A Look at Washington Square Park This Week — Part I(Photos)

Updated —

Fountain late Apr 09

Fountain late Apr 09

Snapshots of Washington Square Park. Above, center of the Park currently under construction. (It’s getting close to opening but not quite there yet!)

NorthEast corner Bustling; Picnic Tables in Use

NorthEast corner Bustling; Picnic Tables in Use

The NorthEast section of the Park (above, Tuesday afternoon) is scheduled for construction next. The NE corner of the Park is quite large now and is scheduled to be significantly reduced (into a more quaint “Plaza”) and all the picnic tables removed. Apparently, the NYC Parks Department doesn’t want picnic tables in the, uh, Park.

Photos: Cat

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Henry James and his book “Washington Square” Recognized this Month — Upcoming NYC Events of Note

Washington Square by Henry James is the literary focus this month of “The Big Read,” sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts to promote literature across the United States through events and readings of significant works by prominent authors. In New York City, eleven organizations linked up to schedule events throughout April.

Henry James lived around Washington Square Park for many years (although the building he once lived in – and considered historical for that fact – was torn down by NYU in the 1890’s while he was in Europe and he returned quite distressed about it*). Washington Square, one of his most famous novels in which main characters live around the Park, was not a favorite of his amidst his work. Nonetheless, the month’s extensive schedule around the book has been well rounded and creative (tho’ no events in Washington Square Park). There are a few more events coming up through the end of April.

Monday, April 27 at 7:30pm
Reading Group — Washington Square — Come to Talk or Just to Listen

Led by Jennie A. Kassanoff
Barnes & Noble, Greenwich Village, 6th Avenue and 8th Street

Join Jamesian and scholar, Jennie A. Kassanoff, for a special evening on Washington Square. Selected by Barnes & Noble Classics to write the introduction for their edition of the book, Kassanoff will speak on the book and lead participants on a discussion about the complexities of this novella.

Jennie A. Kassanoff is Assistant Professor of English at Barnard College, where she teaches late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American literature. She is the author of Edith Wharton and the Politics of Race.

Wednesday, April 29 at 7pm
A Reading of Selections from Washington Square by contemporary author and Henry James fan, John Berendt

Followed by a reception
Merchant’s House Museum, 29 East Fourth Street, Manhattan.

John Berendt is the author of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994) and The City of Falling Angels (2005).

$15. Space is limited, please call (212) 777-1089 or email: nyc1832-at-merchantshouse.org to RSVP

Thursday, April 30 at 6:30pm
Cynthia Ozick and Michael Cunningham in Conversation

The Mercantile Library Center for Fiction
17 East 47th Street, betw. 5th and Madison, Manhattan

Acclaimed authors and Jamesians, Cynthia Ozick and Michael Cunningham, will discuss Washington Square, Henry James, and his enduring influence on American writers.

Cynthia Ozick is the author of numerous acclaimed works of fiction and nonfiction. Her stories have won four O. Henry first prizes, and Ozick was recently awarded the 2008 Pen/Nabokov Award and the 2008 Pen/Malamud Award. Michael Cunningham is the author of the bestselling novel The Hours, which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award and was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. Both authors live in New York.

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*More about “Henry James’ Uneasy Homecoming to Washington Square.”

Spring arrives at Washington Square Park!

Today at the Park.

Photo: Cat

The first photo entry into the Washington Sq Park Blog Flickr Pool! Yes, I know, we’re all ready for spring…

The famous Washington Sq Park chess tables covered in Snow '08

The famous Washington Sq Park chess tables covered in Snow

Okay, yes, I think we’re all ready for shots of the Park bustling with signs of springflowers, people, the Fountain ON, people frolicking IN the Fountain (and, of course, the redesigned Fountain area is not open – yet), performers, dogs, squirrels, birds, eccentricities… – that’s coming.

But a thank you to Juggler314 for posting the first entry into the Washington Square Park Flickr Photo Pool … This great shot of the Park’s chess tables covered in pure white snow (’08). Read more about the new WSP Blog Flickr Pool option here. Submit your photos and tell your friends!

Photo: Juggler314

Looking for Photos of Washington Square Park ! Submit your Photos to the WSP Flickr Pool

An interesting set of card partners, mid-day, Washington Sq Park

An interesting set of card partners, mid-day, Washington Sq Park

I’m looking for photos of the Park!

If you’re around the park fairly regularly (or even if you’re not) and want to submit your photos for possible inclusion on the site, join the Washington Square Park Blog Flickr Photo Pool. (You need to set up a Flickr account if you don’t have one but that’s easy.)

