By Barry Benepe
With all due respect to Geoffrey Croft, I feel that we are fortunate to have George Vellonakis in charge of the design and maintenance of Washington Square Park, probably one of the most heavily utilized and historic parks in the City. Through careful and thoughtful research on the park’s original 1836 design, Vellonakis has returned the contemporary park to its welcoming traffic-free green surroundings while at the same time retaining its contemporary music, dance, and cultural attractions. The popular, but unsightly, black asphalt mounds were replaced with even more popular green grass mounds where adults and children can roll and lie as well as run up and down. More trees, robust flowering shrubs, and plant beds border the paths. It is truly a people’s park.
Vellonakis has also used his talents to improve City Hall Park, Abingdon Square, and other City parks. He is nature’s poet, following the steps of such luminaries as Robert Nichols and Bobby Zion. The Washington Square Park Conservancy and the City are lucky to have him.
Vellonakis’ unique perspective and design acumen also shaped a WestView article I authored in July 2014. I have provided some excerpts below.
“The [Washington Square Park Conservancy] respects the extraordinarily beautiful restoration design prepared by George Vellonakis of the [NYC Department of Parks & Recreation]…“I love the restoration,” said Betsy Ely [Chairman of the Board of Directors]. “Now, what can we do to help maintain its beauty?” “We work together as a team,” added Gwen [Evans, Treasurer of the Board]. “The park is a glorious mosaic of activities and people. There is something for everyone.”
“Vellonakis began to return [Washington Square Park] to its original form in 2012. [Since then, the] park has…become the sylvan paradise it once was, exclusively for those on foot. It now has an abundant, rich planted texture with broad green lawns, arching trees, and banks of shrubs and flowering plants. The curvilinear paths provide a relaxing stroll toward the central fountain, which still attracts a wide range of activities.”
“A new handsome administration center has replaced the former ordinary brick maintenance building. The controversial black-topped play mounds have been replaced by a green turfed hill and dale design which is a village of pure delight for the many children who run up and down its slopes while caretakers relax on the grass like those with the morning dappled sunlight spilling over their heads…[like] in the paintings [of] French Impressionist, Georges Seurat.”
“[Washington Square Park] continues to remain one of the earliest formal parks in the City, an attraction for visitors throughout the world as well as a refuge for thousands of residents who walk in from the surrounding Greenwich Village.”