Sunday, March 9, 2008

The state of Washington Square Park

I can't remember what year it was that I first heard about the plan to renovate Washington Square Park. Regardless of when it was, it was brought to my attention by some protesters who had spread out an artist's rendition of the proposed redesign. In May of 2005 I was asked by the Voice to send some pictures of the park's fountain to accompany an article being written about the renovation and its growing unpopularity. I haven't given it much thought lately. The little I have heard about the renovation revolves around the "centerpiece" of the project, which is the city's plan to realign the central fountain 22 or so feet to the east so that it lines up with the arch and Fifth Avenue.It used to be that I'd go to the park once a week, or at least a handful of times every few months. But recently I haven't been going so much. I had been there in late September to photograph a massive Barack Obama rally. And so it was such a shock when this past Christmas Day Yvonne and I went to the park and saw that a majority of the park was closed off with chain link fence. It's like the renovation had begun without me even really knowing about it. Above are two current views that show the project is well underway. What's most alarming to me is that I'm reading that the renovation isn't scheduled for completion until spring 2009. That seems like an awful long time to keep so much of the park closed. There was a little vignette in the City section this past September that can be read here. In it is the best justification I've come across for the fountain realignment, albeit somewhat facetious, which is that moving the fountain will "please symmetry-obsessed aerial photographers." I find this funny because the fountain in its old location was in the exact center of the park (the arch at the bottom of Fifth Avenue was added later). On the other hand, I've read elsewhere that the drainage/pump/pipe systems underneath the fountain are pretty much shot and in need of replacement. So now that the fountain has been reduced to rubble, it's impossible for me not to do a search for pictures of the park "as it was" (although I must admit, not many of them show the fountain's off-centeredness to the arch; the vertical night shot at left probably does that best, you can see the fountain in the lower left corner). Here are some random photos taken in or around the fountain:One of my favorite images of Washington Square Park can be seen here. It's a picture taken by Robert Otter in the 1960s, back when cars were "sometimes permitted" in the park. I know of Otter's work because I keep running into his son, Ned, who can be seen everywhere selling his father's prints. Here's another random link to some more pictures and artwork, mostly of the arch, that show a nice sense of the park. Below is a rendering of the park as it will look when finished (click here for a high resolution version).Finally, another shot from a few weeks ago of the arch with the Empire State Building off in the distance.


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