Practical Man’s Guide to Washington Square
August 2, 1962
The fantastical map above was conceived by Jaf to supplement “A Practical Man’s Guide to Washington Square.” The numbers in parentheses in the article may be coordinated with the numbers on the map.
Monuments and Shrines
Washington Square Park is the acknowledged centre ville of Greenwich Village.
It is entered from Fifth Avenue on the north by uptown types and runaway buses via a large triumphal arch to the memory of George Washington, the first President of the United States (1).
Two statues front the arch. The statue on the right looks like George Washington. No one can identify the statue on the left. However, the words “Support Mental Health” scraped into the stone there led many to believe that it is the statue of a former Parks Commissioner.
The present Parks Commissioner, Newbold Morris, is of the opinion that Washington Square Park is lopsided. He has solved this problem by leaning to the left whenever he confronts it.
The top of the arch is used for parties.
In back of the arch is a flagpole (2). It was erected to provide a suitable backdrop for protest demonstrations and rallies (see Where the Park People Are).
Behind the flagpole and slightly to the west of it is a shallow circular pit generally referred to as the fountain (3). It is used as a shower by frightened children. After a great deal of controversy, the fountain has just been redecorated. It now has nine squirts. The central and largest squirt comes out of an aluminum pipe in the middle of the fountain (4). Eight smaller and less reliable squirts are evenly placed around the circumference. The rim of the fountain is alternately baked by the sun and cooled off by the water. It is used for sitting (see Where the Park People Are).
To the west of the fountain is the marble head of a steel tycoon called Holley (5). Holley is smiling. He was commissioned by stock brokers who have to cross the park each day to get from the Seventh Avenue subway to the Fifth Avenue bus.
To the east is a statue of Garibaldi drawing his sword (6). Garibaldi was commissioned by Italian park-goers who wanted protection from newer types who had begun to inhabit Washington Square.
The Park’s Paths
Washington Square Park is cut by many paths, which all lead to seats on the rim of the fountain. The most traveled path runs from the circle to the coffee houses and is known as the Via Veneto of Washington Square. It is lined with benches, and people sit there either to wait for fountain space or to watch for girls.
To be picked up in Washington Square, the common route is down the Via Veneto, once around the fountain, and back up the path again (7). Should a girl fail there, she will end up conveniently near the coffee houses, where she will then go and try her luck again. Should she fail at the coffee houses, she will be close enough to the subway to go home. At the end of this path are the checker, chess, and go tables (see Sightseeing in Washington Square Park).
The path from the circle to the northwest corner is less populated and leads to the pigeons, who have a little circle there (see Flora and Fauna in the Park).
The path from the fountain to the northeast corner leads to Chock Full O’ Nuts and is used exclusively for that purpose.
The path due north leads uptown and is considered to be contaminated by gasoline fumes from the Fifth Avenue Coach Line (8). It is generally deserted by day, except for bus drivers and hardy children.
The path due south leads to Judson Church. It is used only to enter the park to protest folk-singing bans.
The path around the park is for people who want to be alone.
East Side, West Side in the Park
Until recently, the west side of the park was In. At present, however, it is more In to frequent the Out regions of Washington Square, particularly the southeast corner. Few people are that In.
There are fewer benches on the east side of the park than on the west side. This fact has led some east-siders to suggest that the In-Out theory of park life had no basis in personalities originally and was merely founded upon an order-blank error in the Bench Office of the Parks Department.
Sightseeing in Washington Square Park
Washington Square Park has four playgrounds. The one just east of the arch is generally acknowledged to be the In playground (9). Children of very hip and/or rich parents play there (see Where the Park People Are). Their carriages are either quite old or brand new. It is believed that this playground will get tanbark before the others. At the entrance to the playground is a sign which reads “For Children and Guardians Only” (10). Benches for living parents are provided outside.
The playground east of the Judson Church path (11) is famous for its water cooler, which is the best in the park (12).
The playground west of the church path (13) is next to a large brick outhouse (14) and smells. There is some question as to its popularity. It is used by children with colds. They will grudgingly admit an advantage in its proximity to the bicycle rack. Also, some mothers prefer this playground as it is close by the telephones (15).
The playground to the west of the arch is not a playground at all but a sandbox with benches around it (16). It was designed for quick conversion into a launching pad in times of national emergency. It is used by babies. Babies who have outgrown the launching pad can often be seen waiting by the shelter arrow on the southwest corner outside the park. This arrow points nowhere and was the practical joke of pacifist groups which frequent the park (see Where the Park People Are).
