Washington Square Music Festival Responds to Post on Scaling Back of Performances and Festival Relationship to Washington Sq Association

On Tuesday (7/31), this post appeared on this blog: Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight. Washington Square Music Festival Executive Director Peggy Friedman, while not questioning the substance of the piece itself, wrote in to offer her position as far as the Washington Square Association’s relationship to the Washington Square Music Festival. She wrote, as follows:

Re: New stage in Washington Square and the WS Music Festival: While we are always glad for the coverage given to the Music Festival, I must take exception to the statement that I was somehow influenced by our parent organization, the Washington Square Association in the 2009 meeting before Landmarks Commission. So much water has gone under the bridge since then, that I would have to see a transcript to agree to how the Festival did or did not vote. We have never been satisfied with the stage, or the smaller audience space, but we are getting used to it, and had two fabulous concerts there recently. However, the suggestion that any vote I made was influenced IN ANY WAY by the Washington Square Association is false. We are our own entity and the Association respects us and supports us. It is not necessary for the two entities to agree on every point. Anne-Marie Sumner, president of the Association has always been particularly helpful, and I would like to clarify her and the Board’s policy of “non-interference”. Thank you, Peggy Friedman.

In other news, The Villager has a nice profile of Ms. Friedman this week.

Two Letters on Washington Sq Park’s New Design

Sharon Woolums’ Letter to the Editor in weekly the Villager (June 3rd, 2009):

To The Editor:

After the initial euphoria of just having the park opened and reveling in the perfect spring day, I reflected on where the $13 million went, and now realize what disturbs me. I miss the sunken fountain, so beautifully set apart from the street. Now the fountain is an extension of the street, instead of the beginning of something completely different. You felt drawn down — invited into the fountain. Now it’s more like the fountain is an object you are supposed to look at instead of being drawn into, to experience.

The redesigned park looks like something imposed on the Village, boring and uneventful: flattened out. The fountain area, bland and generic, instead of exciting and unique, looks more like a corporate plaza than a park. The huge walkway with the gigantic planters in the middle looks like an outdoor mall in Wisconsin. And that poor tree around the fountain, died of a heartache.

Now linear — before idiosyncratic; there was an off-centeredness that was deliberate. It represented people who live in the Village who march to a different drummer. Our park embodied democracy, now transformed undemocratically.

The landscaping is prissy, organized patches of vegetation not unlike that found in the gardening section of any Home Depot. But it all goes so well with N.Y.U.’s Kimmel Center. The park now looks like another N.Y.U. project, with the two telltale plaques on either side of the “Tisch! Fountain.” I can’t bring myself to say that. Too bad the fountain hadn’t been auctioned off to the highest bidder. It seems a $2.5 million advertisement for perpetuity is just dirt cheap.

The walls that surrounded the theater in the round created an acoustical field for the music; sound bounced back out, radiating from behind. Now there is nothing to deflect the music, it all gets meshed together with the competing sound of gushing water.

With the stroke of an architect’s pen, the park was forever stripped of its bohemian character, wiping away decades of history. We hope this sacrifice of comfort and possible clamoring for a conservancy (the privatization of our public park) will not kill the spontaneous creativity that happened naturally here, once upon a time. We hope that glorious time will not die like the tree in the circle.

Sharon Woolums

(WSP Blog note- the letter is slightly shortened for space reasons.)

Photographer Stacy Walsh Rosenstock wrote in to WSP Blog recently about the new design in response to an older post, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was off-center to the Arch?“:

As someone whose dog insists we Washington Square on a daily basis now that the weather’s good, I find that nothing seems to look “right” when we enter from the South.

In the older design, with the fountain to the west and more open space coming up from Thompson Street, there was a more gradual lead-in to the circle. Now the path certainly looks skewed and, in photos, it’s nearly impossible to form a visual grid of major planes.

Sometimes designs that appear so perfect on paper don’t necessarily work out in three dimensional visual space. Or maybe Stanford White and others involved in the park’s major features knew a thing or two about dealing with asymetrical space.

Photo: Cat

Musings: On Washington Square, The Villager and the Village Alliance BID

This week’s Villager features an article on the Washington Square Park ribbon cutting last week (May 28th). The writer is Albert Amateau who I met at the park’s opening the week prior. I’m a little stunned at this piece which glosses over anything that might have been problematic over the Park’s redesign. It’s not as if The Villager hasn’t reported it over the years, and in detail. There’s reference to some discord but little context. The little there is is allotted to one person who is quoted stating that “20 people” were against changes being made to the park. ??

