A detailed history of Washington Square Park, the heart of Greenwich Village, that reflects its growth and change from farmland to the elite enclave described by Henry James and Edith Wharton to the present dominance of New York University.
Washington Square Park is not the largest or even the most beautiful of Manhattan's parks, but its neighbors and users have fought long, exhausting, expensive battles with developers and city government to preserve what they believe is its unique neighborhood quality. Kies, a lecturer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, begins in the 18th century, when farms in the area gave way to summer homes. To the dismay of the homeowners, the area destined to be Washington Square was commandeered as a burial ground for yellow-fever victims. In the early 19th century, in an effort to attract well-off taxpayers, the burial ground was landscaped and dubbed the “Washington Military Parade Ground. ” The maneuver paid off. The famous row of Greek Revival houses was built on the north side of the square in midcentury, the fountain was installed in 1852, and the Stanford White–designed arch was dedicated in 1895. New York's rich and poor shared the square, with the well-off on the north, poor immigrant communities in housing to the south, and artists, writers, and political activists in between. This disparate community successfully fought off the city's frequent attempted incursions on the park, including planning czar Robert Moses's decades-long efforts to modify the square. In the 1970s, drugs and crime threatened to overwhelm the area, as did NYU's determined expansion. Today both NYU and crime seem to be under control, and the park is widely used by all its neighbors. Numerous black and white drawings, maps, and photographs help track the changes.
Well-documented account of Washington Square and its vicissitudes, useful for park planners, Greenwich Village buffs, and, particularly, students of the politics of municipal planning.