The 1811 Commissioners’ Plan—the far-reaching gridiron pattern which laid out the streets and avenues of Manhattan—had little immediate impact on the western part of Greenwich Village. The grid was intended to provide a system for the orderly development of land between 14th Street and Washington Heights. However the geography of the West Village had evolved in an unregulated fashion since colonial days, emerging from marshland to farmland and then from a rural suburb to a densely settled residential, commercial, and industrial neighborhood full of crooked streets.
Not until the 1910s and 1920s were Seventh and Eighth Avenues extended south of 14th Street. As a result, a number of small irregular parcels were created, including the traffic island at Charles Street, Waverly Place, and Seventh Avenue South. This parcel was acquired as a street and developed by the Borough President of Manhattan. In 1943 by Local Law #16 the City Council named the site in memory of Private First Class Bernard Joseph McCarthy, who was born and raised in Greenwich Village. A Marine, McCarthy was killed at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in August 1942 at the age of twenty-two. His was the first reported death of a Greenwich Village resident in the war.
The original version of McCarthy Square’s central flagpole originally stood on the grounds of the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens. It was moved to this site and embellished with an inscribed base of Deer Isle granite on behalf of neighborhood residents and the Dr. George A. Hayunga Maritime Post #1069 of the American Legion. Both the park and the memorial flagstaff were dedicated in June 1943, a tribute to a brave son of Greenwich Village, the first to fall for his country in World War II.