Maymond Baba remembers playing ping pong inside the Stanton Street building as a teenager in the 1970s. He was born and raised on Orchard Street and would often head to Sara D. Roosevelt Park to kick it with other kids from the neighborhood. At the time, the building was home to a youth recreation center where kids could indulge in pool, table tennis and other games inside – or rent equipment to play with in the park. Baba left the city in 1986 and returned two decades later to find the Stanton Street building shuttered.
The Parks Department has been using the building, situated within Sara D. Roosevelt Park on Stanton Street, as a storage closet and unofficial parking lot for decades. And since 1994, The Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition has been fighting to reopen the facility for public use. “It’s just not helpful to the neighborhood,” Coalition President K. Webster said of the building’s current state.
The Coalition hosted a “visioning session” last week, bringing community organizations and LES residents together to brainstorm possible uses for the Stanton Street building, and plans to follow up with a series of workshops – starting tomorrow.
“Community resources such as the numerous park buildings that dot the Lower East Side must be returned to active neighborhood use,” Webster wrote in a 2013 opinion piece published on our website. “The Stanton Street building in Sara D. Roosevelt (SDR) Park was once a bustling youth center. We need it back.”
Parks representatives have agreed to convert the Stanton Street building’s staff bathroom into public restrooms but aren’t planning on relocating the storage facility, according to DNA Info.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin helped secure $1 million for the bathroom renovation, which is currently in the design phase.
But Webster wants more to be done. That’s why she helped organize the visioning session.
In front of the Stanton Street building, A group of Chinese women were in perfect sync dancing Zumba hosted by the University Settlement House. Teenagers with the LUNGS Youth Program mulched tree beds around the building and filmed each other with cameras provided by DCTV. Amid the commotion, LES residents and community organizers shared their visions of what the Stanton Street building could become.
Josh Bisker is a member of the New York Mechanical Gardens Bike Coop, a bicycle education group that teaches New Yorkers how to repair their own bikes and tries to address “the conjunction of bike issues and affordable housing, living wage work, food deserts and gentrification,” among other issues. “It’s not a bike project with cool social aims,” Bisker said. “It’s a social justice project that manifests as a bike repair space.”
Bisker hopes to see the Stanton Street building become a space for different community based organizations to operate and connect with one another, including the bike coop. “The idea is to have a home,” he said. “Right now we’re nomadic.”
Ray Sage, who has lived on Rivington Street for three decades, thinks the building could be used during neighborhood or citywide emergencies. “I endured Sandy and I wanna see [the Stanton Street building] as a kind of resiliency center, kind of like a bomb shelter,” he said. A beekeeper himself, Sage also wouldn’t mind the installation of a green roof – with bees.
NYC Community Garden Coalition Executive Director Aziz Dehkan hopes for a revival of the collective spirit of 1960s and 70s. “Let’s go back to that,” he said. “I want to see a big fucking cooperative.” Regardless of what it becomes, Dehkan says he wants to see community involvement. “This is our city. We should all have a say in what happens,” he said.
Maymond Baba was also at the visioning session. Now, most of his childhood friends have either moved or passed away, but he wishes today’s generation of kids could enjoy the Stanton Street building like he did when he was young. “It would be nice if they opened the center back up,” he said. “It shouldn’t be a junkyard.”
On July 13th, 6:30-9 p.m. at the BRC Senior Services Center at 30 Delancey Street, the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition will host a workshop for “all those who are committed to working on the campaign to return Stanton Building to the neighborhood,” and has a third event planned for July 27.