With Spring here and the NorthWest Quadrant of Washington Square Park – including the Fountain – reopening soon, so much more will start happening here. A lot of other blogs do this Flickr pool thing (I was inspired by hearing photographers recount Bob Guskind‘s use of their photos on Gowanus Lounge at his memorial service recently …) and, although I’m still not sure exactly how it works, we’ll figure it out together! Of course, you’ll get credited and linked to, if appropriate.

Photos of Washington Square Park, eclectic things that happen in the Park – of the Arch, the Fountain, the trees, the wildlife, the dogs, the people, anything out of the ordinary, or just seemingly ordinary – welcome.

Join here: Washington Square Park Blog Flickr Photo Pool.

Photo: Mossaiq

*Note: In Phase II of the redesign, the area above in the Northeast corner of the Park – where this photo was taken – all of the picnic tables are scheduled to be removed and the size of the area substantially reduced.

More from the NYC Parks Commissioner! — On Washington Sq Park and WSP Blog Concerns

A follow-up letter from NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe to me in response to my letter of February 13th. We’ve had a bit of a back-and-forth. It’s true that the Parks Commissioner and I are most likely never going to agree on many aspects of the redesign – and the history of the redesign – of Washington Square Park. I have a few thoughts in response to this, but first, his letter which I’ve posted below:

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April 7, 2009

Dear Ms. Swan:

Thank you again for your correspondence about the renovation of Washington Square Park. It seems there are a number of points where we will have to agree to disagree. We may never come to an understanding on what is or is not public space (I would argue the entire park is public space), how to define a renovation versus a “spruce up,” a spear versus a ball and whether or not the Parks Department has been responsive to community concerns.

Many aspects of the renovation you wish to “come to an agreement” on were settled long ago. In fact, your request to change aspects of the renovation that have already been completed or that are currently under construction is nearly impossible to grant at this point. The fountain plaza is very close to completion and the fence is already installed. After the February 4th Washington Square Park Task Force meeting, the Parks Department made additional changes.

When Washington Square Park is completed I am confident that it will continue to be a vibrant, eclectic gathering and performance space for Villagers, students and visitors and I truly believe you will enjoy the restored park.

Thank you for your support and interest in Parks.

Sincerely,

Adrian Benepe

On the Performance Area in Phase II Redesign – “Garibaldi Plaza”

(Updated)

WSP Blog reader Elton wrote in yesterday with the following comment in relation to my post on the Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing last week. He raises some good points:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no accoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

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Thoughts?

WSP Blog Note: I can’t say I have a clear idea of what exactly is happening to the performance area, the here-to-fore (oops. I mean from here on) renamed Garibaldi Plaza, but I do know the Washington Square Music Festival stated that they were worried about sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage, the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage. While I think they could have argued more forcefully for what they want, the other side of this is, that, though they are well regarded and historically connected to the space, they only use the stage about five times a year. I’ve heard that other performers, such as “street” performers, may not want a railing although, for any body’s usage, the stage does seem too low. I gather people will be able to just sit on the stage and use that as a “public space.”

So… what is the “every day” use of this space? Will there be more professional performances – and which should the Park be oriented to? … Although I’m sure no matter how you slice it, this area’s design should be reconsidered.

Coming Monday: More Dialogue with NYC’s Parks Commissioner Re: Washington Sq Park and More on the Park’s Opening!

Check back Monday for more dialogue between WSP Blog and the NYC Parks Commissioner. Plus … more on the re-opening of Washington Square Park‘s long-under-construction (over a year) NorthWest Quadrant, including the Fountain and Plaza!

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; NYC Parks Department agrees to increase # of alcoves

What follows are some of the highlights from yesterday’s (April 14) Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting, a continuation of the
March 17th public hearing
, scheduled to determine what the future holds for Phase II of Washington Square Park’s redesign by New York City’s Parks Department. So here goes…

* The number of seating alcoves in the Park

There’s actually some good news. Which is that the New York City Parks Department, responding to the calls from Council Member Alan Gerson, Community Board 2, and impassioned park goers to keep their hands off Washington Square Park‘s popular seating alcoves, increased the number in their plan from two to four. The Park currently has six. So, that’s … something.

The Parks Department, represented by Charles McKinney and designer George Vellonakis, started out stating that they were prepared to add one or two more alcoves to the originally proposed two. However, they preferred three. George Vellonakis said that ideally a fourth would be omitted because its location inside the Park lawn on the (south) east side “distracts the view and expansion of the lawn.” The other reasons given by Mr. Vellonakis for omitting that fourth alcove were possible damage to surrounding tree roots and that that area in the new design undergoes a “geometry change.”

