You can’t miss it: a gigantic arch and a wading fountain in the middle of the Village in New York City, Washington Square Park serves as a neighborhood marker, a campus hub, a revolutionary meeting place, and a cultural touchstone. Obviously not as large as its brethren, Washington Square Park delivers in character and charm for what it lacks in size.
Located at the foot of Fifth Avenue, the park actually began as farmland that turned into a cemetery following a rash of yellow fever epidemics in the early 1800s. Despite the cemetery closing down at 1825 and becoming military parade grounds in 1826, there are still about 20,000 bodies buried underneath Washington Square Park.
Fast forward to 1889 and the centennial of George Washington’s presidency, the city decided to honor the first president by erecting a temporary arch made out of plaster and wood that proved to be so popular that they erected one in marble modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
Over 175 years later the park still stands as a common ground for all New Yorkers. Students happily while away the hours in between classes at NYU, kids frolic at the playground while dogs go insane at the dog run, the statue of Garibaldi overlooks the promenades of the park, tourists snap away at the arch while street performers ogle right back at the photographers that take their pictures. In warmer weather the fountain is home to picnickers and pigeons and demonstrations abound if there is something even remotely political going on.
Currently the park is undergoing a spectacular and controversial renovation which is due to be finished later this year. Sporting a new look and some upgrades, the park still retains a classical traditionalist charm while commandeering a better space for its future users.
Suffice it to say that Washington Square Park is unbelievably gorgeous. If you’re ever in New York City, at least make a stop.