Actually, Mr. Vellonakis, the Washington Square Park Fountain is already aligned. As is, Fountain is Park’s "midpoint"

by cathryn on June 2, 2008

Watching the screening of the work-in-progress documentary “SQUARE: Straightening out Washington Square Park” last night at the Bowery Poetry Club, there was some key footage featuring Parks Department designer George Vellonakis. It is his plan that cuts up and moves all the pieces in this successful park into configurations and contortions that few prefer – and yet the plan proceeds.

One moment that stands out (among many) illustrates his empathy. Who does Mr. Vellonakis have empathy for? The community who likes the park the way it is? No. The trees that have stood in the park for 80 years that he wants chopped down? Not quite. His empathy is reserved for the “poor tourists” who (he believes) can’t take good pictures of themselves with the famous Arch behind them — because there is a tree in the way!

Well, luckily, those tourists have Mr. Vellonakis, NYC Parks Commissioner Benepe, and Mayor Bloomberg on their side because that obstructionist tree (along with 13 others) is no longer there!

There is much discussion of the “aligning” of the fountain in the film — the Parks Department plan is to move it 23 feet east so that it aligns with the Arch at Fifth Avenue. There’s much appreciation by users of the Park of the un-alignment of the fountain and the Arch. Something about the fountain not being connected to Fifth Avenue works when you enter Washington Square Park: you escape the city – yet you meld with your neighbors within it in unimaginable and unique ways. It’s a great public space. Mr. Vellonakis’s design aspires to destroy that.

But a little known fact that is somewhat key is that the fountain actually IS aligned. It’s not a mistake that it was in that specific location.

In Emily Kies Folpe’s book, It happened on Washington Square, she writes at length about the installation of the fountain. She states that the fountain was “placed at the midpoint of the park’s east-west axis, the fountain gave the Square a definitive central focus.” The fountain was installed in 1870 and “dominates its center.” When the park was redesigned in 1871, retaining that focal point was a key part of the design plan. Folpe writes in her 2002 book, “Despite later changes, the legacy of the 1871 design lingers on in today’s Washington Square.”

Until Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Parks Department get their way, and move the famous fountain to align with the Arch, and that’s the end of something that’s worked quite successfully for 137 years.

** The above is a schematic of the new redesign. Don’t let all the greenery fool you.**

 
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Seth June 3, 2008 at 4:12 pm

I agree with you 100%, and I wish that a more modest refurbishing of the park had been planned. But it’s no longer a case of whether the fountain “should” be moved, because it’s already long gone. There is just a big hole in the ground, agiant pile of dirt, and no trees.

Oh yeah, and grossly out of proportion buildings being built everywhere, with cranes crashing down every month or two.

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cat June 3, 2008 at 7:11 pm

hi Seth,

Yes, I realize that there is a big hole in the ground that is now “aligned” with the Arch. I still think it’s worth pointing these things out and I wish the history of the true alignment had been able to counter the Parks Department version of alignment.

Council Member Alan Gerson and the Community Board were both extremely problematic in this scenario of events and sold Washington Sq Park out.

It’s still worth exposing these people in my view.

Yes, Mayor Bloomberg is out of control with his “luxury housing” building frenzy everywhere and the repercussions are cranes crashing and parks being pacified.

Thanks for writing!

Cathryn.

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Mitchel Cohen / Brooklyn Greens June 6, 2008 at 7:46 pm

I think we all should SAVE THE HOLE!

That’s right, the hole — the ghost of the wonderful 137 year-old fountain that has now been destroyed by Bloomberg, inc. — is exactly mid-center of the park. Vellonakis and his cohorts have now DIS-aligned the Park.

Mitchel Cohen, coordinator of the
“But WHO NEEDS SYMMETRY, anyway?” Collective

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Brian Spaeth June 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm

I still miss the old fountain! Damn those bastards! I had a marvelous dream in which I was given 2 schematics of WSQ Park: one of the old park, and one of the new park (after the dreaded renovation). I got the idea of drawing a chalk circle outline around the exact circumference of where the old fountain used to be located— as an act of commemoration, civil disobedience, ritual magic, and protest! Instead, I settled for writing a short story about it that I am posting in installments on my blog: “In the Chalk Circle” http://brianspaeth-nyc.blogspot.com/2013/06/in-chalk-circlepart-4.html#.UbeWa-u8GaE

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Brian Spaeth June 10, 2013 at 3:54 pm

An antique map of WSQ Park, a chalk circle drawn around the location of the old fountain, and the toxic dust from the 911 attack all commingle to provoke this fractured tale of poison & dread.
http://brianspaeth-nyc.blogspot.com/2013/06/in-chalk-circlepart-4.html#.UbYo0OuAf4Q

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cathryn June 12, 2013 at 4:03 pm

I loved your story, Brian! Thanks so much for sharing it. I like the idea of drawing an outline of where the old fountain used to be. That’s priceless.

I really enjoyed the installment I read. Good work!

best,
Cathryn

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Brian Spaeth June 12, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Thanks, Cathryn. The more I thought about drawing an outline around the old fountain, the more multi-faceted the idea became for me. Initially, it was simply for me to remember where it was (I feel lost somehow in the new park), but it could also be interpreted as a reclamation of sorts; a protest; a chalk outline of a crime scene; an act of ritual magic; a memorial, and a condemnation of a city that has no sense whatsoever of its own past—the pillage of WSQ being but one example of a corporate scourge that has destroyed countless, irreplaceable and classic old buildings throughout the city.

I’m not sure if such an act would be illegal or not, or considered vandalism (especially in our current police state!), but what was the wholesale destruction of the old park if not an act of municipal vandalism itself?

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cathryn June 14, 2013 at 11:47 am

Hi Brian,

Wow. Brilliantly said! People chalk around the park all the time so I think it would be interesting to do! I love your descriptions. You have a great way with words.

Cathryn

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