Yesterday, the Untapped New York team had the honor of climbing up the Washington Square Park arch, the iconic landmark in Greenwich Village designed by Stanford White. The special visit was courtesy of NYC Parks and the Washington Square Park Conservancy, as a follow-up to the recent NYC Makers interview we did with NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver. In this meeting, we discovered that we shared a bucket list item with the Commissioner: climbing to the top of the Washington Square Park arch!
We were joined yesterday by George Vellonakis, NYC Parks’ Landscape Architect who was in charge of the renovation of Washington Square Park and serves as Executive Director of the Washington Square Park Conservancy, as well as other staffers from NYC Parks and the Conservancy. Under Vellonakis’ expert knowledge of the arch and the park, we learned about the history and architecture of the structure we were climbing.
You can experience the climb with us in the Facebook live video produced by NYC Parks. The door, not full-human height is located on the west side of the arch. Stooping down to enter, the narrow spiral staircase begins right away, going up 120 steps to the roof. The famous tiler Guastavino did the brick work and you can see his notable striated bricks particularly on the interior curve of the staircase and on the roof of a room on the way up.
Going inside, you can clearly see why the arch is not open to the public — it’s not ADA-accessible and the staircase is narrow and steep. Nonetheless, Silver has been actively opening up other parks spaces to the public, including the Soldiers and Sailors’ Arch in Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn which is forthcoming.
Silver has completed 650 capital projects in his tenure, including the reopening of High Bridge in 2015, the reconstruction of Tiffany Pier in the Bronx, groundbreaking for the latest restoration work at the New York Pavilion in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and a recently announced restoration of the northern portion of Central Park. Still to come will be the transfer of Hart Island from the NYC Department of Corrections to NYC Parks, approved by the New York City Council in November.
On the way up, there’s a cavernous 17-foot tall room before the final ascent to the roof. Vellonakis tells us that just on the exterior outside of this room are the nestings of the eagle sculptures and the George Washington sculpture. In addition, the upper cornice of the arch is at this level, and you can see the Tuckahoe marble coming into this room from the outside to anchor those architectural details. You can also see the opening of the other leg of the arch, which is completely empty and is used for air ventilation. Vellonakis explains that the room is used for maintaining the arch itself, to ensure that the roof membrane is not leaking and that the structure is sound.
The Washington Square Park arch was renovated in 2004 by the Monuments Conservation Program under the direction of conservators Mark Rabinowitz and Robin Gerstad.
It was truly a memorable experience and we felt like the famous arch conspirators, a century later. Though we certainly are not the artists Marcel Duchamp, John Sloane, or the like, and did not declare the arch the “Free and Independent Republic of Washington Square,” or bring bottles of wine, it felt conspiratory nonetheless.
Next, check out the Top 10 Secrets of Washington Square Park.