1950s & 60s Washington Square Captured in New Exhibit, Folk City, at Museum of City of New York

girl with sketchpad on fountain steps washington square park 1956
Girl with sketchpad Fountain steps 1956

A memorable collection of images, stories, and multi-media capturing Washington Square and Greenwich Village in the 1950s and 1960s goes on display beginning today, June 17th, at the Museum of the City of New York as its new exhibit, “Folk City: New York and the Folk Music Revival” opens. A time period people remain fascinated by; it influences the desire for the park to remain eclectic and true to its roots to this day.

In the 1950s and 1960s, folk music blossomed in New York City, especially in Greenwich Village, where clubs and coffee houses showcased singers like Pete Seeger and Odetta and nurtured a generation of newcomers, including Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

The multi-media Folk City: New York and the Folk Music Revival, featuring original instruments, handwritten lyrics, and video and film footage, traces the roots of the revival, its growth in New York, its major players, and its impact on American politics and culture during the tumultuous 1960s.

From a blog entry by exhibit curator, Stephen Petrus, titled “Banjos, Mandolins, Cats and Dogs”:

Washington Square Park was decidedly informal and casual, as these photographs reflect. It was crowded but did not teem with people. There were no opportunities for commercial success for folk singers, just kindred spirits enjoying the musical and social scene. Folk singer Happy Traum remembered his excitement taking the subway from the Bronx to Greenwich Village as a teenager in the 1950s to play his guitar in Washington Square. He saw familiar faces every Sunday. The enthusiasm was palpable. Traum was learning to play the guitar and getting good at it.

“We felt like we were part of a real something happening,” Traum recalled. “In the forefront of something, sort of in the vanguard of some kind of movement, but only we knew about it. It was something very special.”

There is a lot more at the blog entry about the park during that time period!

Museum of the City of New York is located at 1220 Fifth Ave between 103rd and 104th Streets.

The Folk City exhibit takes place from June 17 through November 29, 2015.

How to get there can be found here.

From the exhibit; Photo: Nat Norman

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2 thoughts on “1950s & 60s Washington Square Captured in New Exhibit, Folk City, at Museum of City of New York”

  1. Question re: WSP south sidewalk. The south sidewalk of the park is an amalgamation of irregularly shaped patches, unlike the other three sides, which are smooth sidewalks. Why isn’t the south side fixed to be like the other sides? On more than one occasion I have stumbled a bit while walking on the edge of a patch. It’s also unsightly.

  2. Hi Bill,

    All of the sidewalks are crazy at this point. They all seem bad to me. I see what you mean although they are all misshaped and hazardous. And unsightly. However, they are ALL supposed to be repaired and reconstructed – it has been very much delayed, by years – beginning sometime this month allegedly. Will let you know.



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