Before Washington Square was built in 1826, the area was used as a burial ground. The north side was a German cemetery, while the south side was a potter’s field (a nameless burial ground). The area was later used as a public gallows and execution ground.
Between 1829 and 1833, a row of houses was built at the north side of the square. The prestigious houses, built of red brick in Flemish bond in Greek Revival style, became known as ‘The Row’. The entrances are flanked by Ionic and Doric columns and have marble balustrades. By the end of the nineteenth century, the north side continued to attract rich and leading citizens, while the south side was populated with immigrants living in tenement houses.
For the centennial of Washington’s inauguration as President of the United States a wooden memorial arch was constructed at Washington Square.
The arch, designed by the celebrated American architect Stanford White was such a success at the celebrations that a permanent, marble version was commissioned. In may 1895 the final version of the 77 ft (23,4m) Washington Arch was inaugurated. The pier sculptures of Washington as general and president were added in 1916 and 1918 respectively.
Ups and Downs
Especially in the eighties, when it had become a drug dealing center, the square was particularly dangerous, but it has improved since the nineties and is now a relatively safe area.
In 2007 the New York City department of Parks started with the renovation of Washington Square Park, the rectangular park that occupies most of the square. The extensive renovation, completed in May 2014, resulted in repaved paths, new benches and lighting as well as the relocation of the fountain to the center of the square. This move enabled the creation of more green space. In the process, the fountain was completely rebuilt.
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