History & Culture
At the beginning of the 19th century, as New York City grew in population, developers cast their eyes north toward what had been farmland. The potter’s field of Washington Square was reborn as a leafy park, and handsome rowhouses were constructed along its edges. The institution that would come to dominate the neighborhood, NYU, also erected its first building here during this period. It’s a genteel period captured in print in Henry James’ Washington Square (the basis of the play and movie The Heiress) as well as the works of Edith Wharton, whose childhood home was at 7 Washington Square North. In the 20th century, thanks in part to institutions like NYU and also the New School, the neighborhood became the home of intellectuals, political radicals, artists, and writers. Today, some of the coffeehouses where they gathered remain, along with bookstores, arthouse cinemas, and off-Broadway companies.