Washington Square – A Popular Tourist Attraction

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Washington Square is located in the heart of Greenwich Village that is a very popular and often crowded square. The square was long known for its bohemian and rebellious character. Washington Square Park is named for George Washington (1732-1799), the commander of the Continental Army, who was inaugurated in New York City as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789. 

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Location

Washington Square Park is bounded by Waverly Place, 4th Street, University Place and MacDougal Street. The Washington Arch is located at 5th Avenue and Waverly Place.

Washington Square via NYCgo.com

History

Before Washington Square was built in 1826, the area was used as a burial ground. The north side was a German cemetery, while the south side was a potter’s field (a nameless burial ground). The area was later used as a public gallows and execution ground.

Between 1829 and 1833, a row of houses was built at the north side of the square. The prestigious houses, built of red brick in Flemish bond in Greek Revival style, became known as ‘The Row’. The entrances are flanked by Ionic and Doric columns and have marble balustrades. By the end of the nineteenth century, the north side continued to attract rich and leading citizens, while the south side was populated with immigrants living in tenement houses.

People from all backgrounds flock to this large square dotted with trees. At the center of the square are its two main attractions: a large fountain and the Washington Arch.

Washington Arch

For the centennial of Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States a wooden memorial arch was constructed at Washington Square.

Washington Square via WFUV

The arch, designed by the celebrated American architect Stanford White was such a success at the celebrations that a permanent, marble version was commissioned. In may 1895 the final version of the 77 ft (23,4m) Washington Arch was inaugurated. The pier sculptures of Washington as general and president were added in 1916 and 1918 respectively.

Ups and Downs

Cars were allowed to drive through the arch until 1971, when Washington Square was redesigned by Robert Nichols. The square has had its ups and downs since.

Especially in the eighties, when it had become a drug dealing center, the square was particularly dangerous, but it has improved since the nineties and is now a relatively safe area.

Renovation

In 2007 the New York City department of Parks started with the renovation of Washington Square Park, the rectangular park that occupies most of the square. The extensive renovation, completed in May 2014, resulted in repaved paths, new benches and lighting as well as the relocation of the fountain to the center of the square. This move enabled the creation of more green space. In the process, the fountain was completely rebuilt.

Today Washington Square Park, rich in history, remains one of the jewels in the park system, serving as a dynamic commons for local residents, chess players, students, performers and tourists from around the globe.

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