About the Washington Square Association

The Washington Square Association remains the first neighborhood organization and the second civic organization after the Municipal Art Society, in New York City, with over 100 years of service to the neighborhood. 

The Washington Square Association gained wide recognition and became the inspiration and model for many community-oriented organizations throughout the country.  We put on events such as the Annual Holiday Tree Lighting and the Washington Square Music Festival as well as support the park's many projects.

We are volunteer organization whose membership is open to our entire community.  

 

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Contact Us

Washington Square Association, Inc
and
Friends of Washington Square Park
7-13 Washington Square North, 
New York, NY 10003

917-533-8077

 

WSA Officers

Douglas H. Evans, Chair

Anne-Marie W. Sumner, President

Emily Kies Folpe, Vice President

Claire McCarthy, Vice President

Richard E. Stewart, Secretary

Trevor Sumner


Our History

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Forming NYC's First Neighborhood Association

In December 1906, a group of long-time residents of the Washington Square area between 14th Street and Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village – including members of such prominent families as the Delanos, the Rhinelanders, the Schermerhorns and the Van Rensselaers – came together to form the first neighborhood civic organization in New York City:  the Washington Square Association.  Their objective was to safeguard and maintain this section of Old New York as an attractive residential neighborhood, one that for much of the previous century had ranked among the city’s most fashionable. 

Protecting Washington Square Park

By 1906, however, the fashionable addresses were further uptown, while on lower Fifth Avenue and adjoining streets, stately rows of old townhouses, many dating from the 1830s and 40s were continually threatened by commercial incursions.  Even Sailors’ Snug Harbor, a charitable trust that owned and had leased for income since the 1830s a substantial acreage east of Fifth Avenue from Washington Square North to 10th Street, had announced the previous year – in June 1905 – that henceforth it would promote commercial development on its property. 

Two early actions taken by the Association are particularly noteworthy.  In 1909 it successfully blocked an attempt by the municipal government to build a courthouse in Washington Square Park.  Then from 1914 to 1916, the Association worked closely with a city-appointed zoning commission – the first in the nation – whose final report, enacted into law in July 1916, divided the city into commercial and residential districts.  During this period, the trustees of Sailors’ Snug Harbor reversed their stand on promoting commercial development in the neighborhood.  In January 1916, at no less a gathering  than the annual meeting of the Washington Square Association, they publicly endorsed the Association’s objectives, which assured that the Washington Square area would be zoned residential. 

Extending into the Greenwich Village Community

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The physical well-being of the neighborhood, which in turn contributes to the quality of life enjoyed by residents and visitors alike, was – and continues to be – a primary interest of the Association.  Until the advent in the mid-twentieth century of block associations and community boards, the Washington Square Association served as the local liaison with municipal authorities; most importantly, it was the conduit through which householders and property owners could report violations of city ordinances and unmet municipal needs, secure in the knowledge that their complaints would be directed to the proper city agencies and receive prompt attention. 

In resolving such matters today, the Association acts in collaboration with other civic-minded organizations and institutions.

Working with NYC's Department of Parks and Recreation

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With respect to the physical well-being of Washington Square Park:  beginning in 1906, the Association sought – and has since maintained – a good working relationship with the city’s Department of Parks (now Parks & Recreation), which has jurisdiction over the design and maintenance of this public space and its amenities. 

In 2002, during restoration of the famed Washington Square Arch at the foot of Fifth Avenue, the Association provided funding and research.  The Association identified and located the quarry that supplied the marble for the two statues of George Washington on the north side of the monument.  Discovery of the quarry allowed restoration specialists to use matching marble to replace lost or broken pieces of the statuary.

Producing Community Events

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Among the many activities of the Association over the last hundred years has been its sponsorship of free cultural events in the Park.  Since December 1924, for example, the public has been invited to an annual tree-lighting ceremony at the Arch, followed on Christmas Eve by a community sing featuring holiday songs and carols.  During the summer months there is a the ever popular Washington Square Music Festival, a series of chamber music concerts by professional musicians performed in the Park each year since 1953 and funded by the Association..  The Association has on an ongoing basis provided financial support to enhance the public facilities in the Park.