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.

The News You’ve Been Awaiting: Eastern Side of Washington Square Park (Phase IIA of Redesign) Opened Today!

The news you’ve been looking for! The Northeast and Southeast Quadrants of Washington Square Park opened today, Thursday, June 2nd! This will complete Phase II – A, a large section of the park, the entire eastern side, which has been under construction for 20 months. PHOTOS COMING!

Phase II was scheduled for completion by Fall 2010; then we heard the end of the year (tho’ doubted it), then “Spring 2011,” then “by Memorial Day,” but park goers looked happy to be finally able to stream through the eastern end of the park.

Of course, this isn’t all of Phase II, since, for one, part of it (The Mounds and the Large Dog Run) was moved into Phase III. And Chess Plaza, technically still in Phase II, now Phase II-B, won’t be finished til the end of the month. At least, at last, it’s something!

WSP Blog chronicled the problems back in September 2010 outlining how the city’s parks department caused numerous delays in getting the job done, how the project was over-budget, and the fact that no governmental agencies were providing oversight.

Washington Square Park’s entire redesign – Phases I, II, and III – was budgeted and approved for $16 Million at the onset. Phase I alone — which moved the fountain to align with the Arch, reduced the public space around the fountain, and re-landscaped the NorthWest Quadrant, opened in May of 2009 — cost $13 Million. Phase II was budgeted at $9 Million but will likely be $8 Million and that’s without the Large Dog Run and Mounds (included in the original figure). Phase III (rest rooms and administrative building – the new “pergola”) had been budgeted at $9 Million (note – that’s before the cost of the Mounds and Dog Run are added in). (Got all that?)

Since the Parks Department’s projects continue to be seriously over-budget with no apparent oversight by any governing body, the project by the end will have more than doubled from its approved budget and is now projected for $30-$35 Million in cost.

The fountain is out from under wraps but not on yet – in case you were wondering.

PHOTOS here.