Friday Five – A Walk Around Union Square

It’s time for another stroll around town for this week’s Friday Five. Come along with me to Union Square in Manhattan.

1. The Park. Union Square was formed in 1811 at the “union” of Broadway and the Bowery/4th Avenue.  At first it was mostly residential with lovely brownstones surrounding the park. Then the theater district crept up Broadway and the aristocrats fled as they moved their mansions uptown. Before long businesses and shopping centers moved in. Now the area is a great mix of shopping, restaurants and cafes and a nice place to hang out for a while.

An autumn afternoon in Union Square Park.

This place has gone to the dogs.

A coffee shop and a bar? Yes, please.

2. The Protests. Let’s get to the juicy stuff right away, shall we? It was in Union Square, on September 5, 1882, that Labor Day was born, when more than 10,000 New York City union workers took an unpaid day off to march from City Hall to Union Square. Interesting side note: the trade union credited with organizing the protest, the CLU, was notoriously Marxist in its views. You’re welcome, USA.

These days it’s less about the protests in Union Square and more about the street fairs and festivals. The day I was there a festival was being held for Hurricane Sandy relief. These folks from Rock and Rawhide were in Union Square collecting donations for furry victims of the hurricane. As of last weekend, they’d received almost 30,000 items for shelter pets which they’ll distribute to shelters around the tri-state area.

Rock & Rawhide aims to increase adoptions and quality of life of dogs and cats in kill shelters.

3. The Architecture. This is my favorite building in Union Square. It’s a Queen Anne style (ok, I looked that up), completed in 1881. It was home to the Century Publishing Company and now houses the largest Barnes & Noble in the world. Every floor is filled with books, except for the dormer windows. It is landmarked for historic preservation.

This is another favorite. It’s the Roosevelt Building, 1893. Love the details!

4. The Market. Union Square has the largest farmers’ market in New York City. Farmers from all over the tri-state area set up shop four times a week selling everything from produce to baked goods to plants and flowers.  It’s wonderful but also ridiculously crowded in the summer.

The Greenmarket Shuffle

If the farmers’ market isn’t your thing, maybe you’d like to check out local artists. They’re here every day. Some of it is tourist stuff, but there is so much that is just plain cool like these stained concrete casts.

Local artists showing off their goods.

5. The Statues. Lincoln is here. Weighing about 3,000 pounds and standing just under 11 feet tall, the bronze statue of Lincoln was commissioned shortly after his assassination and unveiled in 1871. It was immediately panned. The New York Times reported, “A frightful object has been placed in Union Square…it does not resemble Mr. Lincoln…There never was such a statue done in this world before. It is like the hideous nightmare which people have after supping on roast pork and lobster salad.” Ouch…I think.

Left: Lincoln in his current location near 16th Street. Bottom right: c. 1875, the commercial interests are slowly crowding out the residential. Top right: c. 1905, now dwarfed by the buildings around him. NYPL Photo Collections.

And Washington, too. One likely reason the statue of Lincoln was so maligned: the statue of George Washington just two blocks south was so beloved. This bronze sculpture of George Washington and his horse was erected in 1856 and is kind of the centerpiece of the park.

George c. 1870, NYPL Photo Collection

The statue was originally erected on the site where, on Evacuation Day, November 25, 1783, Washington reclaimed New York City from the British, but it has since been moved.  Interestingly the same man sculpted both statues of Lincoln and Washington. From a 1917 article: “Perhaps the finest equestrian statue in the United States is the ‘Washington’ in Union Square, New York, by H. K. Brown.  But across the square is the statue of Lincoln, also by Brown, and that is perhaps the worst Lincoln the country had…Here we have the best and worst work of Brown on one square in New York.”

In the days after September 11, people gravitated to Union Square. George became a symbol for this grieving city. This is my photo and one of my favorites. Take a look at what New Yorkers were calling for in the aftermath of the tragedy. It wasn’t war and it wasn’t revenge.

On that note, if you’re in the US, have a peaceful and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. I’m thankful that you’ve supported me and this blog over the year, whether you’re a regular visitor or this is your first time here. 



  1. What beautiful, interesting buildings. The largest B&N? What a great place to spend a Saturday afternoon, huh?
    Funny the response the Lincoln stature got. It doesn’t look at all bad in the photo; is it awful in person?
    You have a great Thanksgiving, Jackie 🙂


    1. I really have to restrain myself when I go into that Barnes & Noble. There are 5 floors of wall to wall books. I could spend a whole day in there getting lost in the stacks.
      I’m no expert on sculpture, but I don’t think that statue of Lincoln is bad. Certainly not to warrant that kind of criticism. I guess critics haven’t changed that much over the centuries. 🙂


  2. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Jackie. I don’t think I have ever been to Union Square, I’m sorry to admit. Goodness that Barnes and Noble looks like my kind of place. Have a great weekend and special greetings to Reggie, as well.


  3. If I ever visited NYC there’s no way anyone would mistake me for a tourist. No head on a swivel perpetual gawking at… well… at pretty much everything. Really. Honest.
    Or exactly that. One of those.


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