Image by Mikki Brammer Lonely Planet
What was once a potter’s field and a square for public executions is now the unofficial town square of Greenwich Village, and plays host to lounging NYU students, tuba-playing street performers, curious canines and their owners, speed-chess pros and bare-footed children who splash about in the fountain on warm days.
Surrounded by perfectly manicured brownstones and gorgeous twists of modern architecture (all owned by NYU), Washington Square Park is an enticing green space – especially as you are welcomed by the iconic Stanford White Arch on the north side of the green. The arch, colloquially known as the Washington Square Arch, dominates the park with its 72ft of beaming white Dover marble. Originally designed in wood to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration in 1889, the arch proved so popular that it was replaced with stone six years later and adorned with statues of the general in war and peace. In 1916 artist Marcel Duchamp famously climbed to the top of the arch by its internal stairway and declared the park the ‘Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square.’
Washington Square Park has long provided a stage for political activity and has been the scene of many protests and rallies. When urban planners sought to change the shape and usages of the park, locals vehemently protested, and the square’s shape has remained largely unchanged since the 1800s. Check out the Washington Square Park Conservancy (www.washingtonsquareparkconservancy.orgy) for a list of events.