It Happened on Washington Square

It Happened on Washington Square

by Emily Kies Folpe
     
 

The heart of New York City's Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park has been a vital public space for nearly two centuries. Lined by elegant townhouses, anchored by Stanford White's iconic Washington Arch, and used by students and professionals, dog walkers and musicians, chess players and toddlers, the park is both an oasis from and an ideal of urban life.

Overview

The heart of New York City's Greenwich Village, Washington Square Park has been a vital public space for nearly two centuries. Lined by elegant townhouses, anchored by Stanford White's iconic Washington Arch, and used by students and professionals, dog walkers and musicians, chess players and toddlers, the park is both an oasis from and an ideal of urban life. Synonymous with the city's artistic identity, the park has also witnessed waves of political and social unrest, and served as a focal point for contentious debates about the future of urban development. This rich and colorful history is captivatingly told by Emily Kies Folpe in It Happened on Washington Square.

Farmed by New Amsterdam's freed African slaves in the seventeenth century, the park was used as a potter's field and dueling ground in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War and then converted into a parade ground for the city's volunteer militia in 1826. Since the 1830s, when it formed the nucleus of an upscale community, Washington Square has been an incubator for American art and a haven for writers, painters, sculptors, and architects. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the area began to attract the artists and political radicals--from John Reed to the Beats--who gave the Square a counter-cultural aura it still possesses. In recent decades, the Square's residents have united against such threats to their neighborhood as the urban redevelopment proposed by Robert Moses and the expansion of New York University. Illustrated with a remarkable selection of historic images, It Happened on Washington Square explains why the survival of this unique public space is so important.

Editorial Reviews

Tony Hiss
It Happened on Washington Square by Emily Kies Folpe is a thorough and thoroughly delightful look at the long and far-from-finished history of one of America's most beloved and enduring city parks a small but life-shaping place for generation after generation that now has its own historian.
Daniel J. Walkowitz
This book is a lively, engaging, and illuminating history of Washington Square Park and its inhabitants. Well written and well researched, It Happened on Washington Square will find a ready audience among area residents, visitors, and the legions of New York City buffs.
The New Yorker
What news from New York?" F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in an imaginary conversation in "My Lost City," a 1936 essay. " 'Stocks go up. A baby murdered a gangster.' 'Nothing more?' " The city, in all its confounding glory, is the subject of Kenneth T. Jackson and David S. Dunbar's anthology, Empire City, which begins with an account of Henry Hudson's 1609 voyage, includes Frederick Law Olmsted's original plan for Central Park, and recounts such forgotten chapters as the 1909 strike of twenty thousand female garment workers.

The influx of immigrants to the city changed everything. The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York, a guide by Ellen Williams and Steve Radlauer, looks at business brainstorms from a century ago. At the end of the nineteenth century, two hairdressers agreed to spruce up the tresses of porcelain beauties with push-broom lashes and rose paint smiles, and soon so much of their business consisted of these miniature makeovers that, in 1900, they renamed their establishment the Doll Hospital.

The city has always had a knack for improvisation. It Happened on Washington Square, Emily Kies Folpe's social history of the Greenwich Village park -- once a potter's field -- explains that the square's Washington Arch was a temporary innovation that persisted: the original, conceived by the architect Stanford White as a parade decoration in 1889, was made of white-painted pine and papier-mâché and was popular enough to soon be replaced by a stone version.

(Lauren Porcaro)
Kirkus Reviews
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 itsneighbors. 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801870880
Publisher:
Johns Hopkins University Press
Publication date:
10/15/2002
Series:
Center Books on Space, Place and Time
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 8.38(h) x 1.18(d)

What People are saying about this

Daniel J. Walkowitz
This book is a lively, engaging, and illuminating history of Washington Square Park and its inhabitants. Well written and well researched, It Happened on Washington Square will find a ready audience among area residents, visitors, and the legions of New York City buffs. (Daniel J. Walkowitz, New York University)
Tony Hiss
It Happened on Washington Square by Emily Kies Folpe is a thorough and thoroughly delightful look at the long and far-from-finished history of one of America's most beloved and enduring city parks-a small but life-shaping place for generation after generation that now has its own historian. (Tony Hiss, author of The Experience of Place)

Meet the Author

Emily Kies Folpe is an independent scholar who served for many years as Museum Educator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. She has taught at Sarah Lawrence College and New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and she lectures at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She lives on Washington Square.

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