Lower East Side Garden Activist Adam Purple Dies at the Age of 84

Adam Purple tending his urban garden in 1984. Photo by Tony Yarus via Wikimedia Commons.

Adam Purple tending his urban garden in 1984. Photo by Tony Yarus via Wikimedia Commons.

Adam Purple, the urban gardening pioneer and environmental activist, died after collapsing on the Wiliamsburg Bridge Monday. The Lower East Side personality, whose real name was David Wilkie, was 84. Here’s how the New York Times is remembering him today:

The man with the flowing white beard was a familiar presence for decades on the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he squatted in an abandoned building, created an elaborate, renowned garden and often wore royal-hued clothes that reflected the best known of his many adopted names: Adam Purple… In 1972, Mr. Purple moved into a tenement on Forsyth Street… where he made his mark as an environmentalist, a utopian visionary and a sometimes stubborn gadfly. “He was the most committed person I ever met,” said the photographer Harvey Wang, who first encountered Mr. Purple in 1977 and documented him for decades. “He lived his values.”

Purple is best known for the “Garden of Eden,” which he began creating in 1975 on several abandoned lots near his apartment. The elaborate 15,000 sq. ft. green oasis was pictured in many publications, including National Geographic.

Adam Purple's Garden of Eden - Photo by Carl Hultburg

Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden – Photo by Carl Hultburg

In 1986, the city bulldozed the garden to make way for housing, a move that was denounced (and challenged in court) by a wide variety of environmentalists, architects and academics. Purple’s Forsyth Street apartment, abandoned by its owner, was emptied by the city in the early 1980s, but he refused to move. They finally managed to force him out in 1999. During the past three years, Purple had been living in Brooklyn. The environmental organization, Time’s Up, allowed him to use a space connected to its offices.

Purple’s longtime friend, Carmine D’Intino, said he identified Purple’s body yesterday. The Villager reported that he suffered an apparent heart attack.

Photo: Time's Up.

Photo: Time’s Up.

In 2011, Harvey Wang and Amy Brost made a film about Purple:

Adam Purple and The Garden of Eden from Harvey Wang on Vimeo.

3 comments to Lower East Side Garden Activist Adam Purple Dies at the Age of 84

  • Bowerygals

    He built a garden here when it mattered, in the midst of burned out buildings and no hope – when we didn’t merit real estate speculation.
    He was a once in a lifetime kind of guy. He built, out of love and sweat, one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever seen. Adam Purple was a gardener on Forsyth Street when it was very rough here. I lived on Forsyth from 1978 to 1990 I remember it well.The phrase I remember most, from a community meeting hoping to ward off the looming destruction of his garden and home:
    “I’m from Missouri – show me”. (Missouri is known as the ‘show me’ state -from a Congressman: “frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”)

  • RoBow

    I guess, affordable housing was more important than such a special garden. You’d like to think we elected people smart enough to do both, but no. What a mistake, and now, we’re gonna repeat the mistake on Elizabeth St. ugh. I’m sure he’ll be rolling over in his grave.

  • Bowerygals

    It isn’t a question of smarts – it’s a question of the current reality of real estate which is very different now then it was then. Many of my neighbors have been priced out of Little Italy, or will be soon, precisely by many who clamor for this to be a garden. I’m sure it isn’t what most intended or wanted but it is what happened. That has to be faced squarely.
    The Community Garden movement grew out of communities of color and other working and poor people painstakingly taking back their neighborhoods from burnt out, garbage strewn and abandoned lots. Landlords torched their buildings for the insurance money. Adam Purple created his Garden of Eden over decades. It brought hope to a community that had been deliberately destroyed for profit. That is not the case here. This group had the wherewithal to hire a PR firm, make videos, and bring in wealthy and connected organizations.
    I understand wanting this as a garden, but there are at least 4 community gardens within 2 ½ blocks east of here. I volunteer in three of them.
    All of us get to want what we want – our wants however are not always the most important.