A Dozen Delightful Details

July 21 2023

A Dozen Delightful Details You Might have Missed on Washington Square Park Arch

The Arch in Washington Square Park is one of the most iconic monuments in the city. Standing proud at the base of 5th Avenue, this marble triumphal Arch dominates the landscape and has anchored the neighborhood since it was built in 1895. But when was the last time you really looked at the Arch? It’s full of dozens of details you might have missed that will give you an even deeper appreciation for the artistry behind this incredible monument. 

  1. Symbolic Seals: On the four upper corners of the arch (two on the north face, two on the south) are four unique seals. On the NE corner is the Washington family coat of arms, and NW is the seal of the United States. The southern face boasts the New York State and City seals.
  1. Words of Wisdom: the southern face of the arch bears an inscription from Washington himself– “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair – the event is in the hand of God”
  1. Angelic Attendants: Have you noticed the angels adoring the southern face of the Arch? They symbolize hope, enlightenment, and freedom, with each angel holding different symbolic elements, representing the arts, science, commerce, and industry. But these ladies were meant to be more than just allegories. William Rhinelander Stewart and Stanford White had intended for the angels to resemble their wives, but even after multiple revisions apparently the resemblance isn’t very strong.
  1. Respectable Wreaths: Look carefully and you’ll find some fabulous wreaths! Inspired by ancient Greece, these laurel wreaths symbolize victory and honor. Appropriate adornments for a triumphal arch. 
  1. Roman Retro: For an iconic Village monument, the Arch is appropriately retro in its composition. Arch architect Stanford White drew inspiration from classical Roman architecture, particularly the triumphal arches that were erected to commemorate significant military victories. The arch’s grandeur and symbolic significance echo that of the Arch of Titus in Rome, evoking a sense of triumph and celebration. By incorporating elements of ancient Roman design, White was connecting New York City’s vibrant present with the enduring legacy of the ancient world.
  1. Various Virtues: fame, valor, wisdom, justice–essential traits of a great leader but also literal representations of Washington’s resume on the Arch! Each Washington statue is flanked, the Eastern by Fame and Valor, the western by Wisdom and Justice. 
  1. Dizzying Ws: W for Winning, W for Wonderful, W for Washington! Around the top portion of the Arch marches a string of Ws. Count them and you’ll find 14.
  1. Curious Carvings: Often overshadowed by George himself are the highly detailed scenes carved on the northern face of the Arch behind the statues on their plinths. These carvings depict scenes from the early years of American history, paying homage to the nation’s founding. Intricately chiseled reliefs transport visitors to significant moments such as Washington’s inauguration as the first President, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the victorious Battle of Yorktown. 
  1. Helping Hand: even the best among us isn’t above a little bit of work, and George is no different. During the 2012 renovation, the statue on the western pedestal got a much needed facelift and a new right hand as the original suffered extensive damage. It’s been more than a decade since then and George is still looking fresh.
  1. Magic Marble: did you know that the Arch is made of the same marble as NYC Federal Hall and St. Patrick’s Cathedral? The Tuckahoe marble was quarried just 21 miles away in Eastchester, although the quarry is now closed.
  1. Riveting Rosettes: the underside of the arch is easy to miss if you don’t crane your neck, but it’s a view you definitely want to see. 95 intricately carved rosettes adorn the Arch, each one hand crafted and breathtakingly beautiful. Each petal is annually checked to make sure these flowers continue to bloom for generations to come.
  1. Window to Wonderland: ok, so it might not lead to Wonderland, but the small door in the western pillar of the Arch does go somewhere special! It provides much needed maintenance access so NYC Parks staff can monitor the interior structure. The door used to be unlocked, until a fateful night in 1917 when the so-called “Arch Conspirators” snuck in and threw a party. 

Next time you visit Washington Square Park, don’t forget to keep an eye out for these mind-blowing details on the arch. From enchanted flowers to retro vibes, each discovery will make you fall in love with this iconic New York City landmark all over again.