New “Mounds” at Washington Square Park Taking Shape – but in what form?


The somewhat controversial “Mounds” at Washington Square Park are starting to take some shape in the Southwestern mid-section of the park. Originally part of Phase II of the park’s redesign, they were moved into Phase III construction, going on now. I’ve always been a little confused by the Mounds — as I indicated in this post from 2008 — but I also respected the passionate ‘fight’ for them, what they offered and perhaps also represented to people with a longer history at the park.

I suspect, however, that they are becoming “cable-net play” structures and less “the Mounds” (which were also referred to as “the three hills”). There’s not really anyone overseeing what’s going on; the people who had been fighting for them with former Council Member Alan Gerson have long been silent.

What will be the end result be? It will be interesting to see. It would be great if Community Board 2 stepped in and asked for an update now that there is a new Parks Committee chair! (At last! Rich Caccappolo, who I do not know, has replaced Tobi Bergman, who had been Parks Committee chair for way too long.)

The Mounds are supposed to remain six feet high. This photo represents a ‘first look’ but doesn’t really look like they are going in that direction. Also, unfortunately, despite protest, they will be covered in artificial turf.

In the video that’s linked to below, one Mounds’ advocate states, “They are places of spontaneous play which is different from play equipment which sort of mandates play. The Mounds allow spontaneous play, discovery, risk taking, all the things that are part of growing up.”

It seems to me they are being turned into the opposite of this and will be “play equipment.” It would be good if there was some actual tracking of what the final result will be (before it is too late).

Go here to read this refresher on the Mounds; originally published December 16, 2008: What’s Up with the Mounds? Why People Like Them.
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Also, this links to another video of the Mounds being used for sleigh riding a few years back and is very sweet.

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Why did Henry James hate the Washington Square Arch? Meanwhile, the Arch officially turns 117

Washington Memorial Arch Original Plans

Writer Henry James used Washington Square as the name (and setting) for for one of his well known novels published in 1881; it was also one of his least favorite of ones he’d written. James grew up nearby on Washington Place and his grandmother lived at 18 Washington Square North (now part of 2 Fifth Avenue). He was in Europe in the late 1890s when the Arch was built.

The official dedication ceremony and unveiling of the Arch took place on May 4th, 1895. This makes the Arch now 117 years old! Gothamist marked the Anniversary with photos from the history of the Arch taken from the Municipal Archives (thanks Gothamist!).

Henry James returned to the Washington Square area in the early 1900s to find the new Arch erected and his childhood home demolished (by NYU … some things don’t change?). Both occurrences were seemingly sources of great displeasure for him. James described the Arch as “the lamentable little Arch of Triumph which bestrides these beginnings of Washington Square–lamentable because of its poor and lonely and unsupported and unaffiliated state.”

Walking off the Big Apple wrote about Henry James’ Uneasy Homecoming to Washington Square, recounting his reaction upon finding these changes upon his return:

Henry James (1843-1916) … was really ticked off at NYU when the university tore down his boyhood home. During the 1890s, while James was living in Europe, the school pulled down its older main building on the east side of Washington Square to make way for new buildings. In “New York Revisited,” James describes his return to the city in 1904 after a long absence, and though he comes across many familiar sights, he’s startled by the loss of his home on Washington Place. 

James continues by observing that with the destruction of his house, a commemorative tablet about his life would not be placed on its wall; “the very wall that should have borne this inscription had been smashed as for demonstration that tablets, in New York, are unthinkable.”

Tablet equals plaque I believe.

In Pete Hamill’s Downtown: My Manhattan, he writes that Henry James “hated” the Arch and surmises that the new “bohemia” taking place in the area might have been the reason that in 1915 the writer became “a British subject.” But I wonder if it was more the loss of his childhood home which he did not take well and perhaps the advent of the Arch a bit too that pushed him in that direction. Notably, James died one year later.

* Previously at WSP Blog: History of the Washington Square Arch and “Exitus Acta Probat”

Photo: NYC Municipal Archives

Art Blog Looks at Art Featuring Washington Square Park

John Sloan 1925

An art blog put together by British artist Poul Webb takes a look at art which has featured Washington Square. Webb has put together quite a collection of artwork that features the Park. He reflects, “I’ve noticed that a lot of American artists, particularly those associated with New York City, like the Ashcan School, have at one time or another undertaken paintings and drawings of Washington Square Park, so I thought I’d do a short post on that subject.”

