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Records of the Washington Square Association, Inc.

Call Number



1908-1996, inclusive
; 1955-1965, bulk


Washington Square Association


13.75 Linear Feet
in 45 boxes

Language of Materials

Materials primarily in English.


The Records of the Washington Square Association demonstrate the organization's strong commitment to civic organizing. The Association organized community events and addressed zoning, traffic, and housing issues. These efforts brought the Association into close contact with numerous municipal agencies such as the Department of Transportation, the Parks and Police Department, the Board of Estimate, New York University, Community Planning Board #2 and a number of historic preservation organizations. Overall, the Association's records reflect the history of a changing urban neighborhood.

Historical Note

In December of 1906, a dozen householders of the Washington Square area between 14th Street and Washington Square Park were invited to the West 10th Street home of Cornelius Berrien Mitchell, where he proposed the formation of an association in order "to maintain the present desirable character of the neighborhood." The "character" of Washington Square had been established at the Square's initial development in the 1830s as the "American Ward (Ninth ward), a liberal model of cleanliness, good citizenship, and self-respect." In the 1870s, in response to the influx of a large population of Irish to the east and to the west of the Square, as well as a sizable African-American settlement nearby, the old-line patricians politically allied themselves with the Tammany machine. By the next decade the Irish and African-Americans had been pushed out of Greenwich Village, not by right-wing efforts but by a new wave of Italian immigrants. Along with the influence of changing population trends, other psychological factors contributed toward the propensity of the long-standing residents for conservatism; the Square had lost its preeminence as the most fashionable address in New York City. By the 1890s, the "Old Row" houses on Washington Square North looked outdated as "the leaders of fashion had moved uptown, abandoning the lower (Fifth) Avenue to...a few old families [which] hung on" and shops, apartments, and hotels.

The genteel atmosphere around the brick and marble townhouses was threatened by commercial incursions. New and imposing loft buildings filled with immigrant workers appeared, accompanied by the numerous pushcarts which served the adjacent tenement population. Articles emerged in the press concerning the disturbing increase of tramps and immigrants loitering in the park. The long-time residents felt beleaguered on many fronts. A neighborhood association that would act as liaison between the residents, the city authorities and private companies was established in a novel attempt to restrict the noise, pollution, and bustle of mercantilism. The founders of the Association felt that their mission, which they touted as public-spirited, was doubly patriotic: first, as an enterprise which involved individuals in the process of civic participation; and second, as championing preservation of the "old" Washington Square neighborhood. An early test of the system occurred in 1909, when the municipal government took up the role of unwanted developer in an attempt to build a courthouse in the venerable Washington Square Park and was successfully repulsed by the Association.

In response to complaints by the Washington Square Association and millions of other beleaguered Manhattanites against uncontrolled real estate development, the city administration appointed a Zoning Commission (1914) to determine present and future land use. The Association effectively petitioned that a large part of their district remain residential. The fruits of the Washington Square Association's victory can still be seen today on the side streets off Fifth Avenue which retain more residences below 14th Street than above it. The early Board and Members of the Association were long-time residents of the area and many were from old, influential families (such as the Delanos, Rhinelanders, Wanamakers, Van Rensselaers, Schermerhorns, even that of the Mayor of New York, George B. McClelland). Their demand of an aesthetic for their community, as well as their political clout, is evident in initial plans which permitted sidewalk cafes and established tree-planting programs.

This combination of cold politics and warm neighborliness characterize the Association through seven decades of community service. Several Greenwich Village traditions have been established over the years, such as the Washington Square Christmas Celebration, which was initiated in 1924 by the Association in cooperation with the Department of Parks, and featured a tree-lighting ceremony and a carol sing-a-long. In 1920 the Association funded and erected the Memorial Flagpole in Washington Square Park, dedicated to the local heroes of World War I. All civic problems, from trash collection to police protection, contribute to the quality of life on the Square and repeatedly appear on the Association's agenda. A programmatic sampling, by decade, can serve to show the varied, far-ranging projects undertaken by the Washington Square Association. In 1932 Depression-era artists are given an outdoor gallery around the park through the efforts of Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. The Outdoor Art Exhibit continues to the present as a semi-annual event. In 1949 the "Save Washington Square Committee" is formed and protests the destruction of south Washington Square for the New York University's Law Center. In 1958, although the attempt to preserve the Rhinelander Houses (northwest corner of the Square) fails, the developers modify the new apartment building constructed there to conform with the design of the remaining historic row houses, and community awareness grows toward support of landmark preservation legislation. In 1963, almost a century after Boss Tweed opened a roadway through Washington Square Park, the Association finally forces the city to close the Park to all vehicle traffic. In 1976 the Association is fundamental in organizing the U.S. Bicentennial festivities for Washington Square. The Washington Square Association was the first neighborhood organization of its kind in New York City and has served since its inception as a paradigm for many other community alliances.


