Volume 74, Number 35 | January 05 - 11, 2005

Villager photos by Talisman Brolin

The Washington Sq. Arch, with new lighting, seen from the northwest, showing the statue of George Washington at Peace.

Tisches give millions for park; lights give arch new dazzle

By Albert Amateau

The Campaign for Washington Sq. Park’s quest for $16 million for the renovation of Greenwich Village’s landmark park made a significant advance last week with the announcement of a $2.5 million donation by the families of Lawrence A. and Preston R. Tisch.

Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe made the Tisch family donation public at the Dec. 29 ceremony when the new lighting of the Washington Sq. Arch was turned on for the first time.

The donation will be used for the restoration of the park’s central fountain and the surrounding plaza, Benepe said.

“The Tisch name has become synonymous with New York University and generous civic-minded philanthropy,” Benepe said, adding, “We are thrilled that they have made this extraordinary gift to restore the celebratory centerpiece of Washington Sq. Park and launch its restoration campaign.”

The Tisch families, major benefactors of both N.Y.U. and the University of Michigan, hope the gift will inspire other private donors to the Campaign for Washington Sq. Park, Benepe said. The $2.5 million Tisch grant will be added to the more than $4 million in city capital funds and private donations already allocated for the project.

The Campaign for Washington Sq. Park, an initiative of the Department of Parks, is seeking at least $16 million for capital costs of the reconstruction, plus another $4 million for an endowment to pay for maintenance of the park.

The restoration design is expected to be completed by the end of this month and the beginning of the first of three construction phases is tentatively scheduled for July or August. The first phase will cover the western side and the central plaza and fountain funded by the Tisch donation.

Phase 2, the reconstruction of the eastern side of the park, would begin in January 2007 and Phase 3, the reconstructions of the playgrounds and the park buildings, would begin in September 2007. Construction phasing is intended to allow public access to the park during construction.

At the Dec. 29 celebration of the new lighting for the arch, Arthur Strickler, district manager of Community Board 2, City Councilmember Alan J. Gerson and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields joined Benepe in switching on the lights. The Bond St. Euterpean Singing Society, a group based in the Merchant’s House Museum on E. Fourth St., sang carols from the mid-19th century.

The new $450,000 lighting system, consisting of floodlights on poles, cornice-mounted low-profile fixtures and trench lights at the base, was designed by Domingo Gonzalez Associates and installed by Seven-Star Electrical Co. The Parks Department provided the lighting for the arch’s interior spiral staircase and the attic space beneath the roof. The arch will be illuminated every day from dusk to midnight. After being turned on, the lights take about 15 minutes to reach full power.

The lighting was the finale of the $2.7 million restoration of the 108-year-old Washington Sq. Arch. The restoration addressed deterioration from weathering, air pollution, water seepage and vandalism.

In addition to repairs of both statues of George Washington, the restoration included securing loose stone, re-carving some sculptural and decorative features, micro-abrasive cleaning and chemical stone consolidation of marble masonry and ornaments, re-pointing mortar, replacing the roof, repairing interior walls and the stairway and installing a bird-deterring system.

Prior to the Tisch donation, the Mayor’s Office and N.Y.U. each pledged $1 million to the park restoration, Gerson committed $1.035 million, City Councilmember Margarita Lopez and Fields each committed $500,000, the Washington Sq. Park Council contributed $250,000, the Village Alliance business improvement district donated $100,000 and the Washington Sq. Association gave $20,000.

“We will now focus our attention on making the rest of the park even more worthy of its iconic status as the Village commons,” Benepe said last week.

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