“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.”
—George Washington (1732-1799)
This is Walk About New York’s birthday tribute to George Washington.
Washington has a strong association with New York City. He was sworn in as the first president of the newly-formed United States at Federal Hall on Wall Street. He has been honored with streets in his name, a bridge as well as Greenwich Village’s centerpiece, Washington Square Park. The arch that greets visitors to the park celebrates his inauguration 100 years before it was built.
This grand monument, in the spirit of Ancient Roman triumphal arches, is modeled on Paris’s 1806 Arc de Triomphe, commissioned by Napoleon. Designed by Stanford White, Washington Square Arch is made of white Tuckahoe marble, quarried just north of the City in Westchester County.
The arch’s north side, or street-facing side, shows figures of Washington in two of his public images. At the eastern, left hand pier we see George Washington as Commander-in-Chief, Accompanied by Fame and Valor. Hermon A. MacNeil sculpted this figure between 1914 and 1916. On the right hand, western pier we see George Washington as President, Accompanied by Wisdom and Justice. A. Stirling Calder (father of Alexander Calder, designer/inventor of the mobile) carved this figure between 1917 and 1918. These works of art are known, more simply, as respectively Washington at War and Washington at Peace.
Fame, sounding her trumpet, and Victory, holding her crown of laurel leaves, float inside the extrados, those spaces formed by the curve of the arch and the right angles above it. The flowerets decorate the coffers in the arch’s vault. The quote used at the top of this posting is chiseled on the park-facing side of the arch, at the attic level.
Discover more about this wonderful and monumental work of art on either of two walking tours that Walk About New York offers, the Greenwich Village Walking Tour or the Five Squares and a Circle Tour.