The Mellon memorial fountain was dedicated in 1952 to memorialize Andrew W. Mellon (March 24, 1855, – August 27, 1937) who provided money to build the National Gallery of Art, and gift his art collection to it.
In March 1921, Andrew W. Mellon came to Washington, D.C. for the first time to serve as President Harding’s Secretary of the Treasury. He then served as Secretary of the Treasury under Coolidge and Hoover, retiring from that service in 1932.
During this time, he was also instrumental in the creation of Federal Triangle, the area between Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues, and Sixth and Fifteenth Streets, NW, that houses numerous Federal offices.
Prior to working in the Cabinets of three Presidents, Andrew W. Mellon was considered one of the richest men in America. He died at the age of 82 on August 27, 1937, in Long Island, New York.
Art Collection to National Gallery
Mellon had collected an impressive art collection that he began in 1882 when traveling to Europe with Henry Clay Frick. He invested over $19 million into art, and in January 1937, Mellon announced that he would gift the collection to the public and proposed a National Gallery of Art that he offered to build and endow. In March 1937, Congress passed legislation accepting the gift of the art collection and creating a National Gallery of Art.
Congress passed legislation for the new National Gallery of Art on March 24, 1937.
The law designated the area bounded by Seventh Street, Constitution Avenue, Fourth Street, and North Mall Drive (now Madison Drive), NW, as the site for a National Gallery of Art. The law designated the new National Gallery of Art a part of the Smithsonian Institution. The law also reserved the area to the east, bounded by Fourth Street, Pennsylvania Avenue, Third Street, and North Mall Drive, NW, for future additions to the National Gallery of Art.
Andrew W. Mellon created the endowment for the National Gallery of Art as a $10M trust in October 1935. By then his art collection had an estimated value of $50 million.
The National Gallery of Art (West) Building was designed by John Russell Pope, cost approximately $15 million, and opened in March 1941.
In 1947, Congress authorized construction of an Andrew W. Mellon memorial fountain near the National Gallery of Art. The memorial was a gift from the Mellon Memorial Committee.
In 1948 the Commission of Fine Arts approved the design and location of the memorial at the triangle park at Pennsylvania and Constitution avenues and Sixth Street NW.
The memorial was designed by Eggers and Higgins, New York architects and the builder was the John McShain Co.
The memorial cost about $325,000 and was paid for by the Mellon Memorial Committee of Pittsburgh. Although no subscriptions were solicited, public contributions were accepted.
The memorial fountain design includes a large bronze bowl with a curved rim where water will flow over the edge and drop into the granite base of the fountain that is 53 feet in diameter. The outer face of the bronze basin is decorated with the 12 signs of the zodiac, beautifully modeled and cast in relief and superimposed upon a shallow fluted surface.
A central spout of water, probably 25 feet high, is contemplated. A smaller upper bowl will break its force sufficiently so that a quiet overflow may be achieved at the edge of the main basin. The water from the main bronze basin will fall into a low granite curbed pool about 53 feet in diameter. The fountain base, in turn, is surrounded by a granite seat on the westerly side of the circular walkway, on the back of which will be a simple memorial inscription. Evergreen plants, preferably large box trees, are essential to the composition, the architects believe.
The fountain was designed by Egger & Higgins, architects of New York. The landscape architects were Clarke & Rapuano of New York. John McShain, Inc., constructed the fountain in 12 months. The fluted sides of the largest bowls decorated with the Zodiac, was designed by Sidney Waugh.
Dedication, May 9, 1952
Dedication of the Andrew W. Mellon Memorial Fountain was held on May 9, 1952, at 12:30 p.m. At the dedication the Interior Secretary accepted the fountain on behalf of the Government.
“Mr. Mellon guaranteed in advance that his donation of the finest possible gallery should be the beginning of a truly national gallery of art. At his request, his name does not appear except in connection with the works of art that he gave – as is the case of all donors who have given their treasures to the gallery,” said Chief Justice Vinson, ex-officio chairman of the board of trustees of the National Gallery of Art, at the dedication of the memorial.
The fountain is surrounded by a granite bench that is inscribed:
Secretary of Treasury
1921 – 1933;
Ambassador to Great Britain,
Founder of the National Gallery of Art – 1937.
This fountain is a tribute from his friends.
National Cathedral Bay
On the same day, May 9, 1952, the Andrew Mellon Memorial in Washington Cathedral was dedicated at 10:30 am. The Right Rev. Angus Dun and Dean Francis B. Sayre, jr. officiated.
The Cathedral memorial is a half bay of the nave on the South Aisle and has the dimensions of a small chapel. The stained-glass window in the niche depicts three major events in the development of the Presbyterian Church, of which Mr. Mellon was a member. He served as treasurer of the Cathedral Building Fund.