or horses, something the city sorely needed in the still-equine-powered early 20th century) was designed by another MAS member.

Unfortunately, Evangeline didn’t live to see its completion.

She died in 1918 at age 59, a victim of the Spanish flu pandemic, six months before the fountain was given to the city and dedicated in her honor.

The fountain may have been a welcome addition to the farmers market. But once public art is installed, of course, it isn’t always maintained properly.

By the 1930s, the farmers market under the bridge had been cleared away in the name of progress. (Open-air markets created sanitation issues.) Until the 1970s, the space served as a warehouse for road signs and garbage trucks.

After decades of debate about what to do with the space (and the fountain that badly needed repair), the retail complex known as Bridgemarket finally opened in 1999.

“Florence D’Urso, an MAS member and compassionate philanthropist for several art restorations here and in the Vatican, provided a generous grant to restore the mosaic, Abundance, in memory of her husband Camillo who appropriately had been in the food and supermarket business,” states the MAS.

In June 2003, the restored mosaic returned to what was now known as Bridgemarket public plaza, installed once again on a granite base with its ox head fountain. (When I visited, the fountain wasn’t working, sadly.)

“Abundance, restored to its jewel colorings, once again graces the public streetscape, carrying the history of public art, public space, and food into the twenty-first century,” wrote MAS.

And Evangeline Blashfield, looking like a goddess rising out of a bounty of fruits and vegetables, towers over this former farmers market once again.

[Third image: Find a Grave]

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11 Responses to “The ox head mosaic fountain hiding on First Avenue”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Another secret place no New Yorker knows about. Wonderful! What can we do without ENY…?

  2. chas1133 Says:

    Yet another secret gem entwined within this wonderful place…revealed by the one and only…

  3. countrypaul Says:

    Things and places overlooked in New York would be major attractions in other cities. This is one. Nice find!

  4. VirginiaB Says:

    Wonderful discovery and research. Thanks so much for this. Just wish the city would trim back the shrubbery which obscures part of the mosaic.

  5. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks all! It’s amazing what you find when you’re just running errands at your local TJ Maxx….

  6. Ron Rice @ optOnl Says:

    I  Love this fountain & I loved your article.Unfortunately forcefully when I click on the links,. It gives me this error message on all of the photos and the link at the bottom of the E mail. What sort of information to your have on the artist Mr. Blashfield?Whoops!There was a small systems error. Please try refreshing the page and if the error is still there drop us a note and let us know.Sent for you from my smartphone

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Ron, glad you liked the piece! I just checked all the links and they are working on my end. Let me know if you still can’t get in.

  7. Tom B Says:

    Fascinating story about this Plaza. Thank God for Art Philanthropists. It is amazing it has survived all these years.

  8. The "Atop A Burial Ground From The Revolutionary War" Tuesday Edition Says:

    […] The history of the Evangeline Blashfield Fountain, a mosaic and ox-headed fountain sitting under the Queensboro Bridge. (Ephemeral New York) […]

  9. Lady G. Says:

    That is a stunning work of art, I’m so glad it was restored. Wonderful find!

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