In this etching above, look where Garibaldi once was!

Previously at WSP Blog:

* Portrait: Washington Square, 1910 — William Glackens

51st Anniversary of the Washington Square Folk Riots

That Day near the Arch

Re-posted; Originally Published April 14, 2011 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary last year —

Last month, I wrote of a scheduled event at Washington Square Park April 9th to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the “Washington Square Folk Riots.” In the end, this event did not happen. Apparently, there was some disharmony between Izzy Young, a key figure of that day, and the organizer, Russell Hicks. Young canceled plans to come to NY from Sweden and Hicks then unfortunately canceled the event.

National Public Radio (NPR) did a piece that day on the 50th Anniversary —  “How the Beatnik Riot Helped Kick Off the ’60’s” :

Today, anybody can play music in Washington Square Park. But back then, city law required that you have a permit. That was really just a formality — until the spring of 1961 when the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Newbold Morris rejected the folkies’ application with no explanation.

But that didn’t stop [David Bennett] Cohen and a few hundred of his new friends from showing up to protest the denial.

“We came anyway,” Cohen says. “We never expected to get beat up, or arrested. I mean, how stupid can you be?”

Filmmaker Dan Drasin also came along, bringing some video equipment he’d borrowed from his bosses, cinema verite pioneers D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles.

“I’d heard about this upcoming demonstration and thought, ‘Well, it would make a nice little subject for a documentary,'” Drasin says.

Fighting For The ‘Right To Sing’

In 1961, Izzy Young was running the Folklore Center on MacDougal Street, a few blocks away from the park. At the time, it was the heart of the Greenwich Village folk scene — a hangout for amateurs and professionals, including Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk.

Young was the one who applied for the Washington Square Park permit in the first place, and when it was rejected he helped organize the protest.

You can watch Dan Drasin’s 17 minute film, “Sunday” (note: this appears to have been moved; will try to locate and reinsert correct link) about events of that day. I had some trouble watching – the video kept stopping – but you’ll notice that, except for around the playground, there is a fence-less Washington Square Park.

Note: See original post for comments about cancellation of event and more.

* More history: WSP Blog on the 50th Anniversary of Washington Square Folk Riot April 9th; Community Board 2 to Discuss Commemorative Event

Photo: Harvey Zucker

Untapped New York Looks at WSP’s “Hidden History”


Untapped New York takes a look at The Hidden History of Washington Square Park:

The Washington Square Arch has been a staple of the park since 1889. Designed by Stanford White, the arch was first built out of wood to commemorate the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration. The prominent citizens loved it and paid for White to design it out of marble. Alexander Stirling Calder made the statue of Washington and Fredrick MacMonnies carved the relief work.

In 1916, painter John Sloan, dadaist Marcel Duchamp and three of their friends broke into the interior staircase of the arch. They climbed to the top, cooked food, lit Japanese lanterns, fired cap pistols, launched balloons and declared it the independent republic of New Bohemia. The citizens were outraged and the interior door of the arch was sealed. Some of the lucky have been able to tour the inside.

The fountain was built in 1960 and reminds us of the now-covered Minetta Brook that even today still flows under the southeast corner of the park.

I’ve noticed that it looks like the Arch door now in fact has an alarm on it or else a really secure new lock. Will post a photo.

Image: Downtown Doodler

Thanks to Local Ecologist for letting me know about this piece!

The Arch’s Roman Numerals

Roman Numerals on Eastern side of Arch

It’s funny when you notice something that you never have before. Walking from the Eastern side of the Park towards the Arch the other day, I noticed, for the first time, that there are Roman numerals up top on the eastern side of the structure. Having not thought about reading Roman numerals in a pretty long while, I did a bit of research to relearn how to decipher them (which was sort of fun).

The date there on the side of the Arch is not what I would have expected. The Arch was created to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration. It was first constructed in wood and unveiled to commemorate the centennial in 1889. It originally resided half a block away from its current location; the version we see today was later constructed in marble and made permanent.

The date on the side of the Arch is not 1889 to mark the centennial and when the first Arch was built nor the date when the current Arch was finished – 1890-1892 – but is 1789 – the actual year of Washington’s inauguration. (This is assuming I have read these Roman numerals correctly which I’m pretty sure I have.) We wouldn’t do it that way today – marking that date instead of the date of construction or some other significance.

