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Politics

Washington Arch Fifty Years Old
Anniversary This Week Recalls Its Origins

By J. Owen Grundy

Originally appeared in The Villager on April 26, 1945
This Web version, copyright 2003, GET NY

Prints of this and other images are available from the artist, Richard La Rovere.
Copyright Richard La Rovere – may not be used without permission
Next Monday the Washington Arch will celebrate its golden anniversary. Just 50 years ago on the 30th of April, 1895, the Village was decorated in holiday array as a committee of distinguished Villagers proudly presented the completed Washington Arch to the people of the City.

It all began in the columns of the old and erudite Critic, a leading literary magazine of the period, which suggested in its April issue of 1889 that the huge white wooden arch, which had been erected during the centennial of that year to honor the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of George Washington as the first President of the United States, should be replaced by a marble one, as a permanent memorial to the great man. A copy of this issue of the Critic reposes in the cornerstone of the present arch.

A committee was formed to make the suggestion a reality. Henry G. Marquand was chosen chairman, Gen. Louis Fitzgerald, vice chairman; Richard Watson Gilder, secretary, while William Rhinelander Stewart, often called “the father of the arch,” was named treasurer. A campaign to raise the necessary funds was started, with the St. Nicholas Club making the initial contribution of $1,000. The Society of American Artists and the Salmugundi Club followed with substantial gifts. By Sept. 14 $50,000 had been subscribed and the committee invited Stanford White, the famous architect, who designed the original wooden arch, to draw plans for the new marble one.

Ground was broken by Marquand on April 30, 1890, and on May 30 the cornerstone was laid with fitting ceremonies by John W. Vrooman, at that time Grand Master of Free Masons in New York State. The orator of the occasion was George William Curtis. The program was concluded by the reading of an ode written especially for the occasion by Robert Underwood Johnson.

On the following Dec. 22, the builder, David H. King, Jr., put the first block of marble in place, and from that time on the work progressed steadily. By April, 1891, $90,000 had been raised and two years after it was started the sum of $100,000 was reached. Among the various means of raising this sum was a beautiful concert by Paderewski who was making his first triumphal tour of this country with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The expenses of the evening were defrayed by William Steinway and the concert netted $4,500. On June 1, the office staff of McKim, Mead and White concluded the fun raising when the final total reached the required sum of $128,000. It was the policy of the committee from the inception to raise the funds as nearly as possible by public subscriptions so that the people might feel that they themselves had contributed this great monument to the first President.

On April 5, 1892, the last three marble blocks were set in place at the top course of the attic by Messrs. Stewart, Gilder and White “cutting their initials in the joints of the stones they set.”

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