Two Letters on Washington Sq Park's New Design

Sharon Woolums’ Letter to the Editor in weekly the Villager (June 3rd, 2009):

To The Editor:

After the initial euphoria of just having the park opened and reveling in the perfect spring day, I reflected on where the $13 million went, and now realize what disturbs me. I miss the sunken fountain, so beautifully set apart from the street. Now the fountain is an extension of the street, instead of the beginning of something completely different. You felt drawn down — invited into the fountain. Now it’s more like the fountain is an object you are supposed to look at instead of being drawn into, to experience.

The redesigned park looks like something imposed on the Village, boring and uneventful: flattened out. The fountain area, bland and generic, instead of exciting and unique, looks more like a corporate plaza than a park. The huge walkway with the gigantic planters in the middle looks like an outdoor mall in Wisconsin. And that poor tree around the fountain, died of a heartache.

Now linear — before idiosyncratic; there was an off-centeredness that was deliberate. It represented people who live in the Village who march to a different drummer. Our park embodied democracy, now transformed undemocratically.

The landscaping is prissy, organized patches of vegetation not unlike that found in the gardening section of any Home Depot. But it all goes so well with N.Y.U.’s Kimmel Center. The park now looks like another N.Y.U. project, with the two telltale plaques on either side of the “Tisch! Fountain.” I can’t bring myself to say that. Too bad the fountain hadn’t been auctioned off to the highest bidder. It seems a $2.5 million advertisement for perpetuity is just dirt cheap.

The walls that surrounded the theater in the round created an acoustical field for the music; sound bounced back out, radiating from behind. Now there is nothing to deflect the music, it all gets meshed together with the competing sound of gushing water.

With the stroke of an architect’s pen, the park was forever stripped of its bohemian character, wiping away decades of history. We hope this sacrifice of comfort and possible clamoring for a conservancy (the privatization of our public park) will not kill the spontaneous creativity that happened naturally here, once upon a time. We hope that glorious time will not die like the tree in the circle.

Sharon Woolums

(WSP Blog note- the letter is slightly shortened for space reasons.)

Photographer Stacy Walsh Rosenstock wrote in to WSP Blog recently about the new design in response to an older post, “Wouldn’t it be ironic if – after everything – the Washington Square Park Fountain was off-center to the Arch?“:

As someone whose dog insists we Washington Square on a daily basis now that the weather’s good, I find that nothing seems to look “right” when we enter from the South.

In the older design, with the fountain to the west and more open space coming up from Thompson Street, there was a more gradual lead-in to the circle. Now the path certainly looks skewed and, in photos, it’s nearly impossible to form a visual grid of major planes.

Sometimes designs that appear so perfect on paper don’t necessarily work out in three dimensional visual space. Or maybe Stanford White and others involved in the park’s major features knew a thing or two about dealing with asymetrical space.

Photo: Cat

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5 thoughts on “Two Letters on Washington Sq Park's New Design”

  1. Sharon, you are an excellent writer! Sorry that the plans that you wanted didn’t work out for the park, but at least know that you gave it your best shot. Bob

  2. I don’t really miss the sunken fountain any more than I miss the sidewalk that once encircled the fountain in a previous incarnation of the park. But, as I was sitting at the fountain during the opening ceremony, listening to far too many speeches, I glanced down and remembered a flag pole that once stood next to the fountain. Then I realized that couldn’t be the exact spot. More likely the flagpole must’ve been located, somewhere, approximately 23 feet to the west of my glance.

    I think we all have memories of Washington Square Park and it’s little nooks, crannies and irregularities. For some of us it may be the World’s Fair benches that lined most of the walks, particularly in the south west quadrant where “Joe that playa the mandolina” used to serenade us on Saturday nights. For others it might be the sunken fountain that drew us in, not only for it’s refreshing water but as an open air performance space. For many it could be sitting on the fence chatting with friends, while a few might remember the magician who performed near the statue just west of the circle, the bed of daffodills that seemed to magically appear in the spring just off the circle, or all the possible

    Remnants of popular culture enhanced our experience of Washington Square whether it’s a Diane Arbus photo or the lyrics from a Bob Dylan song. Now many of those features that provided an index for our memories are gone. Others have moved approximately 23 feet to the west and we can only guess exactly where they might have taken place.

  3. Stacy,

    Thank you yet again for your wonderful memories and insight. I really enjoyed reading this. You should write an essay on this… !

    and Libhomo,


    WSP Blog.

  4. Very good letter, Sharon.

    I am surprised that only the fountain has become the equivalent of “CitiField” for the Village.

    Each bench could have been “sponsored” by Coca Cola, which does that sort of thing.

    The arch — would NYU actually pay to have it called the “Kimmel Arch”, since it appears (for free) in all — ALL — of NYU’s advertising.

    The park itself could also be re-named. Think of the possibilities: Bank of America Village Park; Calvin Klein in the Village; Monsanto RoundUp Weed-Free Playground … you get the idea.

    How come Bloomberg’s falling asleep at the wheel? There’s so much money to be sunk into our public spaces besides this Pish Fountain!


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