Volume 75, Number 6 | June 29 - July 5, 2005

Talking Point

Idea of moving the fountain just doesn’t hold water

By Marilyn Dorato and Kathryn Donaldson

The Greenwich Village Block Associations is a communitywide coalition of neighborhood organizations dedicated to preserving and improving the quality of life for residents of our historic neighborhood. Although the proposed redesign of Washington Square Park has been the subject of extensive discussion, the public process was so confused that we were unable to determine what points ought to be endorsed or opposed.

G.V.B.A., however, concludes that moving the fountain so that it is center aligned with the Washington Square Arch is an ill-advised, whimsical mistake. Its sole justification is to implement the current architect’s vision. The present view includes Judson Church and its campanile and is both pleasing and, more important, historically significant due to the church’s history in championing social justice and providing a forum for protest movements. Seeing the fountain through the “gateway to the Village” is a superficial design element — a pretty sight. It becomes a gateway into the essential character of the Village when it frames the church with the fountain.

The fountain is significantly positioned on the site of the ancient gallows. By placing the “healing waters” of the fountain on its current site, it is metaphorically cleansed. In addition to marking the spot for posterity, the fountain stands as visual expiation for the lamentable violence of the hangman’s noose. Moving the fountain obviates its integral symbolic relevance to the history of Greenwich Village.

Washington Square Park is a heavily used public recreation space, but it was once a potter’s field. The hundreds of nameless bodies that are buried under the square must be respected; we must minimize any construction and excavation. If the redesign process disturbs these graves, unacceptable delays may result.

Although the Parks Department claims the fountain needs extensive repair, we understand that there has been no independent assessment. Perhaps, necessary repairs will not be as extensive as Parks fears. Certainly, moving the fountain may cause undue stress and additional damage. G.V.B.A. believes that an independent detailed analysis of the fountain’s condition should be made and publicized.

Raising the area around the fountain to grade changes its program. The fountain will lose pride of place and cease to be the focus of Village gatherings and a performance space; it will become a pedestrian traffic island. Parks claims that the fountain does not meet public access requirements; if repaired in place, its design will be grandfathered; no alteration in grade is required.

Washington Square Park is our beloved recreational green space: G.V.B.A. wishes it to continue to perform that function. But we want the square to preserve its “meaning” as well. Using the fountain to block N.Y.U.’s regrettable Kimmel Center also removes Judson Church from view through the arch. Thus, the social significance of the present vista is eliminated while diminishing the fountain’s relevance by severing it from the legacy of its present position. G.V.B.A. is dismayed that the Parks Department has reportedly threatened to walk away and do nothing if the community rejects its design. G.V.B.A. urges Parks to be patient and show goodwill by working with the community until an acceptable design solution is achieved. Reassessing the wisdom of moving the fountain will begin that process.

Dorato is secretary and Donaldson is treasurer of the Greenwich Village Block Associations, an organization representing 35 block associations.

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