A Return to the First Street Garden

More than a year ago I wrote about my discovery of the First Street Garden, a community garden supported by the Lower East Side Girls Club. (You can find that earlier post here.) What first drew my attention to the garden were the murals painted on the walls, but I only had a limited glimpse through the padlocked fence. I returned multiple times, hoping to arrive when the garden was open, and my persistence finally paid off! This time I got much better views of the murals, which commemorate women who have had an important influence on New York and United States history.

Here are some of the murals I discovered. First, there is this one of journalist and activist Dorothy Day, by an artist named Nicolina.

Next, there is this colorful portrait of Shirley Chisholm, by artist Lenora Jayne. A New Yorker, Chisholm became the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Congress in 1968.

Peering from behind the ivy was this mural of Rosie Mendez, a former NYC councilwoman who served from 2006 to 2017. The artist’s signature says “Carolina.” Mendez was a leader of the LGBT Caucus within the City Council, and is also known for sponsoring the law that ultimately banned the use of wild animals in circuses in the city.

A ladder and more ivy partially obscured this portrait of African-American journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, most known for her covered of the terrible lynchings that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an artist’s signature on this one.

Here’s one of urban activist Jane Jacobs, usually credited with helping to save Greenwich Village from urban development in the 1960s. (Once again, there was no artist’s signature.)

There are murals of two major leaders in the suffragist and women’s rights movements, Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony. There was no signature on the Paul portrait, but the Anthony portrait was painted by street artist Lexibella, with the help of Gianesina and Lizabeth.

This unsigned portrait of civil rights activist Rosa Parks may be a little faded, but I still loved it.

There are more portraits as well, but I will leave you to discover them when you visit. As I end this post, I wanted to share this important message that’s been added to the garden since my first visit.

The First Street Garden is located on First Street between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway station is the Second Street station, which is accessible from the F train. (Additionally, an access point for the First Street Green Cultural Park is located just down the street from the First Street Garden. You’ll always find original, fresh street art there.) According to the sign on the garden’s gate, the it is open on Friday afternoons, 4:00-6:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.

Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade

New York City has a parade to celebrate almost anything (and anyone) but among the best is the Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade. Billed as the largest dog parade in the world, the annual parade includes hundreds of costumed dogs and their owners. Anyone can participate – no advanced registration is necessary, and the suggested registration at the door is only $5.00. Some dogs wear store-bought costumes, and others sport costumes made by their owners. In fact, some dog parents get in on the act, dressing themselves to match the theme of their dogs’ outfits. There are even prizes for the best costumes!

Here are some of my favorites from this year’s parade, which took place yesterday. It was a warm, sunny day, perfect for watching or participating in a parade.

First, Chihuahuas Tansy and Corazon, who as a lobster and a mermaid were definitely a sweet catch. (They have their own Instagram account: @TheLilGremlins.)

Our other Instagram couple had more of a political leaning, probably making the most sense for my American followers – here are a couple of members of the current president’s press team. This is Itty Bitty the Griff (@ittystagram), playing the role of Kellyanne Conway,  and Ralphie (@ralphienyc), playing Sean Spicer.

Aside from these more famous participants, there were plenty of other options out there, from pizza pups to the Pope.

How about a bark-ista from the nearest Star-barks?

Several dogs, like this one, appear to have been inspired by the novel and TV series, The Handmaid’s Tale.

 

There was the Weber grill dog, complete with shish kebabs.

How about the “Chick Magnet”?

And finally, one of my favorites, who looked like one cool pup.

We left inspired for next year’s parade, when our dog Newton will be old enough to participate. What kind of costume do you think we should create for him?

An Open Day at the New York City Marble Cemetery

Green space has always been at a premium in New York City, and historically the public parks were few and far between. So where could the city’s residents relax on a summer Sunday afternoon, perhaps with a good book or a picnic? As strange as it may sound today, New Yorkers of the past often headed to the cemetery. Today, there are only a handful of of cemeteries in the borough of Manhattan (property values pushing most cemeteries to the outer boroughs), but there are still a few historic cemeteries around.

One special cemetery is the New York City Marble Cemetery, founded in 1831. The cemetery is designated a New York City Landmark and is also on the National Register of Historic Places. Although the cemetery isn’t usually open to the public, there are designated “open” days several times a year. On those days, it is possible for visitors to experience life as it was in the nineteenth century, picnicking and relaxing in the park-like space.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the New York City Marble Cemetery on one of the open days. It was a beautiful day, and visitors had gathered to explore the cemetery and relax on its grounds. Here are some photos from my visit.

