Washington Square Arch: Then AND Now

Last Car Thru Washington Square Park, 1958, Tankel Collection, GVSHP Archives is just one of the historic images that can tell us a lot about the past.

Last Car Thru Washington Square Park, 1958, Tankel Collection, GVSHP Archives is just one of the historic images that can tell us a lot about the past.

One of the many tools historic preservationists use in their work is historic images. They are an invaluable resource in seeing firsthand how our built environment has changed and stayed the same. We’ve spent time here at Off the Grid reviewing the many resources for older images of the Village, including the city’s tax records photos, resources for historic images across the city, and GVSHP’s own image archive.

While historic images are a useful research tool, they can be much more. They can be a source for teaching about change and continuity over time. Think about a walking tour where a guide has brought along a historic image to show you just how much a certain building, or park, or landscape has changed. And frankly, they can also be fun. Thanks to GVSHP supporter and volunteer Shawn Chittle, we have a fun photo to share with you.

Shawn Chittle captured both change and continuity in his recreation of Last Car Thru Washington Square Park

Shawn Chittle captured both change and continuity in his recreation of Last Car Thru Washington Square Park

Armed with a printed version of GVSHP’s photo, Last Car Thru Washington Square, 1958, Shawn captured the changes and continuity of that very public space. Last Car was donated by Claire Tankel and depicts her husband, Stanley Tankel, driving a car through Washington Square just as the Square was closed to cars. Stanley was a member of a group working to close the park to traffic in the 1950s. You can learn more about this effort from interviews with Claire Tankel, Edith Lions, and Jane Jacobs on the GVSHP website. While this recreated image captures how the architecture surrounding the Arch at Washington Square Park has stayed relatively the same since 1958, the car-free plaza has certainly changed considerably.

Shawn staged his photoshoot this past December, 55 years after the original photo was captured. He reported that lining up the angles was one of the toughest parts of his photo shoot. His actions generated a bit of curiosity as well. He related that every few minutes people would ask “what are you doing,” “oh look at that!” oh cool.” It was also quite cold as evidenced by his gloved thumb.

Now that it is not so cold out, we thought we’d challenge intrepid Off the Grid readers to try their hand, or should I say camera, at capturing a recreated Village image. We would like to see your personal photos – it could be older or recent. It could feature a street scene, an iconic building, or your own block. Tell us a little more about the original photo and why it interests you and submit it to gvshp@gvshp.org. We’ll select a few submissions to share on Facebook. Act quickly though, we’ll be accepting submissions through May 31.

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Sheryl Sheryl Woodruff was GVSHP's Senior Director of Operations until December 2014.