Washington Square Park.
Little known fact: In addition to being an alumna of Georgetown Law, I am also an alum of NYU Law. I received my LLM from NYU after graduating from Georgetown. And though many people snarl at NYU because it has gobbled up most of the real estate surrounding Washington Square, I have a certain amount of affection towards it.
Washington Square Park itself is a quirky sort-of place, teeming with mommies, and hippies, and uptight law students. The eclectic crowd in the Park notwithstanding, it is ringed with stately buildings and there’s a genteel feel — an Ivory-Tower-meets-The-Age-of-Innocence sort-of vibe. And at the north end, where Fifth Avenue dumps into the Park, you have the Washington Arch.
While Washington Square Park had had many uses since the Colonial era, by the late 1800s, it was fully-functional as a public park, operated under the auspices of the newly-formed New York City Department of Parks. And so, in 1889, the City decided to place an arch on the site to commemorate the centennial of the inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States.
The 1889 arch was a simple, plaster-and-wood structure — nowhere near as grand as the modern-day marvel. But the commemorative arch proved extremely popular with tourists and locals alike. So in 1892, famed American Beaux-Arts architect Stanford White was commissioned to construct the marble arch we know and love, which he modeled on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The Washington Arch is one of my favourite places in all of New York. The Tuckahoe marble structure is inscribed with the following words:
Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God. — Washington
White, for his part, lived…colourfully in both his personal and professional lives. Professionally, he designed some beloved and beautifully American buildings — beloved, at least, by me in my life as a poorly written Ellen Olenska. If you have spent any time in Newport, you may know that White designed Rosecliff. And if you follow New York history, you might know that White was the architect behind the second iteration of Madison Square Garden.
Personally, however, White may be best known for his affair with the actress Evelyn Nesbit. One night in 1906, White was attending a show at Madison Square Garden — indeed, the very Garden he had designed! — when he was confronted by her jealous husband and shot dead at close range.
The Arch obviously has a richer history than merely being a 77ft piece of marble stuck at the end of Fifth Avenue!
I love a good story.
So when I was in Paris in February, I dragged eee to the end of the Champs Elysee so I could snap some photos of the Arc de Triomphe at night. We were freezing, and stuffed from a delicious dinner, and great wine, and good conversation. And when I was in the Village the other night, I dragged Paul through Washington Square so I could snap some photos of the Arch at night.
Because the things that tower over us; the things that make impressions on our hearts — they’re always worthy of being seen.
(Throughout the month of June, I’ll be writing a series of New York-related posts, and/or inviting some friends to guest post about their New York experiences, to celebrate my eight years in New York City.)