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!

What Will Happen Next for Washington Square Park Trees? Four New Arrivals Replace Perpetually Dying Trees Around Fountain

If you were wondering what the Parks Department’s next move would be after all the attention given to the perpetually dying trees that line the Washington Square fountain, it appeared when four new trees were planted mid-last week…

Village Green Zelkova

One of the New Tree Arrivals (West)

New tree

Roots? Drainage?

One in a Million

One of four new trees


When NBC New York featured a segment on this story in late September, the New York City Parks Department told reporter Chris Glorioso:

“We have experienced a series of failed plantings for the Zelkova trees in the area around Washington Square Park’s plaza. We are investigating potential causes of why trees are not surviving here and will conduct soil tests, examine the drainage, and determine if there is a problem with this particular species.”

At the time, Glorioso spoke to an arborist, Ralph Padilla, who stated:

“It was planted incorrectly,” he said after examining the dead tree near the arch. “It was planted too deep.”

“The giveaway is that all trees, before they enter the soil [should] flare out slightly at the base,” he said.

The dead tree near the arch does not flare out at all, Padilla said. He said it was possible that private contractors or parks personnel repeated the mistake by burying the root balls of eight trees too far beneath the soil, suppressing oxygen supply. When roots are submerged too deeply, recent transplants can die. …

My initial reporting on this in 2009 including speaking to a landscape architect at the Park who revealed that the design was inappropriate for the trees’ survival. He stated that the Parks Department would likely not address the issue sufficiently — due to internal politics and not wanting to ruffle the park’s redesigner – and accurately predicted that this pattern of dying trees would happen repeatedly. Eight young trees have died over four years; in two locations, trees have been planted and died three times in a row. These trees all replaced healthy 40 year old trees axed due to the Bloomberg Administration’s symmetrical “vision” of moving the fountain from its historical location 22 feet east to “align” with the Arch.

The way these four new trees are planted looks exactly the same – in fact, the roots look even more submerged. What do you think? Will the arborcide continue?

Inquiries this blog has made to the city Parks Department as to what their assessment revealed have not been responded to.
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Photos — And Fountain Finally Off!

Friday - fountain off and empty

Arch (look closely - police guarding at left)

Bobby perhaps? Red-tailed hawk flies over the fountain

Policeman guarding ... pigeons?

Downed light eastern entrance to park

In case you missed it, here’s the saga of the perpetually flowing fountain (November 17, 2011).

Weekend at Washington Square

Fall at the Fountain - On!

Still wondering about the health of the remaining trees that line the fountain. They certainly did ‘turn’ color early (see one in background here and a few shots below) and I’m thinking they have also met the fate of their predecessors.

Guitarist by Arch; Sand Painting on Plaza


Piano Player On Fountain Plaza East

In defiance of the newly and seemingly arbitrarily enforced “regulation” that musicians and artists must be 50 feet from the fountain or a monument or 5 feet from a bench at the park, musicians and artists were found Sunday near all, as it should be. Although artist Joe Mangrum, who has been sand painting at Washington Square for a really long time, was ticketed on Saturday.

Debt and Money Forum - Occupy Washington Square

Speaker Andrew Ross at Occupy Washington Square Forum

Occupy Washington Square held another forum Sunday, “Debt and Money: Demand the Impossible,” which was very interesting (I’ll add in some notes from it later). These forums will address new topics with new speakers and will be held weekly on Sundays at 4 p.m. Towards the end of this one, WSP resident Bobby flew by and made his way west of the Arch!

Arrow Pointing East - To Where is Unknown

Yesterday at the Park (Photos)

Two Squirrels enjoy the "Hanging Elm" NW Quadrant

Cleaning Up Chess Plaza - Work Resumed ?

Plants Arrive SW Quadrant

Arch Still Barricaded Off

??

Chalked Plaza -- Occupy Washington Square Park

Fall Colors or Another Fountain Tree Dying?

