Is Washington Square’s 330 Year old Hangmen’s Elm in Trouble? Community Board 2 Meeting to Address Tonight

Has the construction at Washington Square taken a damaging toll on the park’s famous Hangmen’s Elm reported to be 330 years old?

From Community Board 2 announcement:

Wednesday, May 30th, CB2’s Parks Committee will be meeting at the LGBT Center, located at 208 West 13th Street, in room 410.  The meeting will begin at 6:30pm.  The agenda items will include:

1.     Public discussion of the recent Parks Department decision, following an inspection, to remove one or more major limbs from the Hangman’s Elm (aka Hangman’s Tree) in Washington Square Park.  The Parks Department has been invited to attend the meeting.  [This item was added to the agenda last week after we were informed of this decision.]

The Hangmen’s Elm is located in the NorthWest corner of the park. There were concerns before the park redesign construction began that the trees would not (and were not) adequately protected. And we know the young trees lining the fountain have not fared very well

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

May Day 2012 – A Brief Glimpse in Photos: Union Square; Washington Square

View from Whole Foods looking onto Union Sq

Joe Mangrum’s sand painting at Union Square

The Right To

Rev. Billy and Church of Stop Shopping on the North End

NYU ever present

End Student Debt (and all Debt)

George Washington & Crowd

Washington Statue Was Cordoned Off

Gandhi Statue: Lavender, Balloons and No War In Iran

Occupy The Heart

Then at Washington Square…

Garibaldi Sitting Area

The Arch… Barricades Ready

Just a snapshot of what went on May Day 2012 New York City.

(There was a lot more going on at WSP earlier in the day but I missed that. NYU OWS. Police friction. People arrested.)

All photos: Cathryn except…

3rd from bottom, Occupy The Heart: Susan Celia Swan

The History of the Washington Square Christmas Tree — Tree from First Tree Lighting Ceremony in 1924 Was Planted in the Park In Spirit of “Wise Use”

“Researching Greenwich Village History”, an NYU site, recently uncovered the history of the first Washington Square Christmas tree. It turns out that the tree propped up in the front of the Arch at the first tree lighting ceremony in 1924 was later planted in the park. Words to the carols – to prompt the sing along – were projected onto the Arch!

The writer was not able to confirm that that tree is still at WSP or where it was planted which would be quite interesting to know. Apparently, “conservation” was a big consideration at that time, more so than 87 years later it appears. An article in the New York Times in 1925 expressed that, “Each year…a cry is raised that to have Christmas trees is to endanger our waning forest resources.” Perhaps they might consider planting the trees in the park now vs. the trees ending up in the chipper. The original tree, if it still existed in recent years, may have been chopped down in the Parks Department’s axing of so many trees via its redesign of Washington Square.

Here’s the info:

The original tree was officially presented on December 24, 1924, by Parks Commissioner Gallatin. The “appropriate ceremonies” included the lighting of the tree, which was to be equipped with “1,500 amber, green and red incandescent lights.” (New York Times, “City’s Celebration of Yuletide Begins” December 24, 1924) as well as caroling, and as the article went to press, the plan was to project the words of Christmas carols directly onto the Washington Square Arch, “…so that all present may read and sing.” The living tree, temporarily set up by the arch, was then to be planted permanently elsewhere in the park the following Monday.

It seems that today’s Washington Square Christmas Tree is a cut one, but in the spirit of “wise use,” we can still hope that the original living tree was able to be planted and enjoyed for many years after its journey to New York City! And of course, every time we walk through Washington Square Park and see an evergreen, we can imagine that it’s an 87 year veteran of park life.

Don’t forget caroling by the tree continues in front of the Arch Saturday, December 24th 5 p.m.!

The projection of the words to the carols on the Arch seems to have been abandoned but perhaps that could be brought back too. It would be another way to save trees as songbooks are now provided and handed out by the Washington Square Association instead.

The Rockefeller Center tree lighting is in its 79th year — a not well known fact is that the Washington Square tradition, at year 87, surpasses it in age.

Photo of this year’s tree(2011): Fernandohn via Instagram.

Arch Remains Barricaded … Occupy Washington Square Next Meets Wednesday, October 26th 7 p.m. at Park

Arch Still Barricaded 10/22

Barricades at the ready at fountain

From Occupy Washington Square meeting notes of October 22nd:

Welcome!

Who we are: The General Assembly of Washington Square Park – we are different from “OWS” in Zucotti Park, which is a 24-hour occupation.

What does “occupy” mean? – can mean ‘occupy your mind’; ‘occupy the space your mind’; ‘occupy public spaces’

This is a space for open forum and discussion, to give all voices a chance to be heard.

In addition, via Twitter:

Our next #GeneralAssembly meeting will be Wednesday, 10/26 at 7pm in #WashingtonSquare. Town Planning – nurturing the local WSP community.

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.

