Over the past few decades, NYU has transformed itself into one of the finest universities in the country, and Washington Square is still the traditional epicenter of its main "campus." However, one result has been that the University has gobbled up quite a bit of the downtown area by building countless dorms and other structures, some of which have replaced famous institutions and landmarks such as the Palladium club and Luchow's restaurant. One recent victim was the world renowned Bottom Line club, which recently lost its lease with the University and was shut down.
Which leads me to a sad addendum to my previous post: there is currently a controversial plan abroad to renovate Washington Square Park, though opponents have filed a lawsuit to try to stop it. Some feel that NYU is behind the plan, or at least supportive of it--one of the University's biggest donors is contributing quite a bit of money to the project. The plan, if executed, would mean a major upheaval of this historic site, including moving the fountain and elevating the park's sunken plaza. A piece by Lincoln Anderson in a July/August issue of the Villager details some of the objections folks have to this nefarious development, and portions of the text in quotes below are taken from that article.
One of the most compelling objections is the argument that the Square is "hallowed ground"--because the site is a former burial ground which "probably contains the remains of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 vets." The site was a potter's field until 1825, with some 20,000 bodies buried there. The fountain, which would be moved in the proposed plan, was once the location of a hanging gallows.
Another objection is that "elevating the park's sunken plaza to ground level would rob the square of its famous 'theater in the round' for performers." Indeed, just as in days of old, performers and spectators still flock to the park each weekend, especially in good weather.
I don't know too many other details of this plan, but it saddens me greatly. Much of New York's character and history are being thrown by the wayside, and one of the only impediments to this perpetual renovation is the work of the Landmarks Preservation Committee, which has succeeded in deeming certain structures historical landmarks. In some ways, the city has changed for the better, but there seems to be a lot more sterility creeping in as well, as one massive high rise after another is constructed. .
Fortunately, another recent Villager article seems to indicate that the more drastic renovation plans may not go through after all, In any case, here's a great shot of the park, showing the fountain as well as the historic Washington Square Arch on the park's north side. The arch was built to commemorate the centennial of George Washington's first inauguration, which took place in New York City in 1789. The original plaster and wood arch of 1889 was replaced with a marble arch in 1892, designed by the magnificent architect--and native New Yorker-- Stanford White.