Atop the Arch: NYC Parks renovates Washington Square Park’s iconic landmark

The New York City Parks Department is performing a large-scale renovation of the Washington Square Park Arch as part of the Conservation Program’s 25th season.

The iconic marble arch that oversees the equally iconic park is getting a summer makeover in order to ensure the historical landmark remains intact for future generations to enjoy as much as previous ones have. 

Using an 80-foot lift, NYC Parks’ monuments team will be replacing damaged mortar, painting, adding chemical protection to preserve the Washington Square Arch’s masonry, and more.

amNewYork Metro was led to the very top of the arch to see the repairs firsthand — and get spectacular views of both the park and the surrounding community.

The view from the top of the Washington Square Park Arch. Photo by Dean Moses
The Washington Square Park Arch’s rooftop. Photo by Dean Moses

“This is a part of a three-week effort, a part of the citywide monuments conservation program to follow up on prior treatments of the arch to ensure that it’s preserved and kept in a good state of structural integrity and aesthetic appearance,” Director of Art and Antiquities for New York City Parks Jonathan Kuhn said. “The entire arch has been cleaned of soiling, of bio growth algae moss, mildew and that kind of thing. We’ve applied what’s called a biocide, that is environmentally sound that inhibits that growth in the stone, we’ve used a micro abrasive system. It’s a very kind of state-of-the-art system.”

Kuhn stood atop the arch on July 21 with his hands placed firmly on the aged structure and peered over the edge as crew members worked to scoop out damaged mortar. Due to both the historical significance of the monument and its seniority–which dates back to 1895–Kuhn stated the preservation must be delicate and meticulous.

Photo by Dean Moses
Painting the arch.Photo by Dean Moses

“The arch is a fragile object as sturdy as it seems. It’s made of several marbles, it’s a sedimentary rock,” Kuhn explained. “You’ll see on the surface, what’s called sugaring, where it reacts to acid rain chemicals in the rainwater that falls down from the heavens. So, we’re doing some stone consolidation on the two sculptures. We’re going to be applying chemicals.”

Public Art Conservator John Saunders calls the process intensive maintenance. 

“So, we’re going over problems, the kinds of things you’ll do every 10 or 15 years, as opposed to what we do each year. So hence, we’re here for three weeks. We have three great interns this year. One who came all the way from Australia to work with us. They’re largely graduate level or undergraduate level preservation students and they get the kind of hands-on experience here that they take to other places all over the world,” Saunders said.

Saunders believes that the work the interns learn with the Parks Department in New York City can then be shared worldwide.

“It’s a small field and there’s not that many training opportunities. So, we get people who come from all over. But we have a long roster of people who now work both in major museums and with municipal and state government agencies,” Saunders said.

Although this maintenance will go a long way in extending the life of the arch, park officials say they will continue to come back each year and perform further, less invasive procedures.

Photo by Dean Moses