Washington Square West is a neighborhood in downtown, or Center City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The neighborhood roughly corresponds to the area between 7th and Broad Streets and between Chestnut and South Streets, bordering on the Independence Mall tourist area directly northeast, Market East to the northwest, Old City and Society Hill to the East, Bella Vista directly south, Hawthorne to the southwest, and mid-town Philadelphia and Rittenhouse Square to the west. In addition to Washington Square West being a desirable residential community, Washington Square West is considered a hip, trendy neighborhood that offers a diverse array of shops, restaurants, and coffee houses. The area takes its name from Washington Square, a historic urban park in the northeastern corner of the neighborhood.
History of Washington Square West
The name “Washington Square West” came into official use in the late 1950s and early 1960s as part of Edmund Bacon’s comprehensive plan for Center City. In this plan, the south-east quadrant of center city was split into Washington Square East (more commonly known as Society Hill) and Washington Square West. Both neighborhoods were scheduled for urban renewal by Philadelphia’s City Planning Commission and Redevelopment Authority. After a period of decline in the early 20th century, city officials hoped that redevelopment would clean up Washington Square West and clear blighted areas.
After large-scale renewal of Washington Square East/Society Hill in the early 1960s, the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority turned to Washington Square West. In the late 1960s, the Redevelopment Authority bought and demolished buildings in Washington Square West and, by the mid 1970s, owned one fifth of the neighborhood. By this time, however, federal money available for urban renewal had declined and the city was no longer able to fund the renewal of Washington Square West. Washington Square West buildings razed by the city in the 1960s and 1970s were left as empty lots and Washington Square West was left in a state of decline. In 1825 “Southeast Square” became Washington Square in tribute to George Washington. As the surrounding area became a fashionable residential neighborhood, a movement arose to build a memorial to Washington. The original plans, however, never proceeded beyond the laying of the cornerstone.
Later that century, legal firms moved into the area, and in the first half of the 20th century Washington Square became the center of Philadelphia’s publishing industry. Popular books, medical texts, and magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post andLadies’ Home Journal were published from offices around the square.
Two major attempts to build on the square have been unsuccessful: an 1805 plan by the University of Pennsylvania to place its medical school there, and an 1870 proposal to use Washington Square as the site for City Hall – an idea rejected by city voters who chose Penn Square instead.
Beginning in 1952, public donations helped finance a remodeling of the square and construction of a memorial, not only to Washington as an individual but also to the legions of Revolutionary soldiers and sailors buried beneath the sod. The 1950s design, principally by architect G. Edwin Brumbaugh, endures today. It features an enclosure of brick walls modeled on colonial churchyard walls, with pillars supporting globe-like ornaments at the entrances. Lamps based on a style invented by Benjamin Franklin line the walkways, which form an inner square with wide diagonals. The diagonal paths meet at a circular pool in the center. Holly, dogwood, azaleas, and other small trees and shrubs combine with taller trees to give the appearance of a quiet colonial grove.
Boundaries of Washington Square West
The neighborhood roughly corresponds to the area between 7th and Broad Streets and between Chestnut and South Streets.