In 1919, the widening and extension of Varick Street created a triangular space at Varick’s intersection with West Broadway and Franklin Street. The Board of Aldermen (predecessor of the City Council) named this space for Philip Schuyler Finn, who lost his life in 1918 fighting World War I with New York’s 69th Regiment, the famous “Fighting Irish.” Nevertheless, for most inhabitants of Lower Manhattan in the early 1900s, Finn Square conjured up memories of Philip Schuyler’s father, Daniel E. Finn (1845-1910).
“Battery Dan,” as the elder Finn was known, was a Tammany Hall politician and Democratic leader of Lower Manhattan. He won his nickname and the hearts of his constituents when he successfully opposed the construction of commercial piers along Battery Park, citing the necessity for open space in the crowded neighborhood. He became a city magistrate and police judge in 1904, dispensing advice rather than harsh sentences. Admonitions like “Don’t try to compel a girl to love you if she prefers someone else. Get another to take her place,” to two youths fighting over a girl, or “Don’t wreck or sell your body and soul for diamonds and automobiles,” to a prostitute endeared him to New Yorkers across the city. No incident caused more amusement than Finn’s encounter with three bulldogs on his way to a court session in the Bronx. Under attack, he climbed a lamppost and yelled for help. Local papers carried the story and New York loved it.
A New York Times editorial at the time of his death in 1910 praised him as “an idealist,” “a friend of the people,” and added, “He was fairly adored by thousands as leader, friend, and protector.” Crowds of mourners lined the streets as Finn’s funeral procession led to St. Peter’s Church.
Today the working class Irish neighborhood in what was Manhattan’s West Ward has become the fashionable Tribeca (TRIangle BElow CAnal Street), and Finn Square reflects the change. For almost 70 years, it was a weed-covered slab of concrete. Today it contains a triangle shaped garden bordered by cobblestones that is a profusion of flowers and shrubs. Thornless honey locust trees (Gleditsia triacanthos inermis) and flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) provide a green canopy, and grassy plots separate the flowerbeds.
The transformation, which took place in April 1998, is the product of Greenstreets, a joint program started in 1986 and revived in 1994 by Parks and the Department of Transportation, to turn drab traffic islands into attractive green spaces with the help of community volunteers. Parks planted the trees, and Tribeca residents planted the flowers and maintain the garden.