The squirrels in the park were in fine form yesterday … enjoying visitors and regulars, and, of course, the park’s trees — pictured at top is the famous and very old “Hanging Elm” in the North West Quadrant. …

Work appears to have resumed somewhat on construction on Phase II-B – South West Quadrant/Chess Plaza  – signs that someone was there appeared in the form of potted plants and a wheel barrow. …

The Arch is still mysteriously barricaded off. It’s hard to know what to make of that. (Think of the “poor tourists” and visitors wanting to get their pictures taken in front of the Arch! Kidding, sort of.) …

Occupy Washington Square chalked the plaza to announce the location of their meeting the other night. Next meeting is on Wednesday (tomorrow), October 26th at 7 p.m. and the community is invited! …

It’s hard to say if the remaining 3 – living – trees around the fountain — the ones that remain — are now exhibiting fall colors or are dying.

Photos: Cathryn

Among Other Things, Phase II Contractor Confirms WSP Fountain is Not Aligned with the Arch After All (Part II)

Oh Dear...

Updated 3:45 p.m. — I’ve written here about the problems and certainly the delays on Washington Square Park’s redesign over the last few years. Now it has been confirmed that the stalled work on Phase II, halted for six weeks now, is due to a dispute between the city’s Parks Department and the contractor, Tucci Equipment Rental Corporation. Anthony Martucci, the head of Tucci, says that the Parks Department has not paid him a large sum he is owed and is cutting payment amounts for work for which costs were approved in advance by the city agency.

In an email to Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, Community Board representatives, City Council members, and select press this week, Martucci says that he agreed to a “gag order” after speaking out last fall about problems at the park (see this post from September 2010 for some details of the problems at that time). He says he came to an agreement at that time with the Parks Department and the relationship was relatively harmonious for awhile. That harmony ended at some point earlier this year.

In his email, Martucci outlines some significant pieces of information. Perhaps the one of most interest relates to the aligning of the fountain with the Arch.

A little history of WSP Blog coverage on this topic — I wrote about this possible misalignment in August 2008 and also after a reader, Steve, commented in August 2009, 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 Bloomberg Administration’s grand “vision” for Washington Square Park included moving the Fountain from its historic location to a new placement 22 feet east so it would align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. Pretty much no one agreed with this change in location but the administration would not be deterred.

The fountain had been in its previous location – which was the actual CENTER OF THE PARK – since 1871; over 137 years, until Mayor Michael Bloomberg became in charge.

The Parks Department claimed that it would not cost any additional money to construct the fountain in a new location — a new location which involved rerouting water lines — but that is up for much debate and likely untrue – an obfuscation of the truth. Moving water lines would have to add additional costs.

In 2007, community activist Jonathan Greenberg hired a company to assess the costs of moving the Fountain and presented the findings to Council Member Alan Gerson. The company’s assessment was that it would cost at least $500,000 to move the Fountain. Gerson queried the Parks Department about this and the agency insisted there was no additional cost involved and the former Council Member took them at their word. It was one last try, after ongoing attempts to persevere by the community, to get the fountain location move stopped, as even the Landmarks Preservation Commission caved to Bloomberg’s wishes (and tactics).

From Martucci’s email:

So Tucci did some investigating, found out the center of the fountain was actually 4 ft out from the center. This threw all the designers dimensions off, and Parks knew it but didn’t tell Tucci because they didn’t want to let the public know.

When Tucci exposed this, Parks to protect them self was going to default Tucci from the project.

I have fought very hard to finish this job, Tucci hasn’t gotten paid now for 3 months, and just recently parks has cut payment 13 from $650,000 to $276,000 without explanation.

That is one reason the chess plaza was stalled last year — remember when a tree was in the way of the planned curb? It seemed at the time like a small error which the Parks Department and contractor could not come to an agreement on how to resolve. Actually it was due to a BIGGER ERROR – the mis-aligning of the Fountain. (And, as we know, other errors have caused casualties such as the repeatedly dying trees around the fountain — young trees which replaced perfectly healthy 40 year old trees in the original location.)

