Bring some peanuts for the cheeky squirrels
Washington Square Park has seen many incarnations: as a marsh, a cemetery, a parade ground, a square for executions, a gathering spot for avant-garde artists. Yet for all its shape-shifting, its importance to the Greenwich Village community has remained undimmed.
Set among period brownstone houses and New York University buildings, it is a small park, but one with a long and colourful history. No less than Henry James himself wrote the the Square displayed a “riper, richer, more honorable look – the look of having had something of a social history.”
The Square acquired its artistic, progressive atmosphere over the course of the 20th Century. Labor unions began to march there, and in the 50s and 60s the Beat generation and the hippies made the park their sanctuary. Today it remains a symbol for non-conformity; a favourite haunt for NYU students, street performers, and speed-chess pros alike.
A walk in the park
The park is dominated by the iconic Stanford White Arch. Reaching 72ft and made of pure white Dover marble it was built to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration. Inspired by Roman models as well as the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, it combines allegorical figures, laurel wreaths and decorative motifs with a modern simplicity. In 1916 the artist Marcel Duchamp climbed to the top of the arch and declared the park to be the ‘Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square”
Yes we can
On September 27 2007, Presidential candidate Barack Obama held a rally at Washington Square. 20,000 people registered for the event, and the crowds overflowed past the security cordon. This surge of support carried him into office.
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