A historic walking tour sheds new light on the story of the Village
By Allison Volpe
When you think about NYU and Washington Square Park, what comes to mind is the actual college campus that has been created within the bounds of the East Village. NYU is constantly expanding, sometimes to the dismay of community boards, art organizations, historical societies and even its own faculty members. Despite all of the controversy that can surround their actions, they have created quite a community. While inhabiting the same city as so many other colleges, NYU has been able to create something unique — made up of multiple buildings, each with a unique history. What the school has created is vastly different from the majority of college campuses in NYC. Below are some historical and architectural facts about this “campus”, gleaned from a recent tour through the neighborhood with the Historic Districts Council. (Most of these facts you likely weren’t aware of,)
• The first thing that comes to mind when about Washington Square Park is obviously the famous Washington Square Arc. Created in 1889 to celebrate the Centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as president of the U.S. Constructed of only plaster and wood, it was later converted to a permanent marble arch. It is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
• NYU used to have a Bronx campus, which was originally built in 1894. In 1973 NYU sold the campus to the City University of New York — it has been the campus of Bronx Community College ever since.
• Edgar Allen Poe lived in a Row House at 85 West 3rd Street. The construction of NYU’s Furman Hall, which was needed to expand their law school, required for the residence to be destroyed. NYU compromised by agreeing to preserve the façade, but actually failed to do so. Not one of the old bricks was used to construct the new structure, and externally it does not resemble a remnant of a 19th century house.
• Facadism is a practice that has been frequently applied to buildings surrounding the park. This practice is to
please both property developers who need to develop properties for modern uses, and preservationists who wish to preserve buildings of historical interest.
• In the Courtyard of NYU’s Silver Towers apartment buildings on Bleecker Street, there is an enlargement of a sculpture by Picasso from his 1934 series of busts. It was created using sandblasted cement, and was also declared a landmark in 2008.
• On a drearier note, NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobst Library has been the site of three suicides in the past 10 years. Recently, floor to ceiling metal barriers were added to prevent any future deaths.
• NYU owns ‘superblocks’ which are bordered by West 3rd Street, West Houston Street, Mercer Street, and LaGuardia place. Superblocks are much larger than a traditional city block, with greater setbacks for buildings.
• NYU is currently in the midst of yet another massive and controversial plan for expansion, named NYU 2031. To find the details of the plan, you can head to NYU website located at: http://www.nyu.edu/nyu2031/nyuinnyc/.
If you’re interested in taking a tour and learning about the architecture and history of one of your favorite New York neighborhoods, visit AIA.org.
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