Washington Arch

  • Sculptors: Hermon MacNeil (Washington as commander-in-chief) and Alexander Stirling Calder (Washington as civilian)
  • Architect: Stanford White
  • Dedicated: Arch 1895, MacNeil's Washington 1916, Calder's 1918
  • Medium and size: Marble, overall 77 x 62 feet. Each Washington is 16 feet
  • Location: Washington Square Park, Fifth Avenue at Washington Square North
  • Subway: A, B, C, D, E, F, V to West 4th Street

Washington Arch

Washington Arch soldier

Washington Arch civilian

Evolution of the Arch

“Temporary” architecture was common for major celebrations in the late 19th century: most of the buildings for the Columbian Exposition in Chicago (see Columbus in Central Park) were built to endure only for the length of the fair (1892-1893). New York had its share of such structures, including 4 arches erected in 1889 to honor the centennial of Washington’s inauguration.

Washington Arch Wood

Above: Arch on Fifth Avenue near Washington Square Park, topped with a wooden statue of Washington. The Washington Arch as it currently stands was modeled on this one.

Washington Arch without 
Sculptures

Above: Stanford White (d. 1906) designed the marble version of the arch, which was dedicated in 1895. For twenty years it stood without the two figures of Washington.

The Republic of Greenwich Village

On January 23, 1917, John Sloan, Marcel Duchamp, and several other young artists of Greenwich Village (a mecca for artists and assorted bohemian types) sneaked into the side door of the Washington Arch and climbed to the top. There, having imbibed a fair amount of wine, they shot off pop guns and read a “Declaration of Independence” for Greenwich Village. The Declaration consisted of the word “whereas” repeated over and over and over and over - probably an inspiration of Duchamp, the Dadaist who named a urinal Fountain and entered it in exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in 1917. For more on the Washington Arch escapade, see Ross Wetzsteon, Republi c of Dreams. Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960.

Hermon MacNeil

MacNeil (1866-1947, b. College Point, Queens) studied in Rome and Paris, then worked under Philip Martiny for the Columbian Exposition of 1893. His favorite subject was Native Americans (the Metropolitan Museum has a copy of his Sun Vow), but among his best known works are the 1907 McKinley Memorial in Columbus, Ohio and the pediment of the Supreme Court in Washington. MacNeil also designed the "Standing Liberty" quarter, minted from 1916 to 1930.

Manhattan has this figure of Washington as commander in chief on the Washington Arch. Queens has the Flushing War Memorial, 1920, and the Bronx has four busts in the Hall of Frame of Great Americans (BronxCommunity College).

Alexander Stirling Calder

Calder (1870-1945, b. Philadelphia), son of Scottish sculptor Alexander Milne Calder, studied with Thomas Eakins at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, then in Paris. He designed huge groups for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition before turning to garden and fountain sculptures.

Manhattan has Washington as President on the Washington Arch and four actresses on the Miller Building, ca. 1927-1929 (1552 Broadway; see web page on Verdi). He was the father of that very mobile sculptor Alexander Calder, whose Guichet, 1963, stands at Lincoln Center.

Frederick MacMonnies

MacMonnies, creator of the brilliant Nathan Haledid designs for the piers where the two Washingtons now stand, but only completed the allegorical figures for the 4 spandrels that flank the keystones of the arch.

Cross References

Copyright (c) 2013 Dianne L. Durante