10 Interesting Washington Square Arch Facts

One of the most fascinating arches in the world is also one of the most magnificent attractions in New York City

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of interesting Washington Square Arch facts, a landmark you simply have to see when you visit the city.

1. The arch is located in a popular park in Lower Manhattan

The Washington Square Arch is located near the northern entrance of Washington Square Park, a popular public park in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan in New York City.

The park was opened in the year 1871 and is managed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. You’ll find a lot of street entertainers and there’s an area dedicated to chess players as well.

It covers an area of 9.75 acres (39,500 square meters) and is considered to be one of the best-known parks in New York after Central Park. The fountain area of the park is one of the most popular spots to hang out for residents of the city.

Washington square park and arch
Washington Square Park / Ludovic Bertron / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en

2. It’s situated at the end of one of the most prominent streets in the city

The park along with the arch at its northern entrance form the terminus of one of the most famous streets in New York, Fifth Avenue, a street that can be described as what the Champs-Élysees is for Paris.

It’s home to some of the city’s most famous buildings, including but not limited to the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Rockefeller Plaza.

One section around halfway the street was referred to as the “Millionaires’ Row” in the early 20th century because of the luxurious residences that were built there. Today, 5th Avenue is referred to as the “most expensive and elegant street in the world.”

Washintgon Square arch fifth avenue
Fifth Avenue behind the arch / Wiki Commons

3. It was built to commemorate an important moment in U.S. history

The idea to build an arch on this location came about when a local businessman and philanthropist named William Rhinelander Stewart (1852–1929) decided to build a monument to commemorate a special occasion in America’s history.

This historic moment was George Washington’s 1789 inauguration as President of the United States. He came up with this idea during the centennial of this event in 1889.

First inauguration of George Washington
First inauguration of George Washington at Federal Hall in New York / Wiki Commons

4. The original arch on the location was made of wood and plaster

The man lived just nearby at 17 Washington Square North and he organized a fundraiser to construct this monument. One of the most remarkable Washington Square Arch facts is that he eventually ended up raising $2,765, which is the equivalent of just over $78,000 USD today.

There weren’t any Kickstarters around back then so this wasn’t a shabby amount by any means, but it didn’t allow him to build a huge marble arch, though.

That’s why the original arch constructed on the site in 1889 was made of wood and plaster. It eventually ended up becoming so popular that raising money became much easier and 3 years later, enough money was collected to build the permanent marble arch!

Washington Square Arch facts
Arch sideview / PortableNYCTours / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

5. The architect of the arch was murdered at Madison Square Garden in 1906

A renowned architect by the name of Stanford White (1853-1906) was hired to design the arch. It very much resembles the Roman triumphal arches that were built in Ancient Rome, more specifically the Arch of Titus and the Arch of Constantine, both located in the heart of the city.

Perhaps one of the most intriguing Washington Square Arch is that this renowned architect, who was considered to be the embodiment of the “American Renaissance” and who designed numerous Beaux-Arts Buildings in New York, ended up being murdered.

He was shot to death at Madison Square Garden on June 25, 1906, years after he allegedly raped a young actress named Evelyn Nesbit (1884-1967), by her then-husband Harry Kendall Thaw.

This eventually culminated in the “Trial of the Century,” but Thaw eventually got acquitted for the murder due to his mental condition.

Stanford white murder news story
Stanford White murder news story / Wiki Commons

6. It’s less than half the size of the famous triumphal arch in Paris

The arch stands imposing at the northern end of the park and reaches a total height of 73.5 feet (22.4 meters). That’s, however, just half the height of perhaps the most famous triumphal arch in the world, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, which stands 164 feet (50 meters) tall.

The opening of the arch is about 30 feet (9.1 meters) wide and the opening of the arch reaches a height of 47 feet (14 meters).

Washington Square arch fun facts
The amazing arch / Jean-Christophe BENOIST / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

7. The 2 statues of Washington were created by famous Italian sculptors

The inscription on the attic of the arch reads:

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God.

Inscription on the arch.

This is a famous quote of the man for who the arch was constructed, George Washington. It wasn’t until the year 1918, however, that the various sculptures decorating the arch were added to it.

The most fascinating sculptures are the two depicting George Washington himself. These were integrated into the arch by the Piccirilli Brothers, a family of famous Italian sculptors. Their most famous work is the statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

The sculptures on the arch represent both war and peace and depict Washington as follows:

  • George Washington as Commander-in-Chief, Accompanied by Fame and Valor (1916).
  • George Washington as President, Accompanied by Wisdom and Justice (1918).
George washington as president
George Washington / Beyond my Ken / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0

8. It was constructed with a local type of marble

The arch was constructed with a relatively local material referred to as Tuckahoe marble. This type of stone can be found in southern New York State and western Connecticut.

Two of the most famous monuments that were also constructed with this type of marble are St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Washington Monument in Washington D.C.

Washington square arch marble
The arch’s marble / Petri Krohn / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

9. Some grim artifacts were found when digging for the eastern pier

Once the construction workers started digging to build the foundations of the arch, they stumbled upon some interesting artifacts. This happened when they were digging to build the eastern pier.

They stumbled upon a coffin, human remains, and a gravestone dating back to the year 1803, which probably means that this location was used as a cemetery before.

Washington Square arch aerial view
Aerial view / Isabella Ruffalo-Burgat / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

10. The arch looks magnificent at night

The arch is one of the most fascinating landmarks in New York City, mainly because it’s one of the few existing arches in the city (some were erected before but only temporary) along with the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch and the Manhattan Bridge Entrance arch.

One of the most amazing Washington Square Arch facts is that it’s illuminated at night, making it stand out more. This creates an amazing sight in a city already filled with hundreds of fascinating structures!

Washington Square arch at night
The arch at night / Matt Joseph / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en