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

Washington Square Park Dog Run Flooding Ignored; Rainwater and Restroom “Runoff” Creating Disease-Producing Conditions

Gothamist reports on the status of the Washington Square Park Dog Run after a reader informed the site that a combination of rain and “runoff from the adjacent restrooms” was causing a huge flood in the middle of the dog run. The reader wrote:

Backed up drain from restroom filling the run, mosquitos everywhere, hookworm and giardia epidemics. This is crazy, where are our dogs supposed to go and why doesn’t the city care about this diseased cesspool in the middle of Washington Square Park?

I don’t venture into the Dog Run much but this situation sounds beyond horrible; yet fixable and in need of priority attention.

A commenter (“washingtonsquareparksucks” – hmm…) at the site wrote:

The dog run has been like this for over a month. There have absolutely been sick dogs with hookworm and giardia. One vet said he saw five cases in one day and they all were dogs who attend this run. It is a shame that the entire park has had a facelift and the dog run has become a festering waste.

As a dog walker with over 25 dogs a day to exercise there is no way I would bring my clients animals in there. This is a disgrace. The park manager Becky has supposedly tried to get a city plumber but to no avail. She has also been spread thin because of budget cuts and is now managing Union Square Park and Washington Square Park making her unavailable to really prioritize this issue. The dog park manager Pat has blown this issue off because she is frustrated with the whole remodel and never being able to get anything done via the parks department.  Village residents are disgusted and have been campaigning everyone to call 311. We all know how that effective that is… useless. PLEASE FIX OUR DOG RUN!

So, does this further confirm the fact that the city’s Parks Department, under Commissioner Adrian Benepe, entirely has its priorities backwards? Parks are being overhauled left and right (Union Square, Washington Square, Prospect Park, the High Line) with no regard to how to upkeep them – during or afterwards.

Where is the City Council? Where is Margaret Chin? (It’s her district but she’s been profoundly low key unlike her predecessor Alan Gerson, who may not have been perfect, but was responsive in his own way.) How is there NO oversight?

On Mike Bloomberg’s Mayoral “win” of Third Term, Plus Eight Articles Worth Reading (Updated: Nine!)

Updated 1:29 p.m.

Yes, by now everyone knows that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg won his much-desired third term (another four years!) – after overturning voted-in term limits – last night with his $100 million campaign, the complicity of the local media and the lackluster support given by the ‘powers that be’ to the Democratic candidate Bill Thompson.

The one good thing that might come out of a Bloomberg third term is that the press and the politicians, especially in light of his narrow (4-5%) win, may at last stop thinking of him as such a “good mayor” and start looking more critically at his policies (and failings) on:

– homelessness, poverty, construction and building, over-development, corporate giveaways, lack of affordable housing, privatization of parks and public space, rezonings destroying communities and small businesses, police misconduct (the RNC should not be forgotten), lack of public planning (not enough schools for all the new “luxury housing”), endless school testing with lackluster results and parental outrage at his educational “system,” lack of community input in just about everything (but to name a fewConey Island, Washington Square Park, Willets Point, Atlantic Yards, Yankee Stadium, Union Square, Chinatown, Williamsburg/Greenpoint), enforcing of the “nanny state,” and more.

Here are eight nine articles worth reading on our Mayor and the election:

1. Politico excellent article on Bloomberg race as missed opportunity for Democrats (i.e., President Obama!).

2. Today’s New York Times News Analysis proclaims “Mayor No Longer Seems Invincible.”  On Bloomberg’s “slim victory,” the paper says: “For all the talk of a post-racial, post-class city, Mr. Bloomberg gained a third term heavily dependent on the votes of white, middle-class and wealthy voters.”

3. A Daily News article concurs:

What if President Obama – instead of delivering a squishy, nonendorsement-endorsement of Thompson, after his press secretary couldn’t even come up with Thompson’s name – had stumped for the man?

What if City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, instead of sitting on her hands for months, used the power of her purse strings to rustle up some support for Thompson?

What if the Rev. Al Sharpton, who was happy to stand onstage last night at Thompson’s concession speech, had stood a little closer during the campaign?

What if the more powerful city unions like the United Federation of Teachers and SEIU Local 1199 Democratic check writers or for-hire strategists had stayed true?

“A lot of Democratic donors who sat on their wallets are kicking themselves tonight,” said Rep. Anthony Weiner, who bowed out of the race for mayor early on, but did what he could for Thompson down the stretch.

4 & 5.  Godless Liberal Homo sums it all up with “Mayor for Life Bloomberg,” as does Suzannah B. Troy saying “Anthony Weiner must be kicking himself.”

6. Election Day piece from Vanishing New York on Bloomberg’s narcissism and endless need to “clean up” the City.

7. At Gothamist, “What Exactly did happen last night?”:

“After running a record-breaking $100 million campaign that won major endorsements and blanketed the city in nearly non-stop advertising, Mayor Bloomberg defeated the underfunded Democratic candidate Bill Thompson by only 5 percent of the vote, winning with 51 percent to his rival’s 46. This comes after polls from the days before the election predicted Bloomberg ahead by double digits… The pollsters might have some explaining to do.”

8. Gawker’s pre-election “endorsement” “Don’t Vote for Bloomberg” encapsulates the issues with our Mayor (which most of the mainstream press ignore) perfectly.

9. (Added!) Pretty amazing recounting of Bloomberg’s strong arm campaign tactics in Times’ piece, “Chief Factor in Mayor’s Race: Bloomberg Influence.”

NYC Arborcidal Waterfalls “Public Art” Ended Yesterday

Public Art "arborcidal" Waterfalls Brooklyn Bridge

Arborcidal Waterfalls as Public Art

I received a bulletin from outside.in which led me to Gothamist which announced that the “arborcidal” NYC Waterfalls ended their much-publicized killing spree of Brooklyn Heights‘ trees yesterday.

Despite our Mayor’s much hyped “love OF trees,”* the artist, Olafur Eliasson “received an award for the exhibit’s contribution ‘to the public environment‘” from Mayor Bloomberg, according to the Brooklyn Paper.

I suspect the only tangible thing the NYC Waterfalls truly contributed to the public environment was dying trees in Brooklyn Heights.

Mayor Bloomberg stated initially that Eliasson’s Waterfalls would bring $55 million to the City’s economy. Not that I think that’s what public art is about but since Mayor Bloomberg does… how’d they do? When asked, our CEO Mayor’s spokesperson pointed to an increase in sold-out boat tours. $55 million = a lot of boat tours. We can expect an accounting from the city’s Economic Development Corporation but since they most likely report to the Mayor … I’m sure we can anticipate a positive outcome.

For WSP Blog previous coverage when the arborcide first occurred, click here.

* Related post: “How do you define hypocrisy, Mayor Bloomberg? 14 Union Square Trees Scheduled to be cut down.”

Photo: Wally G