Untermyer Gardens Tour May 26, 2012

By Gay Giordano and David Ludwig

On Saturday, May 26, over 25 Institute members and friends toured Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers, NY. The tour, led by Stephen F. Byrns, the Chair of the Untermyer Gardens Board of Directors (and architect and founder of BKSK Architects), explored this forgotten treasure, only recently uncovered and brought back to life.

Stephen Byrn

Photo 1: Tour guide Stephen F. Byrns, speaking at the amphitheater.

The grounds were designed by Welles Bosworth (1869-1966), a prominent society architect who supervised the restorations of the palaces and gardens at Fontainbleu and Versailles as well as Kykuit in Westchester. The gardens are home to some of the most beautiful and original mosaic works and outstanding classical temples. The overall design of the Greek Gardens is actually a testament to the gardens of ancient Persia, including walled gardens known as parideaza and water features dividing the space into four areas representing the four elements and directions (see Photo 3).

The Institute will return to the gardens each year and we hope you will join us. The gardens are open to the public free of charge and we encourage you to visit. To learn more about this very special place, visit www.untermyergardens.org.

Bas relief

Photo 2: Bas relief of Artemis on a portal to the Greek Gardens. Artist: Ulric H. Ellerhusen, 1879-1957

Greek Gardens

Photo 3: View of the Greek Gardens, showing the water features and 4 divisions.


Photo 4: A pair of winged sphinxes, each on its own set of double Ionic columns, guarding the amphitheater. Sculptor: Paul Manship. Commissioned in 1908.


Photo 5: The temple overlooking what was the pool has a beautiful mosaic floor with Medusa’s head in the center, staring into the sky through the open Corinthian temple. Medusa had a special relationship with Zeus and derived much power from him; it is thought this is why she is looking into the sky where he resides. Medusa’s image is in the center; the open temple, some think, represents the aegis of Medusa, the ring or cape encircling her face and represented on many ancient warriors’ shields.

Mosaic Work

Photos 5a, 5b & 5c: Mosaic work: the bottom of the swimming pool; the head of Medusa in the temple; partial floor of the amphitheater.


Photo 6: The Vista, looking down to the Hudson, is based on the Villa d’Este on Lake Como. While descending, there were originally six parallel Color Gardens on the right, with each garden featuring only one color of flower.

Group Shot

Photo 7: Group shot showing compass inlaid in the floor at the bottom of the Vista stairs, a circular space featuring one of two ancient monolithic cipollino Roman columns, over 2000 years old, imported by Stanford White.

Temple of Love

Photo 8: The Temple of Love, aka The Eagle’s Nest.


Photo 9: David Ludwig, ICAA Membership & Public Programs Manager, under the filigreed dome of the Temple of Love.

John Lennon

Photo 10. John Lennon photographed at the Temple of Love.


Photo 11: One of two large lions at the inner lower gates adjacent to the Croton Aqueduct, attributed to Edward Clark Potter, sculptor of the lions in front of the New York Public Library.

Diana and Acteon

Photos 12 & 12a: Diana and Acteon by Paul Manship, currently at the Hudson River Museum. Photo on right, Acteon in situ at the gardens. They flanked the entrance to the amphitheater. Acteon was actually kidnapped and sold for $7.50; the buyer, upon learning of its theft, returned it to the thief himself, who proceeded to cut it in quarters and bury it. It was found shortly after the theft and returned to Untermyer.


Photo 13: Some of the sixty gardeners on staff in its heyday.


Photo 14: Present Horticulturalist, Timothy Tilghman

Greek Theater

Photo 15: The colonnaded amphitheater that Untermyer built for his wife to host concerts and recitals by leading opera stars.


Photo 16: Isidora Duncan performing in the gardens, 1923.


Photo 17: Samuel Untermyer checking his watch against the only living sundial in the world, located in the gardens and composed of an evergreen indicator with the hours outlined in colored plants.

Untermyer Fountain

Photo 18: Untermyer Fountain, “Three Dancing Maidens,” now in Central Park.


Photo 19: Untermyer with Albert Einstein, who he assisted with his investments in America.


Photo 20: Samuel Untermyer’s grave at Woodlawn Cemetery.


Photo 21: Untermyer, with the World Jewish Federation, spearheaded the fight against the Nazi regime when many other prominent New York Jews would not. He also made Henry Ford apologize to the Jews.

Contemporary photos by Gay Giordano; historic photos courtesy of Untermyer Gardens; John Lennon photo by Bob Gruen.

Fun Facts:

• The 113-acre estate was purchased by Samuel Untermyer in 1899 for $171,500.
• Samuel had a passion for homegrown orchid boutonnières. More than sixty greenhouses on the property nursed three or four thousand varieties of orchid. Samuel changed his boutonnière three or four times a day, and when out of town had them shipped fresh to him.
• Estate Manager and Horticulturalist Mr. George H. Chisholm created plant sculptures for Samuel, including a life-sized raft with a full-grown Indian wielding a chrysanthemum paddle, and a model of Notre Dame, twelve feet by six feet with a height of eight feet, containing electric lights and thirty-six windows painted to resemble stained glass.
• Mr. Chisholm attempted to grow alcohol-spiked melon vines with cognac, port and Benedictine that garnered a great deal of press.
• Mr. Chisholm laid out a $36,000 plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx for Samuel – bigger than Andrew Carnegie’s.
• Mrs. Untermyer purchased at auction two Stanford White ceilings and when asked what she’d do with them, she replied, “Oh, you can always use a ceiling.” She apparently did not need them after all – they were stored in the barn.

3 Responses to Untermyer Gardens Tour May 26, 2012

  1. Michiel says:

    @Photo 11:I think it was only Lion and a horse-like creature at the gate house. Not two lions. The creature on theleft has hooves, no claws.

    Reply »
  2. duddridge says:

    My great uncle was George H Chisholm

    Reply »
    • Hi, I’m one of the two gardeners at Untermyer Gardens Conservancy and we’d love to know more about your great uncle, George Chisholm. As we work to return the gardens at Untermyer to a fraction of their glory we are seeking information about them – photos, stories, letters, anything that can help us learn more about Greystone. Please feel free to contact us through the contact information on our website, untermyergardens.org



      Reply »

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