Washington Square Park is one of the best-known of New York City’s 1,900 public parks. At 9.75 acres (39,500 m2), it is a landmark in the Manhattan neighborhood of Greenwich Village, as well as a meeting place and center for cultural activity. It is operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. An open space with a tradition of nonconformity, the park’s fountain area has long been one of the city’s popular spots for residents and tourists. Most of the buildings surrounding the park now belong to New York University, but many have at one time served as homes and studios for artists. Some of the buildings have been built by NYU, others have been converted from their former uses into academic and residential buildings. Although NYU considers the park to be the quad of the school’s campus, Washington Square remains a public park.
Located at the foot of Fifth Avenue, the park is bordered by Washington Square North (Waverly Place east and west of the park), Washington Square East (University Place north of the park), Washington Square South (West 4th Street east and west of the park), and Washington Square West (MacDougal Street north and south of the park). While the Park contains many flower beds and trees, little of the park is used for plantings due to the paving. The two prominent features are Washington’s Arch and a large fountain. It includes children’s play areas, trees and gardens, paths to stroll on, a chess and scrabble playing area, park benches, picnic tables, commemorative statuary and two dog runs. Those commemorated by statues and monuments include George Washington; Italian patriot and soldier Giuseppe Garibaldi, commander of the insurrectionist forces in Italy’s struggle for unification, and one to Alexander Lyman Holley, a talented engineer who helped start the American steel industry after the invention of the Bessemer process for mass producing steel.
The New York City Police Department operates security cameras in the park. The New York University Department of Public Safety also keeps a watch on the park, and the city parks department has security officers who sometimes patrol the park. The area has a low crime rate in the “safest big city in the United States.”
In 1889, to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as president of the United States, a large plaster and wood Memorial Arch was erected over Fifth Avenue just north of the park. The temporary plaster and wood arch was so popular that in 1892 a permanent marble arch, designed by the New York architect Stanford White, was erected, standing 77 feet (23 m). During the excavations for the eastern leg of the arch, human remains, a coffin and a gravestone dated 1803 were uncovered 10 feet (3 m) below ground level. The inscription on the arch reads:
Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God. — Washington
White modeled the arch after the 1806 Arc de Triomphe in Paris. In 1918 two statues of George Washington were added to the north side. The first fountain was completed in 1852. The fountain was replaced in 1872. The monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi was unveiled in 1888.
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