What else has this thrown off?

Does this just confirm that, after all, the famous Washington Square Park Fountain could have been left in its well-liked and historic original location as the “mid-point” of the park?

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Previously on WSP Blog:

* Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was still off-center to the Arch? August 7, 2008

* So … *is* the Washington Square Park Fountain aligned to the Arch? August 10, 2009

* Actually, Mr. Vellonakis, the Washington Square Fountain is already aligned. As is, Fountain is Park’s midpoint. June 2, 2008

* What’s happening with Phase II-B / Chess Plaza & SW End? August 31, 2011

* Part I: Washington Square Park Phase II: An Eerie Silence — What’s Going On? September 1, 2010

* Part II: Washington Square Park Phase II: Lack of Transparency and Oversight Continue September 7, 2010

* Part I: Community Board 2 and NY City Council Disavow Oversight of WSP Redesign Project as Phase II Construction Stalled for Five Weeks October 18, 2011

Photo: J. Bary

Two Stories on Washington Square’s Dying Trees Around the Fountain

Updated —

DNAinfo covers the dying trees around the Fountain and has the city’s response (and mine!) with this story: City Getting to Root of Washington Square Park Tree Deaths (August 25, 2011)

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Local Ecologist Blog notes how the latest tree is dying and researches what this signifies:

Strolling through the park yesterday morning I was struck by the bronze foliage of one of the remaining Zelkovas (Zelkova serrata, Japanese zelkova; Ulmaceae (elm family)) around the fountain. Bronze is a color typical of fall foliage; this tree is not exhibiting the dark green typical of summer.

The bronze (brown) color indicates leaf scorch. The entire canopy appears scorched.* Also, there is some dieback in the center of the canopy. What are the causes of scorch? From The Ohio State University “Disease Control in the Landscape” (Bulletin 614):

These diseases commonly result from winter damage as well as from poor root function coupled with high temperatures and moisture shortage. In some cases, bacterial infection of the plant is involved. Scorched leaves are brown around the edges and sometimes between the veins. Leaf yellowing and wilting may occur in late summer. Dieback and decline is often mistaken for Verticillium wilt. No wood streaking is present, however. Girdling roots may also cause these symptoms.

When I looked into the tree well I noticed that someone (or an animal) had dug near the trunk and at the edge of the basin. Looking into the cleared soil next to the trunk I did not see the root flare. Planting a tree so that its root flare is at the soil surface is important — for gas exchange, disease control, and to prevent girdling roots.

Read more at A bronze Zelkova in August.

See WSP Blog coverage posts on the dying trees.

How Many Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Must Die Before Suffocating Design is Corrected?

With all the talk about “MillionTreesNYC” in our city, as one blogger wrote, it’s really “OneMillionDeadTrees”. Another p.r. ruse put forth by our Mayor — the plan lacks any built-in initiative to maintain the “million” trees planted on neighborhood streets.

For the perpetually dying trees that line the Washington Square Park Fountain, it’s a bit more complex. It’s known that the design is killing these trees, and yet no one will speak up within the Parks Department as the designer of the park is greatly protected within the city agency. Community Board 2 will not address it (the Parks Committee of the Community Board is chaired by a former Parks Dept staffer whose job now is dependent on the Hudson River Trust, which is tied to the Parks Department) and local Council Member Margaret Chin is hands off.

How many more trees lining the famous Washington Square fountain have to die?

Source of the problem: the tree 'pit'

For a few months up until July, there were three dead trees lining the fountain (of eight total). Two of those locations had trees replanted and died three times in succession.

Now those locations are vacant, likely awaiting a fourth try by the Parks Department at getting these trees to miraculously live. There is no way they can live unless the design itself is changed. Experts in landscape and construction will support this.

