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!

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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.

Wall Street Journal Goes Inside the Washington Square Arch!

The Door (Easy to Miss)

Well that’s the Washington Arch to you (and me). A reporter from the Wall Street Journal gains access to inside – and top of – the Arch.

Inside the Washington Arch:

“We don’t allow people up here,” the [NYC] historic preservationist explained. “The stairway is quite dangerous and the roof is quite fragile. If we allowed the public up here, the roof would fail quite quickly.”

That’s a pity because the view from the top of the arch is unparalleled, quite literally at a crossroads of the city’s history.

Looking north, you get a clear shot all the way up Fifth Avenue. The skyscrapers of Wall Street rise to the south, the construction of the Freedom Tower proceeding apace and now clearly visible. Just below you is the park itself, brittle and beautiful in the winter morning light, and the genteel Greek Revival townhouses of Washington Square North.

Mr. Krawchuk [Parks Department] said that in 1917 a group of “Bohemians” led by the artists Marcel Duchamp and John Sloan and the poet Gertrude Drick broke into the arch and climbed to the roof. “They had a picnic and a party and drank tea late into the night,” he said, though one suspects stronger beverages might also have been involved. “Gertrude Drick read a proclamation declaring the free and independent state of Greenwich Village. Sloan did an etching of them all huddled here in the early morning hours.”

I’ve always secretly wanted to go to the top of the Arch. One Christmas Eve, a few years back, the door was left ajar and I stepped in the entryway and peeked up the stairs. I was tempted. I could almost see as much as the pictures that accompany the article show (Parks Department must have put restrictions as such). The view from the top does sound quite impressive; as for now, I can only imagine.

Photo: Daniella Zalcman

Upcoming Talks on Stanford White & Henry James

Hosted by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation:

When Architecture Could Fashion a Nation: A Lecture on the Architecture of McKim, Mead & White
Tuesday, January 18, 6:30 – 8:00 P.M.
Cooper Union, Rose Auditorium, 41 Cooper Square (at 7th Street)
Co-sponsored by The Cooper Union

As America matured in the mid 19th century, the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & (Stanford) White provided buildings for a changing society; from wooden houses in the country to regal social clubs in Manhattan. Many of the Village buildings we walk by and use everyday are fashionable creations of McKim, Mead & White—Washington Square Arch, Judson Memorial Church, and the Tompkins Square Library, to name a few. Learn how this firm helped shape a nation in transition and transformed Manhattan into a budding metropolis.

Talk by Professor Mosette Broderick, architectural historian and Director of the Urban Design and Architecture Studies program as well as the London-based Historical and Sustainable Architecture MA Program at NYU, recently released the book, TRIUMVIRATE: McKim, Mead & White–Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class In America’s Gilded Age.

Henry James, A Child of the Village
Thursday, February 3, 6:30 – 8:00 P.M.
Church of the Ascension, 12 West 11th Street (at 5th Avenue)
Co-sponsored by the Beaux Arts Alliance

Henry James was born in Greenwich Village in 1843, a neighborhood which always had a special place in his heart. Cultural historian David Garrard Lowe will discuss the works of James, as well as his life in New York. The Church of the Ascension set the stage for one of the most moving and mysterious passages in James’ The American Scene, a book which grew out of the author’s last visit to his home town in 1905.

(above, modified versions of GVSHP event descriptions)

Each talk is free; reservations required.
RSVP: rsvp@gvshp.org or 212-475-9585 ext. 34

* See Previous WSP Blog Posts on Henry James and Stanford White and The Washington Square Arch

The Washington Square Arch: Some Additional History

Washington Sq Arch late 1800's/early 1900's

The Arch at Washington Square Park was originally built in wood half a block away from its current location for the Centennial of George Washington’s Presidential inauguration in 1889. It was then commissioned in marble and completed in its current location at Fifth Avenue in the early 1890’s. The community came together to raise funds to build the permanent Washington Square Arch which was designed by noted architect Stanford White. The sculptures which adorn the ‘legs’ of the Arch — Washington At War and Washington at Peace, described in this previous blog entry — were not completed until 1916 and 1918.

The picture above must have been taken at some point between 1892 and 1916 – before the pedestal sculptures were completed as they are missing in the photo. Also note the decorative fence in foreground.

Stanford White died in 1906 (he was murdered atop the 2nd version of Madison Square Garden, since demolished, a building he also designed) and did not see the two Washington sculptures completed and adorning the Arch.

Judson Memorial Church, another building White designed, can be seen through the Arch – as White intended.

More on the history of the Washington Square Arch, “Exitus Acta Probat” (the Washington Family Coat of Arms) and architect Stanford White here.