Saturday — Park Closed; Washington Square Prepares for Hurricane Irene


Updated 3 p.m. —

Saturday, August 27th. Hurricane Irene.

Today, Sunday, Park open back to normal.

Photos: Teri Tynes

Last Night at Washington Square

Red-tailed Hawk Bobby Perched Atop the Judson Church Cross While…


This is neighborhood Red-tailed hawk Bobby, I presume, atop the Judson Church cross. Previously noted as one of his favorite haunts around the park, he lingered there for a long time.

Baby Soda Band Played on the Garibaldi Stage


Baby Soda (above) last night at the Park. They were quite good!

From their web site:

Baby Soda is on the forefront of a new movement loosely known as street jazz; with an eclectic set of influences ranging from 30’s era swing, New Orleans jazz, and southern gospel. The ensemble doesn’t desire to recreate the past, rather they bring the concept and joy of the music to the present.

Baby Soda is an adaptable and ever changing group made up of New York’s finest musicians; featuring trumpet, trombone, clarinet, banjo and the unique one string box bass.

Mama Hawk Violet Spotted At Washington Square — Visits the Nest With Bobby; Bobby and Pip splitting time between WSP and Union Square

I haven’t written about the Washington Square Park Red-tailed hawks of late. Last Thursday (8/11), hours before the New York Times shut down the HawkCam, and in time to be captured on video, Violet and Bobby returned to the nest together. Mama Hawk Violet had been ‘missing’ – not spotted in close to a month – so there was relief that she was still around and doing okay.

I wonder how they communicated to each other to meet up back there.

Pip - West 3rd Street Antenna Late July

A couple of weeks ago in the early evening at Washington Square, I encountered Bruce from the Urban Hawks Blog and Heather from Roger_Paw blog, who were there with a group seeking Bobby and youngster Pip along Washington Square North. They informed me that the two hawks had begun splitting their time between Washington Square and Union Square. I had mixed feelings about that (feeling a bit, uh, territorial?) but this would appear to give the pigeons and squirrels at Washington Square (and mice and rats, should they be there too) some breathing room.

As for Pip’s gender, I’ve always thought of Pip as a boy but then one of the hawk blogs stated very definitively that Pip is a girl. I started referring to Pip as ‘she’ thinking this was confirmed. According to Andy Newman at the Times (in the comments at Thursday’s post), it is the “consensus” that Pip is a girl but it is not verified. A Times‘ commenter wrote that boy hawks are usually smaller than girl hawks and she thought, based on the young hawk’s size, that Pip is a boy. This sounds plausible. Thus far, I’ve noticed a lot of things expressed about the hawks as fact end up being entirely wrong or else these downtown hawks are going against the ‘norm.’ (Which would also make sense, right?)

Earlier this summer, Pip had been taking advantage of the area that’s fenced off and under construction (Southwestern end of the park). Since that section (Phase II-B) is not scheduled to be completed any day soon (more on that later), somebody should be enjoying it! Of course, then there’s still Phase III construction to come — for which bids to complete the work are allegedly due August 17th.

Pip will have access to the soon to be recreated Mounds (moved from Phase II to Phase III) before anyone else! This final phase of Washington Square Park construction probably won’t start until next year, I’d imagine, but we’ll see.

Photo: Redtail 10025

Previously on WSP Blog: Violet, Bobby and Pip

Part I: Why Do the Newly Planted Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Keep Dying?

Two dead trees line fountain (third not pictured)

Updated — Everyone is asking: “What’s up with the dead trees around the Fountain?” Currently, three of 8 trees that line the Fountain Plaza are dead. Two of these, in new locations via the Park’s Phase I redesign, have been replanted and died THREE TIMES since 2009.

As part of the park’s redesign, seven healthy, thriving trees — which had survived around the Fountain for some 40+ years — were axed in 2008.

In 2009, seven young trees were planted in new locations lining the Fountain once it was moved 22 feet east to align with the Arch. Two of those newly planted trees, located on the east and north side, died later that year. I wrote about this the first time two of the trees died. They were replaced; died again in 2010, were replaced; and now both have again died just recently in 2011. The third dead tree on the western side of the Fountain is a new occurrence.

That makes 7 new trees over two years that have been planted and replanted around the Fountain and have all died. You’d think – this is the Parks Department in New York City – this could be figured out, no? There is a problem with the design and yet the Parks Department is either in denial or won’t acknowledge there is a problem and send someone in to fix it.

As for the seven previous trees that lined the fountain for 40+ years — some were destroyed to make way for the Fountain’s move to align with the Arch; others were chopped allegedly to allow the entire Fountain Plaza to be reconstructed. The only reason reconstructing the entire Plaza was necessary was likely because they had to reorient the water lines underground for the new location of the Fountain.

If plans were created that accommodated and respected living trees, those old trees, which provided life and shade for the park, would still be here and I would not be reporting this arborcide – yet again.

Part II: coming Tuesday Friday.

Photo: Cathryn