In 1889, New York City erected a temporary wooden and plaster arch to celebrate the centennial of George Washington’s inauguration as president. The arch was designed by the famed Beaux-Arts architect, Stanford White, who later designed the permanent marble arch still standing.
Do you notice the statue of Washington standing on top of the temporary arch? That didn’t make it into the permanent arch you see before you today.
The residents of lower Fifth Avenue and Washington Square liked the temporary arch so much that they raised enough money to commission a permanent one: again from Stanford White, at the time, perhaps America’s most famous architect. White, who was a philanderer and a philanthropist, designed the arch for free.
Around the time of its construction, the New York elite had acquired the taste for building public arches, as a celebration of civic and national glory. The Roman Empire did much the same thing 2000 years earlier.
In 1892, they erected another temporary arch over 5th avenue, at 58th street, for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival. In 1899, yet another was built to celebrate Admiral Dewey’s victory over the Spanish in the Philippines. In addition to these temporary arches, in 1892, the city built the monumental Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, which still stands.
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