Thank you to Matt Kovary for sending this photo in.

Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park — Home to Two Stanford White-designed structures

I went by Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn over the weekend. The Urban Park Rangers in the Fort Greene Park Visitors Center told me a bit of the park’s history. They informed me that Stanford White, principal of McKim, Mead & White (noted NYC architects in the early 20th century) and renowned architect of the Washington Square Park Arch (and Judson Church, among others), was also the designer of the park’s Prison Ship Martyrs Monument (pictured) and the Visitor Center/Rest Rooms, a building the American Institute of Architecture apparently refers to as “the most elegant outhouse in the world.”

Fort Greene Park is quite a treasure and a well-utilized park. Nothing too bohemian or out of the ordinary happens there but it has its purpose as a place you go to just … be. (Or play basketball or tennis!) It’s pure park vs. a more “public space” like Washington Square where things … happen in public. (No performances or protest appear to occur regularly at Fort Greene Park.) And while Washington Square Park is just (under) 10 acres, Fort Greene Park is a bit over 30.

The only unfortunate thing about Fort Greene Park is that it appears entirely ruled by the private Fort Greene Conservancy, to the point where you’d (almost) never know it was part of the New York City Park System!

Some background on the Park from the Parks Department: During the battle of Long Island, in the late 1700’s, “the British held thousands of captives on prison ships anchored in the East River. Over 11,500 men and women died of overcrowding, contaminated water, starvation, and disease aboard the ships, and their bodies were hastily buried along the shore. These brave patriots represented all thirteen colonies and at least thirteen different nationalities. In 1808 the remains of the prison ship martyrs were buried in a tomb on Jackson Street (now Hudson Avenue), near the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The Brooklyn fort was renamed for General [Nathanael] Greene and rebuilt for the War of 1812. When the threat of war passed, locals enjoyed visiting the grounds of the old fort for recreation and relaxation. The City of Brooklyn designated the site for use as a public park in 1845, and [Brooklyn Daily Eagle] newspaper editor Walt Whitman rallied popular support for the project. In 1847 the legislature approved an act to secure land for Washington Park on the site of the old fort.”

The Monument for the prison ship martyrs (there is a crypt underneath with their bodies), erected in 1908, was the last building Stanford White designed. He did not live to see it built. He was shot to death in 1906 by his (ex) young mistresses’ husband on the roof of Madison Square Garden, a building he also designed (a previous version, not the one standing now).

Fort Greene Park was first named Washington Park; the original master plan was designed by Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (architects behind Central Park and Prospect Park among many notable works) in 1864.

Photos: Cat

Talk on Stanford White, designer of Washington Square Arch, Tues. Dec. 9th, Manhattan

Stanford White-designed Washington Sq Arch

Stanford White-designed Washington Sq Arch

Stanford White was the noted designer of the Washington Square Park Arch. A renowned architect, part of the illustrious firm McMead, Kim & White, he originally designed the first version of the Arch which was built in wood, half a block away from its current location, for the Centennial of George Washington’s inauguration in 1889.

The Arch was then commissioned in marble and completed in its current location (Fifth Avenue and Washington Square North) in the early 1890’s. The public itself raised the money for the Arch and it was considered a big success.

I learned a lot about the Arch preparing for my Walking TourWashington Square Park: Past, Present and Future: A Guide to New York City’s Redesign of a Perfect Public Space.” One of my favorite points of note is that there are thirteen wreath-encircled stars near the top of the Arch – one for each original state – alternating with “W” for Washington. Also the two sculptures on each side of the Arch (“Washington At War” and “Washington at Peace“) are of interest. To read more about them and the Washington Family coat of Arms (“exitus acta probat“), see this previous entry.

Stanford White died tragically at the age of 53.

The Armory is conducting a discussion on Stanford White tomorrow evening, Tuesday, December 9th. Here is their description:

Stanford White, Architect

By the time of his death at fifty-three, Stanford White had transformed himself into the most celebrated architects in America. He was also one of its most prolific designers, a tastemaker of such stature that Harper’s Weekly declared he should be appointed Commissioner of Public Beauty. White’s passion for beauty was accompanied by an evolving taste. Early designs, such as his collaboration on the Armory’s Veterans’ Room, embraced the generous and inventive attributes of the Aesthetic Movement, while the work of his maturity reveals the same powerful imagination applied to a more traditional classical idiom.

Samuel White Lecturer

Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Reception 6:00pm
Program 6:30pm–8:00pm

643 Park Avenue, New York, NY – Phone: (212) 616-3930

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Washington Square Park Task Force Meeting Report back coming later this afternoon!