Located in the heart of Greenwich Village in Lower Manhattan, Washington Square Park is a mecca of culture. Considered a quad of the New York University campus, the park provides a center for art, nature, music, performance, social justice, history, fun, and relaxation.
Washington Square Park
Created in 1871, the park is named after the first United States president, George Washington. Long before it became a park, the land was an uncultivated marsh that, in 1797, was drained to be used as a “Potter’s Field” and for public executions. This morbid beginning changed in 1826 when the site became the Washington Military Parade Ground and then again in 1827 when it became a public park.
This set off a migration of wealthy families from the congestion of downtown Manhattan to the area. There, they built stately Greek revival mansions that still stand on the north side of the square. Demonstrations and gathering began to take place. In 1838, Samuel F.B. Morse came to the park to demonstrate the telegraph to the public for the first time. By 1964, the park closed to traffic.
In 1870, City’s Department of Public Parks formed, with M.A. Kellogg as Engineer-in-Chief, and I.A. Pilatas Chief Landscape Gardener. Soon, the two embarked on a plan for redesign and improvement based on the work of landscape architect, Fredrick Law Olmsted. The park became more rustic and informal, with curving paths to offset the diagonal lines near the parks circular center.
The park features a bust of steel innovator Alexander Lyman Holley (1890) by John Quincy Adams Ward, a statue of Italian-nationalist Giuseppe Garibaldi (1888) by Giovanni Turini, and a flagpole to commemorate World War I. In the 1870s, the iconic central fountain moved from Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
The most defining feature of Washington Square Park is the marble arch at that looks out onto iconic 5th Avenue. Stanford White designed the arch to honor the centennial of Washington’s inauguration. Later, statues of Washington were installed on the Arch’s north side: Washington as Commander-in-Chief, Accompanied by Fame and Valor (1916) by Hermon MacNeil, and Washington as President, Accompanied by Wisdom and Justice (1918) by Alexander Stirling Calder.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, the park went through many changes. The City Department lowered the fountain and added a two-tiered performance space, playgrounds, chess tables, petanque courts, and a dog park.
Most recently from 2009 to 2014, landscape architect George Vellonakis renovated the park. He added upon, conserved, and expanded the existing features, most notably with an LEED-certified park house and comfort station
Today, Washington Square Park remains a gem for locals, chess players, students, performers and tourists from around the globe.