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Shirley Hayes and the Preservation of Washington Square Park

 
 
Shirley Hayes and the Preservation of Washington Square Park Marker image. Click for full size.
By Larry Gertner, March 25, 2015
1. Shirley Hayes and the Preservation of Washington Square Park Marker
Inscription.  In the early 1950s , the City of New York proposed running a four-lane, partially sunken broadway through the middle of Washington Square Park. In February 1952, Mrs. Shirley Hayes (1912-2002), a young mother of four sons (Dennis, Timothy, Christopher, Kerry) living in Greenwich Village, discovered the city’s plans to link Fifth Avenue – which at the time ran through the park – with West Broadway in an attempt to alleviate downtown traffic congestion. The measure, approved by the City Planning Board and then Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, would have removed the park’s fountain and allowed cars and buses to cut right through the heart of the park.

Established as a public park in 1827, Washington Square Park is a historic open space and the home of many monuments including the marble Washington Arch, a statue of Italian nationalist leader Giuseppe Garibaldi, and an authentic World War I flagpole. Mrs. Hayes and many others believed the plan to run a new major artery through the park would compromise the historic character, of the Village and deny thousands of local residents and visitors the only large green space in their
Shirley Hayes and the Preservation of Washington Square Park Marker site image. Click for full size.
By Larry Gertner, August 14, 2019
2. Shirley Hayes and the Preservation of Washington Square Park Marker site
At the Washington Square North and Fifth Avenue entrance to the park; the arch is to the left.
neighborhood. Pitted against opposition from City Hall, the Board of Estimate, New York University, and elected officials, Mrs. Hayes began a fight to “Save the Square” that lasted for seven years. In addition to being appointed to the Manhattan Borough President’s Greenwich Village Community Planning Board to help find an alternate plan for the park, she founded the Washington Square Park Committee, composed of 36 community groups, including property owners, civic associations, parent-teacher associations, and churches. As the leader of this effort, she was said at the time to be the “true Village Voice.” She spoke out against the city’s plan and urged the community to remember that “some provision for healthy family living and some vestige of quiet and beauty must be allowed to survive.”

As neighborhood support for Mrs. Hayes’s campaign grew, a number of alternate plans were proposed. In 1955, Manhattan Borough President Hulan E. Jack unveiled a plan to build a depressed roadway through the park, while community leaders including Anthony Dapilito tried to negotiate with the city, suggesting alternatives including a tunnel beneath the park. Raymond S. Rubinow, Chairman of the Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic, formulated a “turn-around” compromise that would allow only Fifth Avenue Coach
Shirley Hayes image. Click for full size.
from the New York Times
3. Shirley Hayes
Company buses to use a traffic lane around the Washington Arch.

Mrs. Hayes and her community allies rejected these proposals, saying that only one alternative would “best serve the needs of children and adults of the family community.” Mrs. Hayes proposed that Washington Square Park be forever closed to all motor vehicles. Her plan, calling for one and three-fourths acres of existing roadways be transferred to parkland and a paved area to be used for emergency use only, received widespread support from community members, including then Congressman John V. Lindsay (Mayor 1966-1973) and Charles McGuiness of the Village Independent Democrats. She believed the unification of the park would create a better venue for cultural and recreational activities such as the Shakespeare Festival, outdoor concerts, and art exhibits.

In 1958, a public hearing was held to discuss a roadway through the park. Bus loads of supporters – including Eleanor Roosevelt – a resident of 20 Washington Square Park West – crowded into City Hall to support Mrs. Hayes. With Assemblyman William F. Passannante, Manhattan Borough President Hulan E. Jack, and other community leaders in attendance, a “ribbon-tying” ceremony was held on November 1, 1958, to celebrate the start of a trial period by Traffic Commissioner T.T. Wiley to close the park to all vehicles
Washington Square Park, 1950s image. Click for full size.
By Unknown, 1950s
4. Washington Square Park, 1950s
Hardly a "park" at all.
except buses. Months later, the experiment was extended to prohibit buses from the park altogether, and after a period of evaluation, a final decision on the park was to be made. In August 1959, Mrs. Hayes and her supporters were victorious in their battle at last, and the Board of Estimate closed the park to vehicular traffic for good. Today, this sign and a unified Washington Square Park stand as a testament to Shirley Hayes and her heartfelt dedication that brought the entire Greenwich Village community in a true grassroots movement to “Save the Square.”

City of New York Parks and Recreation
Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor
Adrian Benepe, Commissioner
April 2003
 
Erected 2003 by City of New York Parks and Recreation.
 
Location. 40° 43.886′ N, 73° 59.833′ W. Marker is in New York, New York, in New York County. Marker is on Washington Square North near Fifth Avenue, on the left when traveling west. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: Washington Square Park, New York NY 10012, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Washington Square Park (here, next to this marker); Washington Arch (a few steps from this marker); Washington Square WWI Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker);
Washington Square Park, before and "after" image. Click for full size.
By Ephemeral New York
5. Washington Square Park, before and "after"
Bella Abzug (within shouting distance of this marker); Edward I. Koch (within shouting distance of this marker); Alexander Lyman Holley (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); No. 22 Washington Square North (about 300 feet away); Cervantes (about 300 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in New York.
 
Also see . . .
1. The 1950s plan for a Washington Square Highway. (Submitted on September 5, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York.)
2. Shirley Hayes New York Times obituary (page 18). (Submitted on September 5, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York.)
 
Categories. Government & PoliticsParks & Recreational AreasRoads & Vehicles
 
Washington Square Park, present (2019) image. Click for full size.
By Google Earth, August 23, 2019
6. Washington Square Park, present (2019)
Washington Square Park image. Click for full size.
By Larry Gertner, January 15, 2011
7. Washington Square Park
Pedestrians only
 

More. Search the internet for Shirley Hayes and the Preservation of Washington Square Park.
 
Credits. This page was last revised on September 13, 2019. This page originally submitted on September 5, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York. This page has been viewed 48 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on September 5, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York.   7. submitted on September 7, 2019, by Larry Gertner of New York, New York. • Andrew Ruppenstein was the editor who published this page.
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