Private Tour of Fenced-Off Washington Square Park Led by Re-Designer George Vellonakis

My Encounter With George Vellonakis

I encountered George Vellonakis, the architect (albeit unlicensed) behind the unnecessary and controversial, extensive redesign of Washington Square Park, a few Sundays ago at the Park. I first saw Mr. Vellonakis outside the fenced-off Arch talking to a group of about 8 people who I assumed were his friends. However, once I made my way to the southern side of the Park, there he was inside the currently-under-construction NorthWest Quadrant clearly giving a private tour. I could not hear every word but for a few comments … about the Minetta stream which runs under Washington Square Park (which I learned about in preparation for my own walking tours) and the trees that had lined the fountain (those 40 year old trees are no longer, chopped down under his plan) and so forth.

George Vellonakis: Tour Guide?

As he stood there with the newly aligned fountain behind him (under construction but moved 23 feet east to be in ‘line’ with the Arch at Fifth Avenue – allegedly his idea) and this group around him, he seemed quite pleased with himself. I thought… this would be a great picture. As I attempted to take that picture of him amidst his crew, he started hiding behind them. I didn’t realize this was on purpose at first – I thought he was just moving into different locations. Mr. Vellonakis and I have never met. Once I realized what was transpiring, I was bemused to say the least. I looked at him quizzically and he smiled, sweetly, and said “No Pictures Please.” I was a bit taken aback. (Huh?) I asked him, “Are you camera shy?” The people on the tour looked at me quizzically and could not figure out what was going on.

So… why do you think George Vellonakis did not want his picture taken ? Why is he giving private tours of the under-construction part of this public space which is off-limits to everyone else? And… Who do you think the people were he was giving a private tour to?

Leave a comment


  1. Ray

     /  October 31, 2008

    Your endless quarrel is with the parks commission, not with their contract designer. He obviously hid because he recognized you.

    The guests, were perhaps other people such as myself who are interested in what the renovated park may look like.

    I’m sure he’s proud of his work. I think the product looks fantastic. I’d love a personal tour!

    No news here.

  2. cat

     /  November 1, 2008

    Hi Ray,

    It’s not really a “quarrel.” It’s a serious concern about a governmental entity (yes, the Parks department and by direct association the re-designer) acting with lack of transparency and lies to the general public via a distorted process to push through a controversial and over-the-top redesign of a public space in New York City. I’d say that’s a pretty serious concern and deserves a hard look.

    George Vellonakis and I have never met so it’s doubtful (?) that he recognized me. (I have now added that in to the story to clarify.)

    I didn’t realize that people who are just “interested in what the renovated park look(s) like” were getting private tours.” ?

    Thanks for writing.

    WSP Blog.

  3. pqtty cake

     /  November 1, 2008

    how much did this guy get paid for the job? salary please?

  4. Mitchel Cohen / Brooklyn Greens

     /  November 1, 2008

    Mr. Vellonakis’ sheer arrogance is evident in Matt Davis’ film about the Park.

    There SHOULD BE a public debate over what kind of park we want — one that is open and free (and unpermitted), or one that may look “pretty” in the Euro-sense but which cuts down on public space, and sticks “beautiful” flowers in the way of people sitting and talking with each other, or performing for each other.

    But that public decision-making has been circumvented by fiat and by millionaires.

    There IS an issue, here, of Vellonakis treating the park as his private fiefdom.

    There is also the issue that even the pathetic “agreements” negotiated by Gerson/Quinn with Vellonakis are being violated, and no one is ensuring that their conditions (fence height, for example) be met.

  5. I totally agree. The redesign is uncalled for. Public spaces should be kept as that.

  6. Randal

     /  November 1, 2008

    If the guy does not want his picture taken, it is his right. You also should not stick a camera in someone’s face without asking permission. In some countries, they would take your camera away and smash, it so use some manners next time. As for the park redsign being over the top or needing endless hearings, it went through a process and anything will be better than the tired, worn, and sad looking space that was in obvious need of renovation. Now why not move on to more important things and be thankful that the park is being improved.

  7. cat

     /  November 1, 2008

    hi Randal,

    You make a lot of assumptions with your comment. I was not in any way ‘sticking a camera in his face.’ And, as he has placed himself as a very prominent figure in the whole Washington Square Park redesign, he’s a public figure in that milieu. And yet I did respect his wishes. You however might consider that, if the situation was reversed, as we’ve seen in Vellonakis’s abuse of the public trust from much video footage of meetings and other interactions, he would most likely NOT have done the same. That is an important thing for you — who are so quick to defend his ‘rights’ and chastise me — to think about.

    WSP had become a “tired, worn and sad looking space in obvious need of renovation.” THAT is not the issue. Everyone agrees on that.

    Cared for and newly planted grass and repaved walkways and improved fountain and new bathrooms and new flowers were apparently an alien concept for the Parks Department to consider. That would have been a “renovation.” Done *within* the existing perfectly-well-functioning design (Project for Public Spaces declared in 2005 that WSP worked as close to a perfect public space) would have made for a BEAUTIFUL park and would have spared the acrimonious feelings within the community towards the Parks Department and Bloomberg administration. It also would not be costing the city $25-$30 million which was always outrageous but, now, in light of the financial situation, is even more so.

    However that was not the Parks Commissioner’s or Mayor’s Bloomberg’s plan for that park which was all about real estate, money and who controls and uses the space. That IS an “important thing.”

    And George Vellonakis placed himself on the front lines by not ceding to any community wishes and pushing forth some misguided version of a Euro-Victorian-1871 inspired (some combination OF that… it’s quite hard to figure…) garden instead of assimilating what worked about this historic and beloved public space.

    WSP Blog.

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