Washington Square: The Arch, Fifth Avenue

The Arch and Fifth Avenue

March 2010.

In the Media

Construction to Align Fountain with Arch 2008

Just when you thought everyone in the mainstream media had forgotten about the Bloomberg Administration’s decision to align the Washington Square Fountain with Fifth Avenue and the Arch as part of its redesign plan (the fountain had stood regally in its original location for 137 YEARS), I came across this piece from writer Michael Gross at Crain’s NY Business. (This was a couple of weeks ago but still worth noting.)

New York Becoming Wisconsin:

The mayor’s domestication of Manhattan has gone far enough. It’s there in the nanny-state bans on foods, sodas and ciggies; the redesign of nasty, grotty, thrill-a-minute Times Square into a holding pen for clueless tourists; the move of the Washington Square fountain 22 feet to the east so it aligns with the arch and Fifth Avenue; even the routing of quirky neighborhood retailers and their replacement by Duane Reades, bank branches and chain stores—a perhaps unintended but definitely unpleasant side-effect of the mayor’s economic miracle. I recently called Time Warner Center the Short Hills Mall and someone said, “Don’t insult Short Hills like that.” Much as I like the visual vibrancy of the new Times Square, shut your eyes and listen to the voices around you, and you could be in Green Bay.

Enough with domestication. New Yorkers don’t want to be domesticated. We don’t want safe. We sometimes like scary. We don’t even always want clean. We’re not afraid of what’s around the corner; we rush toward it.

More at Crain’s.

For some history, see previous WSP Blog Post: Actually, Mr. Vellonakis, the Washington Square Park Fountain IS already aligned

Washington Square Park Tree Lighting 2009 Thursday, December 10th; Caroling Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24th — at The Arch


Two Events: Thursday, December 10th and Thursday, December 24th, 2009

Washington Square Park will hold its annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony under the Arch on Thursday, December 10th at 6 p.m.  This will be the 83rd year the tree has been lit.  The Washington Square ceremony is older than the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting!  That tree lighting tradition began in 1931 making it now 78 years old.

On Thursday, December 10th, after the tree is lit at 6 p.m., song leader Mary Hurlbut, accompanied by the Rob Susman Brass Quartet, will sing holiday songs.  There will be a Santa Claus present. 

On Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24th at 5 p.m. — celebrate the holiday with carols led by the Rob Susman Brass Quartet at the Washington Square Arch.

The Washington Square Park Christmas tree will be lit in front of the Arch at Fifth Avenue between the hours of 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. throughout the holiday season.

At both events, songbooks will be provided by the Washington Square Association which also donates the tree.  The Washington Square Association was founded in 1906 and is one of the city’s oldest community organizations.  For 83 years, it has sponsored carol singing under the arch.

* Note: 2010 Tree lighting info here.

Photo: Ken Howard

So… *is* the Washington Square Park Fountain aligned to the Arch?

irony or... poetic justice, perhaps?

irony or... poetic justice, perhaps?

There’s been a lot of under-the-radar discussion about whether the Washington Square Park Fountain is actually aligned with the Arch.  

This has been a topic of discord since it was first announced a few years back that the Bloomberg Administration intended to move the famous fountain in its location since the 1870’s and in the exact center of the park in that spot23 feet east to line up with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.  The relocation of the Fountain also led to the destruction of seven of the eight trees that lined the Fountain Plaza because they were in the way (note:  two of the replacement trees are already dying or dead – more on that another day).

Having reviewed a lot of the history of the redesign and controversy around it, there was pretty much close to no one, other than designer George Vellonakis, who thought this was important.  It’s never been clear if it was solely the landscape designer’s whim or a directive from elsewhere.  

However, someone determined early on in Washington Square Park’s history (1870’s), when the fountain was first placed, that it should be located in the center of the Park on its east-west axis.  It’s not obvious symmetry but it makes sense.  It works.  To just obliterate this history – on top of the fact that park users liked where it was – seemed wrong when first announced and still does now.

And you have to wonder about the NYC Art Commission (now called the Design Commission – as of July ’08) which gave the approval on moving the Fountain.  What was their criteria?  … Then again they are ALL appointed by the Mayor.

I first published a post on whether the Fountain and Arch were misaligned in August of last year while the Park was still under construction after seeing the above photo.  The photographer, J.Bary, later wrote in saying he’d watched them meticulously figure out where the center was and that it’s the angle from which the photo was taken that makes it look unaligned.  

But when you’re on the Fountain Plaza, it does look a bit, um, off.

At the Phase I Grand Opening Ceremony May 28th of this year, I overheard someone from the NYC Parks Department say he was surprised that no one had said anything about the Fountain not being aligned with the Arch.  (I don’t know that he was confirming this, or just saying that they’d probably gotten some comments like that.)  I’ve heard other people mention this tho’ since then, and then, on August 5th of this year, WSP Blog reader named Steve wrote in as follows:

Is anyone ever going to admit that the fountain is now aligned to nothing — not the center of the park as it was before, not the arch and not 5th Avenue? What was the point of moving it?!?!?! It is NOT aligned to either the arch or the avenue.

The only stated reason George Vellonakis has given on the record for moving the Fountain is that it makes a better shot for tourists to take back home with them.  Putting that aside as not a very good reason… If the Fountain is now not in the center of the park (as it was for over 100 years) and if it’s not aligned with the Arch… what was the whole point?


Original August 7th, 2008 WSP Blog entry:  Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was off-center to the Arch?

Photo:  J. Bary