Washington Square Park, at the foot of New York’s Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Greenwich Village, is an almost 10-acre park that serves as campus green for nearby New York University, a place for residents to relax and walk their dogs, and a public art and theater center. One of the more popular of New York City’s 1700 parks, it is named for the United States’ first president, George Washington. The park is a vibrant meeting place and offers visitors a little bit of everything – from hiking trails to chess tables.
Washington Square Park has a varied history. Before it became a public park in 1823, the area was a marshland, part of a Native American village, the site of 18th century public executions, a military parade ground, and a “Potter’s Field” burial ground, where tens of thousands of indigent 18th century yellow fever victims lie.
In the mid-19th century, as living conditions grew more crowded in lower Manhattan, many of the city’s wealthier residents built large Greek revival mansions on the north side of the park. Many of these elegant residences still stand today.
Washington Square Park has been featured in several books and films, including Henry James’ novel, “Washington Square” (set in one of the Greek revival mansions mentioned above) and the film, “Searching for Bobby Fischer,” where the protagonist plays chess right in the park.
Art in Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park features a number of statues and public monuments. Chief among them is Washington Arch, erected in 1889 to commemorate the centennial of President George Washington’s (New York City) inaugural. The original Washington Arch was a temporary, wood and plaster affair. It was replaced in 1892 with the current 77-foot high, marble arch, designed by Stanford White.
The park also sports two statutes of George Washington, one by Alexander Calder (the father of the famous early 20th century artist) and one by Hermon MacNeil, as well a statute of Italian freedom fighter, Giuseppe Garibaldi. The large stone fountain in the center of the park was moved from Fifth Avenue and E 59th St. in the mid-1870’s.
The park hosts a full schedule of concerts, theater presentations, and festivals throughout the year. In addition, Washington Square Park is popular with street musicians, mimes, and artists. Aspiring poets can frequently be found sharing their latest works with park visitors and adjacent New York University holds its commencement ceremonies in the park, weather permitting. Click for a list of upcoming events at Washington Square Park.
The Future of Washington Square Park
In 2005, developers proposed to redesign Washington Square Park. Among the prospective “improvements” were a fence around the perimeter of the park, the relocation of the central fountain and the Garibaldi Statue, and raising the park to be even with the street level. Needless to say, these proposals have been controversial and have met with opposition from NYU students and area residents. One of the chief concerns is that the construction will disturb the “hallowed ground” of the former cemetery. Time will tell whether these developers will be successful, but New Yorkers have a long history of fighting for their favorite spaces.
Visiting Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park is easily accessible from all over Manhattan via the buses and subway line that run down Fifth Avenue. It is also a short walk from Greenwich Village, NYU, and Manhattan’s financial district.
The park is a popular meeting place for residents, NYU students, and tourists alike. There’s a kind of European town square feel to the park. Activities offered there include the permanent chess tables, extensive hiking and bike trails, a long leash-free dog run, bocce courts, lots of benches, and a children’s playground. The park is open from sunrise until 1am daily.
Location: at the foot of New York’s Fifth Avenue, in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York City
Click here to visit Washington Square Park official website.
Note: This information can change without notice. Confirm all details directly with official website.
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