Modeled after Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, the white marble arch that marks the Fifth Avenue entrance of Washington Square has been an icon of Greenwich Village since it was dedicated in 1895.
As recognizable as it is, it’s not the original arch built six years earlier to commemorate the centennial of George Washington’s presidential inauguration.
It was also a sneaky way for residents of still-posh Washington Square North to make sure that citywide festivities made it down to their neck of Manhattan.
“To ensure that the Centennial parades would pass near the historic park named for the president, William Rhinelander Stewart of 17 Washington Square North commissioned the architect Stanford White to design a temporary triumphal arch for the occasion,” states the website for the Washington Square Park Conservatory.
Stewart, born and raised in Greenwich Village, was a scion of old New York, a philanthropist from a rich family with major real-estate holdings along Washington Square North (below; number 17 is on the left).
To finance the arch, however, he appealed to friends and neighbors, collecting $2,765 from them.
“Straddling lower Fifth Avenue a half block north of the park, bedecked with flags and topped by an early wooden statue of Washington, White’s papier-mache and white plaster arch was a sensation,” continued Washington Square Park Conservatory.
At the end of the centennial (see the processions in the second photo), White scored a commission to design a permanent arch in marble that would be built at the entrance to the park.
That’s the Beaux Arts beauty recognized for 121 years as a symbol of glory and art.
[Photos: MCNY; “Wet Night in Washington Square,” John Sloan, 1928; Delaware Art Museum]