Of course, it must again be noted that these young trees took the place of healthy, living, old trees that had been there over 40 years, chopped down as they were inconveniently in the way of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to relocate the fountain 22 feet east to align with the Arch.

A professional pointed out to me yesterday that it is no coincidence that this tree south of the Arch died immediately after the heavy rain fall. There is no proper drainage for those trees within those tree pits (also connected to the use of the structural soil I was originally informed), based on George Vellonakis’s design, so that last tremendously heavy rainstorm, the water could not drain, sending the tree cascading to its death basically drowning.

When I mentioned the improper drainage to Mr. Vellonakis back in December 2009 at a Washington Square Park Task Force meeting (note: those Task Force meetings have since ceased), he looked at me incredulously and with a bit of disdain and said “there is no drainage problem.”

Well, there is and there always was.

It’s the Prime of Summer 2011 – Is Something (New) Wrong with the Washington Square Fountain?

Updated 4:45 p.m.

Opening Day Phase I - May 2009

Fountain Now, Summer 2011

Fountain, No Side Water Plumes, August 2011

In mid-May of this year, the new Washington Square Park fountain went under repair for two or so weeks. As part of the Bloomberg Administration’s redesign of the park, the famous fountain, in its previous location since 1871, was moved 22 feet east to align with the Arch. It is now a little over two years old. The “new” fountain was unveiled in May 2009 and is pictured at top at the opening of Washington Square Park Redesign: Phase I. The fountain was rebuilt from scratch using the stones from the previous structure. The “old” fountain was eighty years old — according to documents I unearthed recently, written by former City Council Member Alan Gersonand still working.

The fountain has side plumes or “jets” that spout water from them. They were working up until June of this year but they are currently not working and haven’t been for over a month. It’s unclear if the issue is (again) related to the construction or to perhaps maintenance of the Washington Square fountain.

Opening Ceremony Phase I 2009 - Side Jets Working

In June -- Plumes Still Working

The plume source -- Now

If you visit the fountain, the experience is somewhat lessened to say the least. It’s perplexing what the exact problem is. (I wrote to the Parks Department Press Office but did not receive an answer on this.)

Will this latest issue be acknowledged, addressed and fixed at some point? Much money and resources were used to dismantle, relocate, align and reconstruct the Washington Square Park Fountain. You’d imagine, at a major city park, in the prime of summer, that those side water jets on a virtually new structure would be working for the public’s enjoyment and use. If something is wrong – which appears to be the case – what could it be?

* * *

On a side note: Yesterday the fountain was drained and cleared of bottles that accumulate underneath it and cause problems and are of a concern to people wading IN the fountain. (Note: this is not the cause of the plumes not working!) I gather later in the evening people are leaving bottles in there. I don’t know if those people read my blog (!) but, if you see someone doing so, perhaps ask them to clean up a bit! There’s also handily now recycling for bottles and cans at the park. Someone just wrote in about seeing cigarette butts in the fountain as well. The Parks Department without a doubt has its issues but we do all need to respect the space that we are using and share.

** Previous WSP Blog Post from May 16th, 2011: Is the New Washington Square Park Fountain Falling Apart? Fountain Now Under Wraps

Photos: Cathryn

Opera Under the Arch!

Quite the sight to see – and sounds to hear – Opera singers under the Arch!

Tuesday late afternoon, as I was making my way through the Park under the Arch, I encountered Roxanna Christina Walitzki (right) and Katie Kat (left). They are both opera singers and graduate students at NYU Steinhardt. They have been  ‘busking” for years but Katie told me that busking in New York City makes performing opera on the stage – almost – seem easy. The two songs I heard them sing were first a duet “The Cat Duet” by Rossini and Katie Kat sang alone “Deh, Vieni” from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. They tried performing in various locations throughout the park but ultimately determined that the acoustics within the Arch, made it, as Katie Kat stated, “the spot to sing.”