Straus Park and Memorial Fountain
Backstory and Context
Isidor Straus was born to a Jewish family in the Kingdom of Bavaria (now part of Germany) in 1845. In the early 1850s, his family immigrated to the United States, settling in the western part of Georgia. Sometime after the Civil War, the Straus family left the South and moved to New York City. There, in the basement of a retail store owned by Rowland H. Macy, Isidor’s father, Lazarus, along with his sons, Isidor and Nathan, established L. Straus & Sons in the 1870s. The merchandising firm sold china, glassware, and crockery concessions. In 1887, Isidor and Nathan offered to purchase a percentage of R.H. Macy and Company. The following year, the sale became official. By 1896, the Straus brothers had assumed complete control of the company. Under their leadership, R.H. Macy and Company moved its store from Lower Manhattan to Herald Square in Midtown and began opening branch stores across the country.
Before he built a retail empire with his brother, Isidor Straus met and married Ida Blum in 1871. Like her husband, she was born in what is now Germany and later immigrated to the United States. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage and had six children together. By 1912, the Strauses were residing in a home on Broadway, near 105th Street, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and engaged in various philanthropic pursuits.
One of the most famous maritime disasters in history tragically ended the lives of Isidor and Ida Straus. In April 1912, they were passengers on the British luxury liner, RMS Titanic. Just before midnight on Sunday, April 14, Titanic struck an iceberg during its maiden voyage. The collision with the iceberg tore a long gash on the starboard side of the ship’s hull. Just over two and a half hours later, the vessel once touted as unsinkable was at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. Out of the approximately 2,200 passengers and crew onboard, about 1,500 perished in the sinking. The ship’s evacuation policy mandated that women and children be the first passengers to be loaded onto the insufficient number of lifeboats. Ida Straus, however, refused a seat on a lifeboat, opting instead to stay by her husband’s side.
Only a few months after the tragedy, the New York City Board of Aldermen adopted a resolution that renamed Bloomingdale Square, a small triangular park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side near the Strauses former residence, in honor of the deceased couple. Afterward, a memorial committee formed and began raising funds through public subscriptions to erect a monument in the park to commemorate the Strauses. In all, $20,000 was raised. After holding a design competition, the committee awarded the commission to sculptor Augustus Lukeman and architect Evarts Tracy. Dedicated on April 15, 1915, three years to the day of the sinking of Titanic, the monument consists of a curved, granite exedra topped by a reclining bronze female figure representing “Memory.” At the center of the exedra, just beneath the statue, a bronze lion’s head once spouted water into a reflecting pool. Etched into the back of the monument is a biblical verse, 2 Samuel 1:23: “Lovely and pleasant were they in their lives and in their death they were not divided.”
In the 1990s, Straus Park underwent an expansion and renovation. Fifteen feet of land was taken from West End Avenue and added to the park. Additionally, Parks Department workers installed new lighting, benches, greenery, and fencing. At this time, the fountain also experienced a transformation. The bronze sculpture received a restoration and the reflecting pool was converted into a flowerbed.
History.com Editors. "Titanic Sinks." History. A&E Television Networks. 13 April 2020. Web. 27 January 2021 <https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/titanic-sinks>.
"Isidor and Ida Straus." New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. The City of New York. Web. 27 January 2021 <https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/straus-park/monuments/1510>.
Miller, Tom. "The Isidor and Ida Straus Memorial 'Memory.'" Daytonian in Manhattan: The Stories Behind the Buildings, Statues and Other Points of Interest that Make Manhattan Fascinating. 26 September 2011. Web. 27 January 2021 <http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/09/isidor-and-ida-straus-memorial-memory.html>.
"Titanic." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Web. 27 January 2021 <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Titanic>.