Want to visit the New York City Marble Cemetery yourself? It is located on East Second Street on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway stop is the F train’s Second Avenue station, and the M15 bus runs up and down First and Second Avenues as well. Make sure you check the cemetery’s website, available here, for the dates that the cemetery is open to the public. (Note: There’s another historic cemetery named the New York Marble Cemetery, a short distance away on Second Avenue. It’s also open to the public on occasion.)

 

Summer Flowers in Stuyvesant Square

Green space is highly prized in New York City, and as you travel south along Second Avenue towards the Lower East Side of Manhattan, you will come upon one of the jewels in the New York City park system: Stuyvesant Square. In 1836, the land for Stuyvesant Square was donated to the city by Peter Gerard Stuyvesant and his wife Helen Rutherford Stuyvesant to be made into park. The new park, ultimately named Stuyvesant Square, opened in 1850. Today, the park straddles Second Avenue, and both sides are equally lovely.

Despite the busyness of Second Avenue, the park itself is a peaceful destination, the perfect place to people watch or read a book while sitting on one of the park’s many shaded benches. There’s a large dog park as well, although on the day I visited it was so hot that there weren’t many dogs playing in that fenced area, and those who were there weren’t in the mood for a run.

The summer flowers drew me to the park this time. The colors were bright, with occasional buzzing bees stopping by.

The alium flowers, always among my favorite, were almost gone for the season – but even their dried brown stems and petals were appealing.

You’ll catch a glimpse of the nearby Fifteenth Street Quaker Meeting House and Friends Seminary, to the east, as well as the spires of St. George’s Episcopal Church.

There are also two statues in the park. The first is a statue of Peter Stuyvesant, the park donor’s ancestor. The original Peter Stuyvesant was Director of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, the predecessor to New York City, from 1647 to 1664. The sculptor was Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, an artist and art patron most commonly known for founding the Whitney Museum. You’ll find the statue of Peter Stuyvesant in the part of the park located west of Second Avenue.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the park’s other sculpture, a three-quarters’ perspective of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak located on the park’s northeast side. Dvorak lived in the neighborhood next to Stuyvesant Square for a few years while he served as Director of the National Conservatory of Music in America. The sculptor of this work was Croatian-American artist Ivan Mestrovic. (Since I missed this one, you can find a photo of the Dvorak sculpture here.)

Want to spend a little time in this park yourself? You will find Stuyvesant Square on Second Avenue between 15th and 17th Streets. It’s a short distance from the L train’s 3rd Avenue station, or you can take the the 4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R, or W trains to 14th Street-Union Square, and then walk east a few blocks.

Subway Station Art: East Broadway Station

The subway station at East Broadway on Manhattan’s Lower East Side has a beautiful ceramic tile mural by artist Noel Copeland. Copeland was born in Jamaica, but he immigrated to the United States and received his art education at the Pratt Institute School of Art and Design. He currently lives in New York City, and he has several public art installations across New York City, located in public schools, public housing complexes, community centers, and public transportation stations.

The mural at East Broadway is titled Displacing Details and is 24 feet long. In creating the mural, Copeland drew inspiration from historic buildings on the Lower East Side. In 1991, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded Copeland the Arts for Transit Creative Station Award for Displacing Details.

Here are a few photos of the mural. The first one shows the panel in the middle, which I love. There’s also a great border that surrounds the entire mural and illustrates various architectural details.

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If you are interested in seeing Displacing Details yourself, take the F train to East Broadway. The mural is on the mezzanine level.

A Hidden Treasure: The First Street Garden

Tucked in between two buildings on First Street on the Lower East Side is a hidden treasure: the First Street Garden. A community garden supported by the Lower East Side Girls Club, the garden is only open limited hours – but it is still worth walking by, even if you have to peep between the metal fence rails. One sign explains that the Garden was created and maintained by volunteers working with GreenThumb, an almost 40 year old NYC Parks initiative that “helps local residents transform vacant properties into attractive green spaces.”

One of the reasons why the First Street Garden is so special is that a series of murals of “women who have changed the world” have been painted on the walls on either side of the space. There’s this mural of the late journalist and social justice advocate Dorothy Day. The banner above her head reads, “All of our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system,” a quote often attributed to Day but likely not something she actually said.

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Next to her is a portrait of Sojourner Truth, a 19th-century abolitionist and woman’s rights advocate.

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The gate was locked on the day that I visited, but I still spied these murals of Rosa Parks, known for her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956, and Shirley Chisolm, a New Yorker who became the first African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Congress. (Further down the wall was Susan B. Anthony as well.)

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I also noticed this small mural of Ella Baker, a civil rights activist and human rights activist. There are numerous other small murals as well, certainly worth exploring further when the gate is unlocked.

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As one sign on the wall indicated, the Garden’s participants are also engaged in an experiment in sustainable design, and bamboo and recycled materials have been used to build some interesting structures. In warmer weather, the Garden would be a wonderful place to relax and read a book for a while.

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Want to visit the First Street Garden yourself? It is located on First Street between First and Second Avenues. The closest subway station is the Second Street station, which is accessible from the F train. (Additionally, an access point for the First Street Green Cultural Park is located just down the street from the First Street Garden. You’ll always find original, fresh street art there.) According to the sign on the gate, the garden is open on Friday afternoons, 4:00-6:00 pm, and Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.

Cider Week in NYC

New York City is in the midst of Cider Week at present, and there are numerous opportunities to taste the New York-made ciders throughout the city. Cider is becoming more and more popular in recent years, and New York state cider makers are producing excellent hard cider varieties. Cider Week celebrates the variety of those New York ciders in tastings, dinners, and a variety of other activities.

One of the early events of Cider Week was the second annual Lower East Side Cider Festival, held this past Sunday on Orchard Street. Numerous cider makers offered samples of their delicious ciders, and there was food – both apple-themed, and otherwise – for sale. Wassail, the cider bar I’ve previously discussed here, also offered a variety of ciders on tap. Here are a few photos of my visit to that event.

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There’s still plenty to do before Cider Week ends on October 30. Want to check out some of the events yourself? You can find the schedule here.

NYC’s Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival

New York City is a city of immigrants, generation after generation. It epitomizes what is best about the tradition of immigrants coming to the United States in search of the American dream. The city’s neighborhoods tell that history as well, with new waves of immigrants coming from different locations each generation. The Museum at Eldridge Street, located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has chosen to commemorate that rich, diverse history in its annual Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas Festival.

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The Museum at Eldridge Street got its start as a Jewish synagogue in 1887, serving the surrounding community of Jewish immigrants making their way from Eastern Europe. In fact, the Eldridge Street Synagogue was one of the first synagogues built in the United States. As the United States restricted immigration after World War I and the city’s Jewish population eventually scattered to other parts of the city, the synagogue’s congregation shrank, and the main sanctuary fell into disrepair. In recent decades, however, the building has been restored and turned into a museum, although religious services continue to be held every Sabbath and Jewish holiday. The Eldridge Street Synagogue has also been designated a National Historic Landmark.

The festival, held in June each year, celebrates the diversity of the Eldridge Street neighborhood. In incorporates the food and culture of Jewish, Chinese, and Latin American (particularly Puerto Rican) immigrants, as evidenced by the festival’s name: Egg Rolls, Egg Creams, and Empanadas. (For those who have never heard of an egg cream before, it is an old-fashioned drink made of milk, seltzer water, and chocolate sauce – despite its name, it contains neither eggs nor cream!)

Part of the festival is held in the street outside the museum. Some tents sell food from the three featured cultures, including egg rolls, egg creams, and empanadas. Other tents offer activities for children, including a yarmulke (or yamaka) decorating station and another one where girls and boys create masks for a Chinese dragon parade. There are also a number of musical and dance performances. I was fortunate to arrive just in time to see a demonstration of Chinese opera, which is beautiful and dramatic. These are a few of the photos of the performance, which took place with the crowd surrounding the two characters.

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As I entered the museum, there were two men demonstrating their writing skills. This man wrote visitors’ names in beautiful Hebrew script.

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His neighbor demonstrated traditional Chinese calligraphy for museum guests.

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From there, I went further into the sanctuary and up into the balcony to appreciate the synagogue’s impressive architecture and beautiful stained glass windows.

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At this point, I thought my tour of the museum was finished, but a volunteer directed me downstairs to the basement, where the museum has a permanent exhibit tracing the synagogue’s history. There were these documents from the founding of the synagogue, along with one of the seven original Stars of David that were placed on the roof of the building during its construction.

