Posts Tagged ‘Washington Square’

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]

Romany Marie’s bohemian cafes in the Village

April 4, 2011

If you were a struggling artist in the early 1900s, Romany Marie (left) was your ally.

Born in Moldavia, the former anarchist came to Greenwich Village in the early 1900s, when the neighborhood was gathering steam as a hotbed of radical politics and artistic creativity.

For the next several decades she ran a series of dimly lit tea rooms and taverns offering gypsy music, cheap eats, and a salon-like vibe where ideas flowed freely.

Oh, and she sometimes fed artists for free when they couldn’t afford a meal. No wonder she attracted such a devoted following of Village bohemians.

John Sloan’s famous sketch, “Romany Marye’s in Christopher Street, 1922” (above) was drawn at her 20 Christopher Street restaurant.

Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote her famous “my candle burns at both ends” line there.

Romany Marie also ran establishments at 15 Minetta Street, 49 Grove Street, and 64 Washington Square South at Thompson Street.

She died in 1961, when the Village still had its bohemian rep but was a very different place.

The Village Voice blog Runnin’ Scared reran her obituary here.

Henry James’ quiet, genteel Washington Square

April 29, 2009

Author Henry James was born around the corner from Washington Square, on Washington Place, in 1843. 


That’s about when Washington Square was in its prime: a wealthy enclave of Federal-style townhouses inhabited by upper-class families. The townhouses surrounded a new park that had served as a marshland, public gallows, and potter’s field.

The refined Square of the mid-1800s is the setting of one of James’ best novels, Washington Square. In this story of a domineering doctor, his witless daughter, and the young man who may or may not be marrying her for her money, the narrator describes the Square as “the ideal of quiet and genteel retirement.”

“The ideal of quiet and genteel retirement, in 1835, was found in Washington Square, where the doctor built himself a handsome, modern, wide-fronted house, with a big balcony before the drawing-room windows, and a flight of white marble steps ascending to a portal which was also faced with white marble.”


This sketch depicts Washington Square Park in the 1880s, decades after James’ novel is set there. On the right is the original Gothic-style building put up by New York University in 1837. In the center, partially obscured by trees, are the Federal-style townhouses described by James, many of which still stand.