It’s amazing reflecting on how old – and magnificent – the Arch is.

* Previously at WSP Blog: History of the Washington Square Arch and “Exitus Acta Probat”

Photos: Cathryn.

NYU Buildings Cast Shadow on the Park — A Look Back at the building of NYU’s Kimmel Center

2012 - NYU Buildings cast shadows on WSP

Updated — I came across this photo on Twitter taken by Rebecca Stern who says it is the view from the NYU Stern Building but it feels more like it’s taken from the Kimmel Center. Nonetheless, this certainly shows how the NYU buildings cast a shadow on Washington Square reaching to the middle of the fountain.

I wasn’t involved when the Greenwich Village community was dealing with New York University on the building of the Kimmel Center so I researched some of the history. This 2002 document, After the Kimmel Center: How Can we Better Plan to Protect Our Neighborhoods, Parks and View Corridors?(PDF), was prepared by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. Here is an excerpt:

This report grew out of a panel discussion and forum held by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation on April 30, 2002…

The spark for the event was the capping out of New York University’s new Kimmel Student Center on Washington Square South. GVSHP and a host of local and citywide groups had opposed the plans for this building three years earlier, when NYU first announced its plans to tear down the Loeb Student, and replace it with this new, larger building.

It was clear that the new building would be too big, towering over Washington Square Park and the nearby South Village, which consists nearly exclusively of buildings of no more than 5 or 6 stories. It was also clear that the new building would cast a long shadow from the south side of the park, limiting the park’s sunlight and connection to the surrounding neighborhood.

Unfortunately, when the building reached its full height and bulk, it became clear that Kimmel
would have an even greater and unforeseen impact: the view down Fifth Avenue through Washington Square Arch, for years one of New York’s great vistas, had been nearly obliterated.

One used to be able to look down the Avenue through the arch and see downtown skyscrapers; now that is virtually impossible. In fact, from just a short distance to the north the Arch appears to be dwarfed and seemingly engulfed by the building; where arch and sky were previously dramatically framed by Lower Fifth Avenue, this view now looks more like a blind alley.

In spite of all of this, however, the proposed building, with the community facility bonus which nearly doubles the allowable floor area ratio, was considered “as of right” under existing law.

Many assumed that given the wealth of historic resources in close proximity to the proposed building (which is in fact across the street from the Greenwich Village Historic District, across the street from Washington Square Park, and less than half a block from the landmarked Judson Memorial Church) there would be some greater degree of regulation or control over such a large project. There was not.

Views, sightlines, and impacts on parks are rarely accounted for in zoning. Zoning often allows buildings of substantially greater height (sometimes with no height restrictions whatsoever) than what surrounds them, even in residential districts with a consistent built environment.

Some additional history:

From the New York Daily News, February 10, 2000: Nyu Bldg. Plan Faces Suit Group Sez Center Hurts Washington Sq. Park :

“We’re looking at a building that’s 162 feet high that’s going to cast, by their own admission, additional shadows over Washington Square Park of over 100 feet,” said Lawrence Goldberg, the other attorney. “They don’t seem to be terribly concerned about this.”

NYU’s proposed Kimmel Center for University Life would take the place of the already demolished Loeb Student Center. The 200,000-square-foot site is on LaGuardia Place.

The replacement of Loeb has been a topic of heated debate and criticism since it was announced in the fall of 1998 that the university would tear down the structure. …

Goldberg also contended that NYU broke several written commitments to the Village community to build structures that were consistent with the historic nature of the area and would not cast significant shadows over Washington Square Park.

“This lawsuit is baseless, and we expect to prevail,” said NYU spokesman John Beckman. “This building is being built out of right. The notion that this building will cast huge shadows over Washington Square Park is an exaggeration.

New York Times, March 14, 1999 12-Level, $70 Million Complex to Be Built; New Student Center for N.Y.U. (In this NY Times story, Community Board 2’s District Manager is quoted as saying that the CB doesn’t see much problem with the building after first viewing the plans.)

The Village Voice in Shadow of the Ivory Tower, NYU’S building frenzy blocks the sun and burns the community from September 7, 1999 gives a good overview and analysis:

Whereas the Loeb Center’s ground floor opened onto the street, welcoming passersby to look in and students to look out, and its second story consisted of a large terrace looking out toward the park, plans for Kimmel— with its soaring glass-and-granite facade— appear to send a different message: Keep off our lawn.