Around the fountain are eight evenly spaced wire trash baskets. One of these is used exclusively for The Voice (17) and another for the New York Times. The six remaining baskets are for Good Humor wrappers and old pickets and petitions.
Washington Square has numerous circulating Good Humor wagons, yellow and fringed on top. The men who wheel them are uniformed in hand-me-downs from Carabinieri relatives abroad and charge from ten to 25 cents, according to the law of supply and demand. They will accept credit if you are well known around the park (see Who the Park People Are).
The chess, checker, and go tables at the southwest corner of the park are reserved exclusively for chess, checker, and go players (18). A large warning has been posted to discourage anybody else from sitting down at them. This warning must be observed at all hours of the day and night.
The west edge of the Square is bordered by a fence known affectionately as the Meat Rack (19). It claims as precedent the west edge of the Acropolis.
Flora and Fauna in the Park
Washington square Park was nourished into its present lush green life by the bones of 1000 paupers who were buried there between 1797 and 1823. Its beauty has been kept intact through the years by signs that say “Keep Off the Grass.” They are meant for people.
There are many trees in Washington Square Park. They hang low on the east side and contribute greatly to its gloomy charm.
The best tree in the park is the English elm on the north-west corner (20). People used to hang from it before electricity. Lafayette counted the hangings there as among the most impressive he had ever seen.
The English elm is next to the pigeon circle (21), and this proximity has given rise to a theory that pigeons are evolved from the vultures who once attended hangings there. An extension of this theory holds that the pigeons in Washington Square are looking for blood, not crumbs.
There is a flower bed behind Mr. Holley (22). The flowers are mostly purple. Some are white. This is the only flower bed in Washington Square Park. It was recently been immortalized in the Karachi Tourist World as a refuge for drunks, who lie in it, “the sunlight draining colour from their clothes.”
Where the Park People Are
Several thousand people are always out of work in Greenwich Village, and most of them pass the time in Washington Square Park. They generally put in an eight-hour day there if the weather is good. The older and more ambitious of this particular group sit along the north edge of the park (23), which is called Henry James Row because of the brownstones across the street. Facing uptown, they read the classifieds.
The benches along the west edge of the park are for lovers in the preliminary stages of courtship (24).
The men who play chess on the stone tables at the end of Via Veneto are old retired sea captains from New England (25). They attract huge crowds of other old retired sea captains. Few women are allowed to watch.
The park police are most active in the chess, checkers, and go corner. An officer is always on duty there (26). He patrols the tables, waiting for someone to make a false move.
Farther down the coffee house path is a different crowd, which thickens toward the fountain. Old women sit on the benches there, sunning souls (27). Alternating with the women are young male types who have won seats on the Via Veneto through an ability to talk about art and pick up women at the same time (28).
Toward Holley’s head is a small circle used almost exclusively by travelers who have come by A-train from Harlem or by foot from Avenue A (20). The Bowery gentlemen congregate there between five and six in the afternoon and intercept the through traffic from Wall Street as it pours out of the southwest path.
At the fountain circle, just to the north of Holley, is the In bench of Washington Square Park (30). It is considered private property by Italians, intellectuals, junkies, and mothers. It is commonly known as Mothers’ Bench, but unless she is pregnant a mother will have to fight it out for a seat there. Seats on Mothers’ Bench can be bought, though, from intellectuals.
The mothers sit on Mothers’ Bench to talk to the intellectuals. The intellectuals sit there to talk to themselves. Italians like the bench because is commands an excellent view of Garibaldi’s sweeping Baroque curve. Junkies like it because they can look innocent there, sitting, as it were, next to mothers.
From Mothers’ Bench mothers are able to keep an eye on their children, who come to the park to participate in the all-day tricycle races around the fountain (31). When the children stray north into the bus zone, it is generally conceded that they have the right of way.
The fountain itself is used by everybody, although by law no one over 11 except parents is allowed in during the day.
On hot days the fountain is full of children, who will brave the sting of the nine squirts for the sake of the cold water. Pails, shovels, and big plastic beach balls share the fountain with the children (32).
At night the fountain is used for conga lines and parties. On Sundays it is used for singing.
The rim of the fountain is acknowledged to be the best spot in the park. People get there early and stay all day to keep their seats (33). At meal times the ice cream wagons will come to them. Writers prefer to sit on the rim so that their friends will see them thinking. It is also the scene of the most smoothly maneuvered pick-ups in the park. Rim pick-ups generally begin with a comment on splashing babies and a fond, paternal nod in their direction. From babies to sex is an easy conversational turn.
