Sheepfold building (1871), Central Park

Jacob Wrey Mould is not a name that readily comes to mind when we think of New York City architecture. Yet ​​he was one-third of the party responsible for the early development of Central Park in New York. To this day, his sculptural reliefs, tile work, and structures in Central Park enthrall visitors. Mould introduced High Victorian architecture to New York City, his fingerprint most pronounced inhis striking and colorful ornamental designs and beautiful embellishments found in the carved decorations and mosaics at the Bethesda Terrace.  

Mould is the subject of a brand new book, published by Fordham University Press and due out in early 2023, that resurfaces the forgotten contributions by Mould: Hell on Color, Sweet on Song: J. Wrey Mould, and the Artful Beauty of Central Park.  

Mould was born in London in 1825 and trained there as an architect before moving to New York in 1852. The following year, he received the commission to design All Souls Unitarian Church. Nicknamed “the Church of the Holy Zebra,” it was the first building in America to display the mix of colorful materials and Medieval Italian inspiration that were characteristic of High Victorian Gothic architecture.  

In addition to being an architect and designer, Mould was an accomplished musician and prolific translator of opera librettos. Yet anxiety over money and resentment over lack of appreciation of his talents soured Mould’s spirit.  

Walls and Ramparts (1880s), Morningside Park, New York City (photo Library of Congress)

Unsystematic, impractical, and immune from maturity, he displayed a singular indifference to the realities of architecture as a commercial enterprise. Despite his personal shortcomings, he influenced the design of some of New York City’s most iconic landmarks, including Belvedere Castle, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the City Hall Park fountain, and the Morningside Park promenade.   

Francis Kowsky is author of Hell on Color, Sweet on Song: J. Wrey Mould and the Artful Beauty of Central Park with Lucille Gordon.  Mr. Kowskyis SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians. He has written numerous articles on 19th-century American architects and is the author of Country Park and City: The Life and Architecture of Calvert Vaux and The Best Planned City in the World: Olmsted, Vaux and the Buffalo Park System. He is a member of the New York State Board for Historic Preservation.  

Lucille Gordon is a Central Park docent who has made heroic efforts to raise Mould from obscurity and to shed new light on this forgotten icon of American architecture and music.

You can pre-order the book here: