Cut! Arch movie paintjob preceded park renovation

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BY YANNIC RACK | A careless film crew incurred the wrath of Villagers 36 years ago this month, when it vandalized the famous Washington Square Arch during a shoot for a Marilyn Monroe TV movie.

As The Villager’s March 27, 1980, issue reported, the team left the arch’s base coated in silver paint after using it as a backdrop for the flick — raising outrage just two months before the park was scheduled to get an overhaul.

“ ‘I can’t believe it,’ said an exasperated Evelyn Patterson, the executive assistant to the president of New York University who is spearheading the formation of The Friends of Washington Square Park,” read the article.

The landmarked 19th-century arch was apparently supposed to be cleaned of unseemly graffiti that May, an operation that had been planned for years.
“ ‘And these people just come in and paint it. It’s incredible,’ ” Patterson complained to The Villager.

The reporter credited the vandalism to a city agency misunderstanding, writing that the Mayor’s Office of Motion Pictures and Television claimed the Parks Department had O.K.’d the painting — which was promptly denied by Parks.

Nevertheless, city officials found common ground in condemning the coloring, notably deviating from usual government PR speak.

“ ‘It is ridiculous and unheard of,’ ” the article quoted the Parks Department’s maintenance director as saying of the film crew’s doing. He told The Villager that the company should forever be banned from New York City locations.

“ ‘They are a bunch of idiots and this is a lawless and stupid act,’ ” he said.
The Villager did not have a good photo of the defaced arch back then, so this week asked Jonathan Kuhn, Parks’ head of arts and antiquities.

“I’m afraid we do not appear to have historic photos of this sordid incident,” Kuhn reported. “Thankfully, in the 2003-04 conservation of the arch, we removed the many layers of graffiti and paint-overs accumulated over several decades, the oldest of which dated to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.”