Washington Square Park

The Daily Plant : Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ready For Their Close-up: Parks Archival Images And The Oscars

New York City Parks Photo Archive

On November 24, 2010, we ran a story in the Daily Plant about actor Eli Wallach, a Parks Playground Director in the 1930s, who was awarded an Oscar for lifetime achievement from the American Academy of Motion Pictures. With Oscar season now reaching a feverish pitch in the run up to the annual ceremony scheduled for February 27, we thought we’d share two vintage images and their connection to this year’s Oscar contenders.

Leading the pack is the celebrated movie, “The King’s Speech,” with 12 Oscar nominations. The film chronicles the real-life travails of Prince Albert, Duke of York (played in the movie by Colin Firth), and his efforts to overcome a stammer that undermined his public speaking. Upon the death of his father, George the V, and the abdication of the throne by his elder brother Edward (who gave up the crown for the women he loved, American divorcee, Wallace Simpson), Albert became King George VI. A climactic scene in the film concerns the new king’s stirring radio address to the nation, as England prepares to declare war on Germany at the outset of World War II.

On June 2, 1939, King George VI and his wife Elizabeth, arrived at Battery Park’s Pier A, and were greeted with much pomp and circumstance by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, dressed in top hat and tails. This important moment of municipal and international protocol was captured by the Parks photographer in a series of images, one of which is reproduced here.

The King and Queens’s arrival at Battery Park was part of a tour they took of Canada and the United States in May and June of that year, a trip intended in part to build bridges to North America, which to that point had been distant politically from the growing tensions in Europe. During their visit to New York, they also visited the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s private residence at Hyde Park.

Allen Ginsberg, Washington Square Park, August 28, 1966;
Photo by Jack Manning, courtesy of the New York Times

This year’s Oscar’s will be co-hosted by actor James Franco, nominated for best actor for his performance in the harrowing “127 Hours”. Last year Franco also portrayed beat poet Allen Ginsberg in the docu-drama, “Howl,” which concerns an obscenity trial in 1957 that arose from his publication two years earlier of the epic poem of the same name. Ginsberg won the case, and later went on to a long and illustrious career as a poet and literary figure. In 1966, a New York Supreme Court decision upheld the rights of poets to read their work uncensored in public, and Ginsberg was one of several readers in a series of poetry reading held in Washington Square Park. In the fourth reading in the series, Ginsberg drew a crowd estimated at 600 people, and the image above shows him regaling the crowd under the park’s venerable elms.

As these instances and documentary images demonstrate, our parks are the inspiration and backdrop for many a historical event of consequence, as well as the cinematic mirror of our changing times.

Submitted by Jonathan Kuhn, Director, Art & Antiquities


“The highest of distinctions is service to others.”

King George VI
(1895 – 1952)

Directions to Washington Square Park

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