Posts Tagged ‘Washington Square arch’

Washington Square Park’s first, forgotten arch

August 4, 2016

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.

Washington Square Arch

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.

Washingtonarcholdcentennial1889mcnyThat first arch (above, in 1890), made of wood and plaster, was meant to be temporary.

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]

When the Village tried to secede from the nation

January 10, 2012

The first time was in the summer of 1916.

“Ellis Jones, an editor at the humor magazine Life, had called upon his fellow Villagers to join him in a second American Revolution declaring their community independent of the United States,” wrote Ross Wetzsteon in 2002’s Republic of Dreams.

Jones’ announcement was reportedly meant to be cheeky. But cops didn’t get the joke.

They greeted the dozen or so “revolutionaries” in Central Park with machine guns and ambulances, in case of anarchist riots (none materialized).

The second stab at independence was more clever. On a frigid January night in 1917, six Villagers—led by painter John Sloan, artist Marcel Duchamp, and Gertrude Dick, a young student of Sloan’s who loved a good prank—slipped past a patrolman into a side door of the Washington Square arch.

They climbed the 110 steps of the spiral iron staircase carrying wine, cap guns, balloons, Chinese lanterns, and sandwiches.

“Soon soused, the six Arch-Conspirators decided the moment had arrived,” wrote Wetzsteon.

“They tied their balloons to the parapet, and, in John’s words, ‘did sign and affix our names to a parchment. having the same duly sealed with the Great Seal of Greenwich Village.’

“As the other five fired their cap pistols, Gertrude read their declaration, which consisted of nothing but the word ‘whereas’ repeated over and over—surely Marcel’s inspiration—until the final words proclaiming that henceforth Greenwich Village would be a free and independent republic.”

Well, clearly, an independent republic wasn’t established. “The only result of the Revolution of Washington Square was that the door at the base of the arch was permanently locked,” said Wetzsteon.

[Top image and bottom photo, Washington Square arch in the teens and 1902, from the NYPL Digital Collection. Middle image: John Sloan’s 1917 sketch “The Escapade of the Arch Conspirators”]

Washington Square Park’s “Tramp’s Retreat”

October 3, 2011

“This image of a ragged fellow begging from a well-dressed woman in Washington Square . . . testifies to Washington Square’s split personality at the end of the 19th century,” writes Emily Kies Folpe in her terrific book, It Happened in Washington Square.

Folpe quotes an 1892 Century magazine article about the Square, which notes that one section was populated by homeless men and called “Tramp’s Retreat.”

This Harper‘s piece from 1900 identifies as on the southwest end.

While the northern, Fifth Avenue side of Washington Square was as elite and genteel as it was 50 years earlier, the southern side was now bordered by rooming houses . . . and filled with tramps.

“To the tramp, who is attracted hither in summer by the cool shade, the square serves several purposes. It serves him first in the capacity of a restaurant, where he may eat his luncheon unmolested,” states the Harper’s article.

Lastly it serves him as a lodging house, where he slumbers peacefully until the ‘sparrow cop’ comes around and awakens him.”

[Washington Square postcard from the NYPL Digital Collection]