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I was also intrigued by this two-sided Tzedakah Box. The box was originally mounted on a wall that separated men’s and women’s entrances to the weekday chapel. There were six separate slots, each marked with a particular charity that corresponded to a day of the week, and synagogue members would drop money into the appropriate slot. I found it interesting that it was more intricate on the one side than the other.

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Further handiwork demonstrations were offered as well, including several women exhibiting Chinese paper folding projects and two other women showing off intricate bobbin lace.

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Although the festival is only held once a year, you can still visit the Museum at Eldridge Street throughout the year. (Keep in mind that the museum is not open on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.) The Museum is located at 1200 Eldridge Street, just south of Canal Street. If traveling by subway, you can take the F train to the East Broadway station; the B or D trains to Grand Street; or the N, Q, R, J, Z, or 6 trains to Canal Street. For further directions, see the museum’s website here.

Public Art at the First Street Green Cultural Park

You can find a lot of street art on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and more is going up all the time. Much of that street art is painted on the side of buildings, but there is also a public park that hosts street artists. It is known as the First Street Green Cultural Park, but is also sometimes called the First Street Garden.

I’ve chosen some of my favorite pieces that are on exhibit at the park right now, but keep in mind that the street art here is considered temporary. Periodically, artists come in and paint new murals over the old ones, so you may not find all of these murals there if you don’t visit for a while. You are likely to discover new intriguing work though, which is an added bonus. Here are my choices, illustrating the wide range of artistic styles. Enjoy! (I took these photos just before the plants started getting really green this Spring – makes it look a bit like a desert landscape, unfortunately, but at least it was easier to see the murals that way! It’s much greener now.)

This first colorful mural is a collaboration by Brazilian and American artists Opni, Panmela Castro, and Maidu.

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Here’s a close-up view of the face from the previous mural.

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There is also a fun mural by Ramiro Davaro-Comas (@ramirostudios).

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Here’s a close-up view of a few of his characters – I love how whimsical his work is.

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There is this piece by Huetek, a graphic designer, artist, and musician. I really like the dove hidden in the lettering in this mural.

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There’s this geometric mural by Allysa Steiger.

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Artist Key Detail painted this brightly colored and slightly ominous looking mural.

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And street artist Topaz painted this mural of the iconic Katz’s Delicatessen. (The traditional Jewish deli is just a few blocks away from the park, at 205 E. Houston Street.)

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There are two really interesting murals by Hektad, both incorporating mixed media. First, this one includes two of Hektad’s signatures, the stenciled heart and the little graffiti character.

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This second one is a collaboration between Hektad, Pictoform, and possibly another artist. I love the astronaut!

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Even the chain link fencing became a canvas for mixed-media installations by unnamed artists. If you look closely, this one spells out “Love.”

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And this one is also fun.

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Finally, I wanted to include this piece, titled “Signpost,” by artist Stuart Ringholt. In the background, several other murals are visible.

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How do you get here? First Street Green Cultural Park is located on the north side of E. Houston Street (pronounced How-stun, not Hoo-stun – it’s one way to tell locals from the tourists!), between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue. The closest subway station is the 2nd Avenue Station, located just across the street from the park, and accessible on the F train.

The Lowline: Underground Park of the Future

New York City has some beautiful city parks, but it is also a city where space is at a premium. Manhattan’s Lower East Side demonstrates some of the challenges of urban living. There is not that much green space in the neighborhood, but also not really anywhere to add a new park. That is, not until New Yorkers James Ramsey and Dan Barasch came up with the idea of the Lowline. The concept of the Lowline is an underground park, which would be located in an abandoned trolley terminal on the Lower East Side Near the Delancey Street subway station.

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Although the Lowline isn’t open yet (the concept’s supporters are hoping to have it completed by 2020 if they can get support from the city and MTA), it is possible to visit the Lowline Lab right now. In the Lab, located in an old brick warehouse at 140 Essex Street on the Lower East Side, visitors can learn more about the project’s design and the solar technology that will be used to grow plants in the underground park. There’s also a small garden area, where plants are grown using the proposed technology.

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The Lowline Lab is a small exhibit, but really fascinating. It was definitely worth the $10 suggested donation to explore such an innovative idea. It’s a fascinating concept, and I hope the Lowline’s supporters are able to get the financial support and approvals they need to complete the park.

To get to the Lowline Lab, take the F train to Delancey Street, or the J, M, or Z trains to the Essex Street Station.