Lower East Side Garden Activist Adam Purple Dies at the Age of 84
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.
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.
In 2011, Harvey Wang and Amy Brost made a film about Purple: