Union Square is an important and historic intersection in Manhattan in New York City, New York, located where Broadway and the former Bowery Road – now Fourth Avenue – came together in the early 19th century; its name celebrates “here was the union of the two principal thoroughfares of the island”.
Union Square has been a gathering place—for commerce, for entertainment, for labor and political events, and for recreation. The park owes its name to its location at the intersection—or union—of two major roads in New York City, Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway) and Bowery Road (now Fourth Avenue). When the Commissioner’s Plan, the famous gridiron of Manhattan streets and avenues, was projected in 1807, the former potter’s field at this intersection was designated as Union Place. The site was authorized by the State Legislature as a public place in 1831 and acquired by the City of New York in 1833
Union Square opened to the public. Its paths, situated among lushly planted grounds, were inspired by the fashionable residential squares of London. The design emphasized the park’s oval shape (enclosed by an iron picket fence) and focused on a large central fountain, which was installed for the opening of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842. As New York City’s downtown expanded northward, Union Square became an important commercial and residential center. Around its borders sprang up houses, hotels, stores, banks, offices, manufacturing establishments, Tammany Hall, and a variety of cultural facilities, including music auditoria, theatres, and lecture halls. The grounds of Union Square have frequently served as a choice location for public meetings, including parades, labor protests, political rallies, and official celebrations such as the Great Metropolitan Fair of the U.S. Sanitary Commission in 1864.
Ten years later, Union Square played a central role in the first Labor Day celebration. On September 5, 1882, a crowd of at least 10,000 workers paraded up Broadway and filed past the reviewing stand at Union Square. In 1928-29 Union Square was completely demolished to accommodate a new underground concourse for the subway.
In 1997 the United States Department of the Interior designated Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark because of its significance in American labor history. Plans are underway to extend the park line south 14th Street, and to incorporate in the park the traffic island on which the Gandhi statue now stands.
Today, Union Square Park is bounded by 14th Street on the south, Union Square West on the west side, 17th Street on the north, and on the east Union Square East, which links together Broadway and Park Avenue South to Fourth Avenue and the continuation of Broadway. The park is under the aegis of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.