The Records of the Washington Square Association are arranged chronologically in eight series5:

I. Administrative Publications

II. Administrative Minutes

III. Financial Records

IV. Membership Information

V. Administrative Correspondence

VI. Association Activities

VII. Annual and Special Events

VIII. Photographs and Drawings

Scope and Contents

The records of the Washington Square Association are strong in the area of community involvement in such issues as zoning, housing, traffic, parks, and public festivities. The records reveal a positive working relationship between the Association and other metropolitan institutions including the Board of Estimate, New York University, Community Planning Board #2, historic preservation organizations, and the municipal Departments of Transportation, Parks, and Police. The issues that the Washington Square Association has tackled represent the changing concerns and values of one urban neighborhood over a 75-year time span. Historically, its failed campaigns are no less important than its numerous victories. Overall, these documents provide rich resources for the study of urban history.

Six linear feet of records which offered no evidentiary or informational values were eliminated (multiple copies, non-related publications, etc.). Most of the paper is in good condition, but some files (mostly prior to circa 1950) contain very brittle materials which should be carefully handled. Gaps appear in all series, most notably in the annual publications (for example: Yearbooks/Annual Reports exist in the collection only from 1920, 1934-37, and 1950; Art Exhibit Catalogs exist in the collection only from 1947, 1951-52, 1955-58, 1967). In March of 1992, approximately 1.5 linear feet of additional documents were incorporated into the existing collection. In order to maintain the original sequence with a minimum of alteration, the incorporation of the second accession in one case necessitated a box designation of 6a (see Container List) as a supplement to the administrative minutes that constitute this series subdivision.

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions with the exception of membership directory information, which is restricted for 70 years from date of creation.

Conditions Governing Use

Any rights (including copyright and related rights to publicity and privacy) held by Washington Square Association, Inc. are maintained by New York University. Permission to publish or reproduce materials in this collection must be secured from New York University Archives. Please contact

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date; Records of the Washington Square Association, Inc.; MC 94; box number; folder number; New York University Archives, New York University.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In April 1988, following a legal agreement between New York University and the Washington Square Association, New York University acquired 18 linear feet of records generated by the Washington Square Association, Inc. (Accession 88-014). Contacts for the Association were its president, Anne-Marie Sumner and its executive secretary, Jean B. Krampner. In March of 1992, approximately 1.5 linear feet of additional documents were incorporated into the existing collection. The accession numbers associated with this collection are 06.004, 07.021, 88.015, 94.015.

Collection processed by

F. Michael Angelo. Electronic version prepared by Emilyn L. Brown in 2003.

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2024-02-06 14:26:11 -0500.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

Decisions regarding arrangement, description, and physical interventions for this collection prior to 2019 are unknown.

In 2020, one box of materials labeled "Box 30" was inspected and determined to not show evidence of mold. This box was relabeled as Box 33 to prevent confusion from an existing Box 30 housed in Bobst.

Also in 2020, a scrapbook previously housed in Box 26a was disassembled by preservation staff and rehoused accordingly. Box 26a was relabeled box 35 to prevent confusion with box 26.

In the spring of 2020, Box 34 containing a financial ledger with water and mold damage was cleaned by a vendor, and returned to the archives. The item was transferred to Box 33, and Box 34 was deleted.

Revisions to this Guide

June 2019: Updated by Jennifer E. Neal for compliance with DACS and ACM Required Elements for Archival Description
January 2020: Updated by John Zarrillo to reflect materials that had not been described in box 15
October 2020: Edited by Anna Björnsson McCormick to reflect the rehousing of materials

Edition of this Guide

This version was derived fromWASHSQ01eb.xml


New York University Archives
New York University Archives
Elmer Holmes Bobst Library
70 Washington Square South
2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012