By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
If it’s not obvious, this circa-1910 view looking north up 5th Avenue was taken from atop the Washington Arch at Washington Square Park. On the near right is Washington Mews behind the townhouses of Washington Square North, which was known as Waverly Place back then. On the near left are the mansions that proceed up 5th Avenue in an orderly fashion. Beyond the distinctive castle-topped tower of The First Presbyterian Church at West 12th Street, we see some skyscrapers of the time, near 14th Street. Hotel Brevoort is on the right, beyond the Mews.
This is the view that a group of Bohemians, led by the artists Marcel Duchamp and John Sloan, and the poet Gertrude Drick, would have enjoyed when, in 1917, they broke into the Arch and climbed to the roof. They had a picnic and a party and drank tea late into the night; they also read a proclamation declaring the free and independent state of Greenwich Village. Sloan did an etching of them all huddled there in the early morning hours. They became known as ‘The Arch Conspirators.’
Recently, in a rare opportunity to tour the inside of the Arch, I took this same view looking north up 5th Avenue from the top of the Arch. On the near right, we still see the Washington Mews behind the townhouses of Washington Square North, but now all the old mansions and hotels have been replaced by large apartment houses, starting with 1 5th Avenue on the right, and 2 5th Avenue on the left. Although The First Presbyterian Church still exists, it too is hidden by new buildings. Now, the skyscraper that dominates the horizon is the Empire State Building, at 33rd Street.