It’s amazing how quickly the arguments can get lost or forgotten amidst the … pretty. This piece seems to rewrite history and ignore what was a truly problematic, non-transparent and unnecessarily hostile process put into place by the New York City government in the redesign of Washington Square Park.

On this blog, although I’ve certainly had people write in saying they love the new park, I’ve also had people write in with substantive and thoughtful explanations as to what they take issue with. Perhaps Mr. Amateau didn’t encounter many people who were able to give him concrete thoughts on-the-spot. Many people stayed away that day who felt uncomfortable with the “celebration.” Long time activist Mitchel Cohen, who was out of town, wrote in commenting and asked … why wasn’t anyone handing out flyers critiquing the Parks Department and informing people about what went on?

It’s a valid point and, as much as no one wants to be “the negative person” forever, it’s also important for other communities and other battles – and Washington Square Park’s history – that people know what went on here during the Bloomberg Administration.

On the Business Improvement District and their “significant” contribution?

Then there’s the question of the Village Alliance Business Improvement District (formerly the 8th Street BID) which is, it seems to me, gearing up to play a key role in any private conservancy. A conservancy is greatly opposed by the vast number of community members (and the Parks Department is well aware of this).

The Villager article states: “Honi Klein, president of the Village Alliance business improvement district, who raised significant funds for the Washington Square Park renovation, declared the phase-one completion a resounding success.”

From what I know, the Village Alliance raised $125,000 thus far with plans to raise another $125,000. Now, I’m not saying that’s a small amount of money but for a project (Phases I-III Washington Square Park Redesign) with a price tag of over $32 million, that’s really not a “significant” amount, is it?

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** For an up-to-date refresher on what the issues were and are, go here. **

Isn’t there anyone who can outbid or outmaneuver NYU? 58 Washington Sq South Goes to the Dark Side

I’ve wondered if NYU owns every building around Washington Square Park but it turns out there was at least one they did not own – but now they do!

As the Real Deal reported December 30th, NYU is in the process of buying 58 Washington Square South, currently Holy Trinity Chapel, a Catholic Church, which is being sold by the Archdiocese of New York as it claims hard times. The sale had to be approved by a judge since it involves a religious institution (I wonder what would have negated the deal?). NYU says it plans to use the building for academic and “multifaith” uses.

The City section in the New York Times weighed in yesterday and Colonnade Row wrote a piece about it over the weekend.

NYU claims they will only build 6-7 stories high (it’s currently two) as opposed to the much unloved 10 storied-Kimmel Center next door (doesn’t that seem taller?). When the church sale was still in the discussion stage in August 2007, the Villager covered the potential sale. John Sexton, NYU President, was interviewed sounding all pleased with how community minded he was being, since zoning code allowed him to build taller (12-14 stories) – but he didn’t plan to.

Sexon asserted at that time that the archdiocese had “an alternate buyer.” Yet a spokesperson for the archdiocese, Joseph Zwiller, denied that there was any buyer they were considering other than N.Y.U.

You might be wondering… Why not?Please let this land-grabbing institution release its stronghold on Washington Square Park!

Well, here is your answer:

The archdiocese has worked with N.Y.U., rather than with outside developers, as part of our commitment to be good neighbors to the community,” [Zwilling] said. “We are discussing this with N.Y.U. and not with any other developers. Others expressed interest, but we are only dealing with N.Y.U. at this stage.”

Good neighbors to the community…? NYU is a good neighbor to NYU and that’s it. The archdiocese powers-that-be clearly do not live in or talk to anyone in the community or Zwilling would not be spouting such incorrect information (bordering on insanity).

Some more history: Apparently, when first approached two years ago, Sexton told the archdiocese “no thanks.” (My words, not his.) Sexton told the Villager, “My reaction to them at that time was that we just weren’t interested … that N.Y.U. would not participate in building that size building — that would have the effect of, when coming down Fifth Ave., if [one is looking south] at 11th St., of blocking the blue sky behind the arch.”

As the New York Times wrote Sunday (1/18), when the Kimmel Center was built a few years ago, there was (massive) “opposition from residents. … In demonstrations at that time, protesters held umbrellas over their heads to represent the shade they said the building would cast upon their beloved park.”

I gather the NYU Prez is worried about “the blue sky” and being a “good neighbor” when it suits him.

And while no one was that attached to the Holy Trinity Chapel’s architecture it seems … it’s an odd little building, and the magnificence of its Stanford White-designed neighbor across Thompson Street, Judson Church, probably hurt its chances of getting much love and attention … the idea that NYU now owns it is a bit of an “ouch” factor.