At first, Robert Tierney, LPC chair, advocated for the 3 alcoves as he believed that was the Parks Department’s “preference.” The Parks Department stated that the fourth alcove would be very small and “intimate” but how small I’m not sure.

Thankfully, the heroine of the meeting, Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz, stood her ground and argued repeatedly for the fourth. She said, “There was a lot of controversy about the redesign – for many legitimate reasons. This park evolved with many layers of change and use which took it away from the original more pristine design. This park is not like Gramercy Park. The park evolved with the neighborhood.” She also said, “I’m not concerned if a piece of lawn is taken away. It’s about how the park is used and the weight of its importance and use outweighs the difficulty of it intruding on [tree] roots.”

It was Ms. Brandes Gratz’s persistence and unwavering that convinced the rest of the Commissioners of the importance of the four (vs. three) alcoves. The inclusion of these four adds to (and maintains) the Park’s charm and uniqueness and gives us a bit of a break from all the symmetry of Phase I.

* Increased seating? Depends what year within the Park’s history you base this on

The Parks Department claims that seating is being “increased by 37%.” George Vellonakis stated that there are currently 355 benches and there will be 487 benches in the newly designed version. (These numbers do not include benches being added into the new alcoves.) However, Park advocate Jonathan Greenberg walked with me around the park recently and he informed me that the Parks Department has been consistently removing benches over the years. (Why…? I don’t know.)

So, to truly determine what the increase would be, you’d have to calculate from an older number of existing benches from a previous year (1970 perhaps?).

In fact, if you walk around each alcove as well as the Northeast corner where the picnic tables are, you will see iron or metal ‘holders’ on the ground that indicate where the benches previously were located that have been removed. (I’m going to write a separate post on this.)

* The Stage – Garibaldi Plaza – Shrunken, Relocated, No Guardrail but Approved

The performance area – the newly named Garibaldi Plaza (previously “Teen Plaza”) – was very quickly discussed at the meeting and it’s unclear to me if any changes were made from the previous version shown. The stage is moving and shrinking and has no guardrails and basically no backstage, if it’s the same version last presented.

Again, Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz asked pointed questions such as “you moved the stage because…?” and “Is it better than the old stage?” and “Will you have a backstage?” To this last question, George Vellonakis said that the “[performance] groups will assemble in this pathway” and pointed to an area that I could not see from where I was. (I left Mr. Vellonakis a message to clarify and will update if I receive the answer.)

I think there may be a plan for a temporary railing to prevent the conductor or performers from, um, falling off the stage.

The Washington Square Music Festival testified at the last meeting calling for approval of the plan while simultaneously expressing their disapproval. Although this group only uses the area about five times a year, they are considered sort of the arbiter of the space, so their lukewarm “support” in a sense sealed the deal.

* The Vote – Plan Approved

Before the vote, another LPC Commissioner Christopher Moore referred to the testimony given at the March 17th hearing as “heartfelt and passionate” and intimated that that testimony should be respected. He also said he liked the addition of the fourth alcove because it added to the Park’s “idiosyncratic quality.”

The plan was approved unanimously with the intention that the lights, fence, and pathways will be restored in keeping with Phase I’s work, the stage will be moved and reconfigured, and that there will be four seating alcoves retained within the Park.

* The Past is Our Future

But, of course, it was the first set of Landmarks Preservation Commission hearings in May 2005 where the crucial decisions were made to approve the sweeping changes proposed by the Parks Department to reconfigure Washington Square Park.

It is widely alleged, that, at that time, the Commissioners were pressured by Mayor Bloomberg’s office to go along with an approval and information was leaked to the New York Times in advance that they were going to do so. An article appeared in the Times the morning of the critical vote signaling the Commission would be going along with the Parks Department’s plan.

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* Video here of Q&A from the original Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing – May 10, 2005 by Matt Davis (who directed the work-in-progress documentary “SQUARE: Straightening Out Washington Square Park”). New York State Supreme Court Judge Emily Jane Goodman later ruled that “essential elements of the Parks Department’s plans … were not adequately revealed to Community Board 2 or the Landmarks Commission…”

Washington Square Park Redesigned Quadrant Set to Open In May?

Curbed reports that Washington Square Park’s Northwest Quadrant – which includes the Fountain Plaza, under construction for oh-so-long, after much aligning – will reopen the second week of May! Can it be? Seems possible.

(Oh, and if you feel like commenting over there, I don’t know who those people are but they just don’t get it. I still love Curbed! Just some pieces really bring out the worst tendencies in people.)