View up 5th Avenue from Washington Square - 1889
First Arch in New York
The Romans at the height of their powers built triumphal arches to commemorate victories and conquests. In 1806, Napoleon commissioned the Arc de Triomphe to celebrate his own.
Now in 1889, using as a pretext the centennial anniversary of George Washington's inauguration as President, New York would celebrate its own achievements with an arch over 5th Avenue, just up from Washington Square.
Stanford White, America's premier architect, was chosen to design this arch out of wood and papier-maché. It was the talk of the town during the 3-day centennial festival - so much so that a drive began to construct a permanent one in its place.
6 years and $134,000 later, the permanent arch in Washington Square was completed - some 50 feet south of the original.
Permanent Arch in Washington Square - c. 1900
At right is the permanent arch familiar to us today. Notice the brick, 3-story townhouse to the left of the Arch. This was the famous Rhinelander Mansion, later knocked down to make way for a 1960's apartment building. Ed Koch lives there.
Also notice the bollards, or pillars around the base of each leg. Up until the 1971, traffic flowed through the square underneath the Arch.
An interesting side-note is found in the Real Estate Record and Guide at the time this arch was built. It questioned the wisdom of locating the monument in a neighborhood so clearly on its way down. “Twenty years from now,” it wrote, “the neighborhood will be so changed in character that no one will visit near it.” Of course, that was true - this went from being an exclusive neighborhood in 1880 to a tenement housing by 1930. But now of course, it is back on top
Dewey Arch at Madison Square - 1899
This arch initiated something of a city-wide passion for arches. In 1892, they threw up another temporary arch over 5th avenue at 58th street for the 400th anniversary of Columbus' voyage. That same year, the City of Brooklyn (not consolidated with Manhattan until 1898) built the great arch at Grand Army Plaza, modeling it after the Arc de Triomphe. In 1899,
In 1899, yet another was built to celebrate Admiral Dewey's victory over the Spanish in the Philippines. Also built of papier-maché, it was set in Madison Square at 23rd St & 5th Avenue.