New York City Guide

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Washington Square

Washington Square park in the heart of Greenwich Village, is bounded by Waverly Place, 4th street, University Place and MacDougal Street, with the Washington Arch itself located at Waverly place and 5th Avenue. A popular and often crowded square, has a reputation for having a rebellious and bohemian character. The main attractions of the square are its central fountain and the Washington arch.

Originally, for the Centennial celebrations of Washington's inauguration as President of the United States, a wooden Memorial Arch was constructed in the Square. The arch, which was constructed from a design by Stanford White, was so successful that a marble version was commissioned as a permanent replacement. In 1895 the new version of the Washington Arch was unveiled. Later the arch was decorated by Alexander Stirling Calder and Herman MacNeil, with sculptures of Washington, depicted in both military, and civilian guises.

Before it became a park in 1828, the square, which covers an area of almost 10 acres, was used as a cemetery, a site of execution, and a parade ground. Today it become a meeting place for both artists and writers, plus an assortment of Greenwich Village locals. Due to its location next to New York University, the Park has also become a handy meeting place for its students.

Cars were allowed to drive through the arch until the square was redesigned in 1971 by Robert Nichols. In the 1980's, the square became known as a home to drug dealers, and gained a reputation for being a particularly dangerous area to visit, but like many other areas of New York, the area has been cleaned up, and is now considered to be relatively safe.

To the north side of the square stands a line of houses known as "The Row". Built of red brick between 1829 and 1833, the entrances are framed by Ionic and Doric columns with marble balustrades. These houses attracted the rich and successful, while the south side of the square became home to immigrants living in tenement blocks.

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