It’s possible that NYU genuinely believes this building is suitable to the neighborhood. And it’s possible, too, that the university doesn’t want to blend in but to stand out. Behold, NYU is rising from the ashes of commuter-college hell in its Windexed glass armor, waving its growing pile of applications from students with higher SAT scores, proclaiming the virtues of its steadily improving caliber of faculty.

The architect, of course, has to please his client, which in turn has to please its donor, who presumably approves of the white granite and excessive glass. The donors, Helen and Martin Kimmel, ponied up $15 million to have “meet me at Kimmel” echoing from the lips of generations of students to come.

Mrs. Kimmel is on the NYU board; Mr. Kimmel is the founder and chairman emeritus of the Kimco Realty Corporation of New Hyde Park, New York.

What grander toast to immortality for a realtor than to emblazon his name at the edge of Washington Square Park?

Likely so. And yet do most people know who Kimmel, who died in 2008, was?

I remember the Loeb Student Center and how, at the time, you could just walk in unlike the Kimmel building which is much more off-putting as well as off-limits (of course, things are different, particularly post 9/11). The previous student center, built in 1959, had a college-vibe vs. corporate vibe.

The view of Washington Square Park from the Kimmel Center is lovely and expansive for those inside but the exterior pretty much does nothing for those outside to illuminate the neighborhood or the park.

Clearly, the process of getting the building built illustrates yet again NYU higher ups historical disdain for accommodating the community within which they co-exist. There are significant shadows far reaching into the Park as well as the monumental change in view through the Arch — two things that can’t be reclaimed until the next building is erected there in, say, another thirty years? Will NYU change its ways and work with the community then? Will NYU Plan 2031 have been passed and implemented? We shall see…

The History of the Washington Square Christmas Tree — Tree from First Tree Lighting Ceremony in 1924 Was Planted in the Park In Spirit of “Wise Use”

“Researching Greenwich Village History”, an NYU site, recently uncovered the history of the first Washington Square Christmas tree. It turns out that the tree propped up in the front of the Arch at the first tree lighting ceremony in 1924 was later planted in the park. Words to the carols – to prompt the sing along – were projected onto the Arch!

The writer was not able to confirm that that tree is still at WSP or where it was planted which would be quite interesting to know. Apparently, “conservation” was a big consideration at that time, more so than 87 years later it appears. An article in the New York Times in 1925 expressed that, “Each year…a cry is raised that to have Christmas trees is to endanger our waning forest resources.” Perhaps they might consider planting the trees in the park now vs. the trees ending up in the chipper. The original tree, if it still existed in recent years, may have been chopped down in the Parks Department’s axing of so many trees via its redesign of Washington Square.

Here’s the info:

The original tree was officially presented on December 24, 1924, by Parks Commissioner Gallatin. The “appropriate ceremonies” included the lighting of the tree, which was to be equipped with “1,500 amber, green and red incandescent lights.” (New York Times, “City’s Celebration of Yuletide Begins” December 24, 1924) as well as caroling, and as the article went to press, the plan was to project the words of Christmas carols directly onto the Washington Square Arch, “…so that all present may read and sing.” The living tree, temporarily set up by the arch, was then to be planted permanently elsewhere in the park the following Monday.

It seems that today’s Washington Square Christmas Tree is a cut one, but in the spirit of “wise use,” we can still hope that the original living tree was able to be planted and enjoyed for many years after its journey to New York City! And of course, every time we walk through Washington Square Park and see an evergreen, we can imagine that it’s an 87 year veteran of park life.

Don’t forget caroling by the tree continues in front of the Arch Saturday, December 24th 5 p.m.!

The projection of the words to the carols on the Arch seems to have been abandoned but perhaps that could be brought back too. It would be another way to save trees as songbooks are now provided and handed out by the Washington Square Association instead.

The Rockefeller Center tree lighting is in its 79th year — a not well known fact is that the Washington Square tradition, at year 87, surpasses it in age.

Photo of this year’s tree(2011): Fernandohn via Instagram.

After Over 100 Years, Dueling Returns to the Park! — Sunday, August 28th (Update: CANCELLED)

En Garde!