The most popular uses for the area immediately surrounding the fountain are sex and music.
The space due east of the fountain, however, is kept clear for the frisbee team (34). The frisbee team is Greenwich Village’s only gesture toward physical fitness. It meets in the center of the park to show off. Among the members of the Frisbee team are an artist, a junkie, a photographer, a stock broker, and a writer.
Northeast of the fountain, at the beginning of Chock Full Lane, is a bench for two (35). It is referred to as the Love Seat and is set aside each day by common consent for a deserving male couple.
Garibaldi is used by New York University undergraduates for hiding behind until their beards grow in and they can step with confidence up onto the rim of the fountain (36).
Besides the students, the only east park regulars are the heterosexual lovers (37). These lovers use the obscure peripheral paths and are generally in more advanced stages of courtship than their west park counterparts. Together with the Sixth Precinct, they form the leitmotiv of Washington Square.
The other east side park people cannot be classified. They do not congregate. They are either so far In that they can afford the anonymity of east park-going, or so far Out that they do not know the difference. Sightseeing on the east side of the park is thus always an adventure in definition.
No one goes down the path that leads to nowhere.
Although protesters may enter the park by the Judson Church path, no one leave the park by it. It has been designated as the Washington Square void. People who go to church from the park follow protocol and take an alternate route: up the Via Veneto and turn left.
Due north of the fountain, politicians and pacifists and rallyers to all causes assemble (38). This part of the Square is especially popular for rallies. It offers an easy escape route up Fifth Avenue should the police appear. It has been the stage for a Paul Revere Wake Up America Rally and a pacifist call to arms.
The congressman who wants the Village vote speaks there at least once a campaign. The flagpole and the triumphal arch can be counted on to add a suitable note of patriotism to any occasion. Vive la France!
Who the Park People Are
The New Conservative girl before the arch, her back turned on Socialism and Title I, is Rosemary McGrath (39).
The ice cream man open for business near the path to the men’s room is Morris, who gave a free Good Humor to the Governor in 1958 (40).
The big, brown man in the middle of the path to the coffee houses is reading dirty poetry out loud ( 41).
The man tailing him is Captain Savitt, leader of the Sixth Precinct park patrol (42).
John the Swamp Rat is standing under Holley. He will take you on a tour of the Village (43).
The gentleman on the northwest corner of the park is Henry Hope Reed, collecting people for another kind of tour (44).
Sitting on Mothers’ Bench are, respectively, Delmore Schwartz, Gilbert Millstein, and an out-patient from Bellevue (45).
The man on the east edge path wants to be left alone ( 46).
The red-plaid-shirted, yellow-tied, and blue-checked-trousered old man on Henry James Row is reading Murray Kempton (47).
The Moonman is standing in the middle of the fountain, waving a map of Pennsylvania. He has come from a mysterious planet to look for Village girls (48).
The old man walking up the west side with a wooden box on his back will shine your shoes if he thinks they are dirty. Otherwise he will pass you by (49).
The actor with the long, muscular brown legs and the long, muscular brown arms and hardly and clothes at all is the star of many avant-garde Bible films (50).
The little girl in the pink playsuit crying in the middle of the sandbox has to go to the bathroom (51).
The man with the beard on top of the arch is Jaf, tossing a small party (52).
A Cause a Day, Keeps Ennui Away
Washington Square Park is the cause celebre of Greenwich Village. Beats and hips and hangers-on who never vote or work or in any way commit themselves to action have in the past rallied, and even organized, to save the Square.
One recent popular cause was the folk-singing cause. It had a vast appeal. Park-goers united against Newbold Morris and saved the singers from perpetual banishment. Morris, to save face, cut their allotted fountain time.
The no-road cause was equally effective in uniting all park people against the City, which wanted to split the park in two. The tricycle set threatened to stage a massive sit-down demonstration in the middle of the intended bus route. The City retracted, and the Square was again saved.
Park people again joined forces against the Parks Department in 1961, when, in his passion for concrete, the Commissioner proposed that new benches be placed in Washington Square. This was known as the Old Bench Cause. It was a huge success.
A new park cause is barely under way. This is the cause to save the Square from DDT. It was inspired by Rachel Carson and is being organized at the Village Independent Democratic Club. There is still time to join this cause.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 27, 2019