There’s been a lot of under-the-radar discussion about whether the Washington Square Park Fountain is actually aligned with the Arch.
This has been a topic of discord since it was first announced a few years back that the Bloomberg Administration intended to move the famous fountain - in its location since the 1870′s and in the exact center of the park in that spot – 23 feet east to line up with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. The relocation of the Fountain also led to the destruction of seven of the eight trees that lined the Fountain Plaza because they were in the way (note: two of the replacement trees are already dying or dead – more on that another day).
Having reviewed a lot of the history of the redesign and controversy around it, there was pretty much close to no one, other than designer George Vellonakis, who thought this was important. It’s never been clear if it was solely the landscape designer’s whim or a directive from elsewhere.
However, someone determined early on in Washington Square Park’s history (1870′s), when the fountain was first placed, that it should be located in the center of the Park on its east-west axis. It’s not obvious symmetry but it makes sense. It works. To just obliterate this history – on top of the fact that park users liked where it was – seemed wrong when first announced and still does now.
And you have to wonder about the NYC Art Commission (now called the Design Commission - as of July ’08) which gave the approval on moving the Fountain. What was their criteria? … Then again they are ALL appointed by the Mayor.
I first published a post on whether the Fountain and Arch were misaligned in August of last year while the Park was still under construction after seeing the above photo. The photographer, J.Bary, later wrote in saying he’d watched them meticulously figure out where the center was and that it’s the angle from which the photo was taken that makes it look unaligned.
But when you’re on the Fountain Plaza, it does look a bit, um, off.
At the Phase I Grand Opening Ceremony May 28th of this year, I overheard someone from the NYC Parks Department say he was surprised that no one had said anything about the Fountain not being aligned with the Arch. (I don’t know that he was confirming this, or just saying that they’d probably gotten some comments like that.) I’ve heard other people mention this tho’ since then, and then, on August 5th of this year, WSP Blog reader named Steve wrote in as follows:
Is anyone ever going to admit that the fountain is now aligned to nothing — not the center of the park as it was before, not the arch and not 5th Avenue? What was the point of moving it?!?!?! It is NOT aligned to either the arch or the avenue.
The only stated reason George Vellonakis has given on the record for moving the Fountain is that it makes a better shot for tourists to take back home with them. Putting that aside as not a very good reason… If the Fountain is now not in the center of the park (as it was for over 100 years) and if it’s not aligned with the Arch… what was the whole point?
Original August 7th, 2008 WSP Blog entry: Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was off-center to the Arch?
Photo: J. Bary