Cancelled due to forthcoming storm; will be rescheduled

The Martinez Academy of Arms will present dueling in Washington Square Park on Sunday, August 28th from 5-7 p.m. at the Holley Plaza (west of the Fountain). The Broome Street-based school, which teaches the European tradition of fencing arts, will hold a “demonstration of the art and science of fencing as it was practiced in New York City during two of its most important historical eras, the 18th and 19th centuries.”

In It Happened on Washington Square, Emily Kies Folpe documents dueling in Washington Square at the time it was a potter’s field:

The open space of the potter’s field was often a stage where large themes of American history played out in small dramas. In 1803, William Coleman, editor of the New York Evening Post, and Captain Thompson, harbormaster of the port of New York, fought a duel there. Although the immediate provocation was a personal insult, the animosity arose from the political convictions of the two men involved, each of whom adhered to a fundamental but opposing philosophy of government.

Coleman was first challenged to a duel by the editor of the American Citizen who accused him of slander. (Aaron Burr ran American Citizen and he battled Alexander Hamilton the following year in their famous duel in Weehawken, New Jersey in which Hamilton was killed.) The duel between the two editors was called off but Mr. Thompson (likely Thompson Street is named after him?) jumped in and stated that Coleman wasn’t up to a duel and “would readily turn the other cheek if attacked.” It was a different time and this caused Coleman to then challenge Thompson himself to a duel. Thompson died, admitting before hand that he had provoked the duel to happen.

Kies Folpe writes that duels continued for another twenty years or so “even as the area became more populated”; however, in 1828, dueling was prohibited by state law. (The Academy says duels were fought in Central Park as late as the 1920′s!)

Come witness this lost art on Sunday at the Park.

Photo: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliotheque nationale de France

Garibaldi Uncloaked, Unscaffolded and Restored! Barring Last Minute Setbacks, Eastern End of Park to Open Soon

Garibaldi Now

Updated 5/26 – Poor Garibaldi Statue… he’s had a rough time — first moved from his original location, looking worn down, exposed to the elements, then covered in a gawdy blue cloak (for a long stretch) and, more recently, encased in scaffolding.

But now Garibaldi’s been uncloaked, cleaned, restored, re-patinized and unscaffolded and is looking quite dapper!

Which also signals that the eastern side of the park – Phase IIA – is set to open soon. Likely not “by Memorial Day” (which is Monday the 30th) as the Parks Department told Community Board 2 in early April but pretty close! I’m going with Tuesday or Wednesday next week at this moment. (Update 5/26: I’d be surprised if it is next week but we’ll see.) There could be setbacks and the city will want the fountain out from under repair at that point too (not certain how that’s going).

Just what was done to Garibaldi? Got the word in late March from the NYC Parks Department on what would be done to the 123 year old statue as he waited cloaked in blue; that entailed the Public Design Commission approving the “cleaning, patination, coating and restoration methodologies and procedures.”

cloaked in blue...

Who was Garibaldi? At the time the statue was moved from its previous location in April 2010, I reported on some history of Giuseppe Garibaldi:

The Giuseppe Garibaldi Statue at Washington Square Park was moved last week from its position facing west (looking toward the fountain, his back was to Washington Square East).

The Garibaldi Statue was designed by Giovanni Turini and erected in 1888. It was refurbished once but not moved (hard to find info on that but there was a plaque outlining it at the Park – American Express financed it at the time).

under scaffolding

Some background on the Garibaldi statue from Emily Kies Folpe in her book, It Happened on Washington Square. Interesting note that Garibaldi was approached by Abraham Lincoln at the start of the Civil War to command a Union army corps. In response, one of Garibaldi’s stipulations was that Lincoln commit to abolishing slavery. This was not agreed to. Garibaldi declined.

Previous Location During Construction

There was something nice about the previous location, coming from the fountain and encountering Garibaldi regally standing there, welcoming you into the eastern end of the park (admittedly, while also ready to draw his sword!). I imagine the designer wanted to open up the vista (as was done – and works – on the western side). I asked designer George Vellonakis to take me for a tour of the park before it opens so he could tell me in person what he had in mind but he declined.

We’ll know soon enough how the new design fits the newly refurbished park when Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase II opens on the eastern end after 20 months of construction. Stay tuned!

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For more interesting background on Garibaldi, visit New York City Statues.