Saturday, 21 February 2015
Washington Square Park NYC - New York City on Sunday
Washington Square Park is a small park at the centre of Manhattan's Greenwich Village. It surprised me that New York City has nearly 2,000 of such small, neighbourhood parks across the Big Apple. These little parks provide NYC's residents with idyllic oases to relax in the concrete jungle that New York City is. I found that neighbourhood parks are good places to meet and mingle with New Yorkers.
(Before coming to NYC, the only park that I heard about is the giant Central Park which is full of tourists. Central Park in Manhattan, New York City's green lung, is nearly 3 times the size of Bukit Timah Nature Reserve in Singapore.)
Residents come to Washington Square Park to be inspired, to create. Illustrious literary legends like Robert Louis Stevenson and Mark Twain, once walked this park. For artistes that come here today, the spirits of literary giants that once haunted the park still inspire. My mind relived the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson and the novels of Mark Twain, which I read during my school days.
Everyday, people sing and dance spontaneously to the music of buskers.
Rock and Roll legend, and one of my loved singers, Buddy Holly also used to play and mingle here at the park as he lived nearby. (Sadly, Buddy Holly's career was cut short by a plane crash, less than 2 years after it was launched.)
Children catch rainbows with nets of soap bubbles that blow in the wind. (The Empire State building looms in the background behind the Washington Arch.)
Others, picnic or just roll and tumble in a pile on the lush greenery, shrieking with joy and laughter. Watching these children made me wished that I am a child again.
Best friends spend blissful, quiet, quality time together here.
Washington Square Park is bordered on all sides by modern and heritage buildings, most belonging to New York University (NYU). NYU students add youthful energy to the buzz in this quiet nook of Manhattan.
The 10-acre Washington Square Park was once marshland and tobacco field of American Indians before it was occupied by Dutch settlers in the 17th Century. The Dutch later allowed Black slaves to settle on it and it became known as "The Land of the Blacks". The land was later bought over by the City which used it as a graveyard for unknown persons whose bodies no one claimed. The remains of 20,000 people still laid under the green lawns and grey pavements of Washington Square Park. The land was also used for deadly duels to settle private scores and for public executions.
Park users may not suspect that hangmen once conducted public hangings from this giant elm tree, known as Hangman's Elm. The twisted, outstretched, flaying branches looming high in the sky gave me goose pimples.
Photo credit: New York Public Library
The land then became a military parade ground. In 1849, work began to turn the area into a public park.
The imposing Washington Square Arch stood at the park's northern entrance.
Completed in 1892, made of marble, the Washington Square Arch was built to commemorate 100 years of George Washington's inauguration as the first President of the United States of America.
The Washington Square Arch was modelled after the larger and older, majestic Arc de Triomphe of Paris.
Photo credit: NYC Parks Department
The large fountain built in 1852 in the middle of the park used to double up as a public swimming pool, up till the 1950s.
Cars used to drive under the Washington Square Arch and around the fountain in a traffic circle, until the park was closed to all vehicular traffic in 1971.
The fountain is no longer filled with water. Nowadays, it serves as an amphitheatre.
There is a popular mobile food stand serving doss (thosai) at the southern entrance to the park. This is the only food stand at Washington Square Park.
This tiny food stand is run by Mr. Thiru who is originally from Sri Lanka. Mr. Thiru serves vegan dosa - a kind of crispy crepe from the Indian sub-Continent which is made with rice and lentil.
Mr. Thiru makes many kinds of dosa, all vegan, fresh at the stand on a flat griddle. The crispy crepe is folded over shredded fresh vegetables and curried potatoes, making a delicious healthful meal. Crispy, crunchy, mushy, sweet and spicy, I liked this Pondicherry Dosa, Mr. Thiru's specialty.
Mr. Thiru's story is the classic tale of the immigrant's American Dream come true. Mr. Thiru brought his family to New York City from Sri Lanka in the 1990s. Today, Mr. Thiru runs his internationally acclaimed dosa stall - newspaper cuttings in English, Chinese and Japanese adorned his humble food cart.
With eyes twinkling, Mr. Thiru proudly told me that his daughter is studying in Ivy League Columbia University in NYC. As a father with a daughter in university too, I can appreciate a fellow father's pride.
Me enjoying Mr. Thiru's dosa like a local, on a park bench. I didn't know that I was joined by other locals.
Curious park residents came out to see what the visitors were doing.
Washington Square Park is a stone's throw to the west from Broadway Avenue between West 4th and 6th Street. The park is a tranquil oasis to cool your heels from all the day's hectic shopping. Clean, well maintained public toilets are available too. The park is easily accessible from West 4th Street subway station (5 minutes walk) and 8th Street NYU station (10 minutes walk).
A short 10 minutes walk heading north from Washington Square Park takes you to the Flatiron District and Union Square Park, another popular place to shop, eat and relax. Many people enjoy al fresco dining under the iconic Flatiron Building, whenever the weather allows. I took this picture on a Winter day in December 2014 when the weather unexpectedly warmed up briefly.
If you are game to stretch your heels a little further, continue walking for another 10 minutes heading north will take you to the famed Empire State Building.
We went up to the Empire State Building's viewing deck during our first visit in 1989, though we did not go up this time ;-D
If you are visiting New York City, a visit to Central Park is of course, a Must. But, the smaller neighbourhood parks like Washington Square Park should not be missed if you want to enjoy a taste of New York City like a local.
Date visited: Jan 2015
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