The Fascinating History of Schiff Fountain in Seward Park

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Image of Schiff Fountain from “Parks Without Borders” presentation.

Big changes are, of course, coming to Seward Park.  A $6.4 million renovation through the city’s Parks Without Borders program is expected to be completed before the end of this year. Meanwhile, the Seward Park Conservancy is launching a fundraising campaign to restore the historic Jacob H. Schiff Fountain, which borders the park on Essex Street.

The other night, the conservancy and DLJ Capital Partners (owners of the Jarmulowsky building) hosted a shindig in the bamboo garden across from the park. Those in attendance were treated to an oral history of the fountain from Andrew Fairweather, senior librarian at the Seward Park Library. With his permission, we’re publishing his presentation here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Conservancy and/or making a donation, visit the organization’s website.

 


 

Photo by: Aime Dupont [Public domain].

Photo by: Aime Dupont [Public domain].

The history of the fountain in Seward Park might as well begin with some background on the person responsible for its construction—Jacob Schiff.

Jacob Henry Schiff was born on January 10th of 1847 in Frankfurt, Germany, attending Jewish schools until the age of 14, when he began a business apprenticeship with his brother-in-law. In 1865 he emigrated to the United States, working briefly at a brokerage firm. A mere year later he formed his own firm called Schiff and Company. He became a naturalized citizen in 1870.[1]

Though an investment banker by trade, Schiff is remembered primarily for his philanthropic work as a champion for education and the arts, archaeology, Jewish causes, and the instruction of deaf mute children of poor families.

Upon his death at the age of 74 Schiff left a sum of a whopping $50,000,000—an amount which was actually smaller than the total sum he’d donated to charity during his lifetime. He was remembered as a man who “perhaps more than any other in the last quarter century, stood out as a benefactor of the Jewish race in America.” On the news of his death, 10,000 signs were printed in English and Hebrew and displayed in Jewish districts throughout the City.[2]

Though Schiff’s fountain now sits in Seward Park, it’s original location was in what is now Straus Square, named after the businessman, philanthropist, and promoter of milk pasteurization and distribution. Today, where the fountain once stood, is a monument to the men and women of the Lower East Side who served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War.[3]

This small triangle of land at the intersection of Essex, Division, and Canal Streets had not always been known by the name of Nathan Straus. It was first known as Tweed Plaza, named after the infamous William “Boss” Tweed of Tammany Hall, who was eventually jailed in the Ludlow Street Jail, a structure where the Seward Park High School Campus now sits (two structures which, oddly enough, look very similar…). Despite his arrest and fall from grace, the first project for this triangle was proposed by loyalists of the Tweed regime—a colossal brass statue of Boss Tweed as a “big Indian” figure, seated in an armchair holding in his right hand a scroll of the City charter and a pipe of peace in his left. On the armchair was to be inscribed,

I love it, I love it, and who shall dare

To chide me for loving this old arm chair.

An estimated sum of $50,000 was needed to be raised for construction.[4] Certainly, the irony of of raising a monument to a living personage on trial for being a municipal thief and democratic tyrant was not lost on many City reformers. Loyalists to Tweed, who were in great number on the Lower East Side, nevertheless insisted that, “no man is a thief until he has been convicted by the courts, and in the meantime Tweed is a loyal democratic statesman of unimpeachable partisan record.” Committees were assigned in several wards to raise funds for its construction. Apparently, the funds were amassed very quickly—indeed, nothing prevented the erection of the statue apart from his eventual exposure as a thief in a court of law.[5]

Most likely stemming from the controversy surrounding Tweed’s career, the square was at some point renamed Rutgers Square after the same Revolutionary War figure and landowner which Rutgers Street is named after. It was renamed Straus Square in 1931 months after the death of Nathan Straus.

Straus Square.

Straus Square.

In 1894, Schiff consulted with his friends on what would be of the most profitable sort of donation for the Lower East Side—it was agreed that a fountain would, more than anything, be of the greatest benefit to the people of this section. Plans were then drawn up by architect Arnold W. Brunner and approved by Vice President Noonan of the Board of Aldermen. Schiff therefore proposed to build a fountain in Rutgers Square to render a dreary spot on the East Side a beauty. The total cost was estimated at $65,000.[6]

On Tuesday, November 20th, 1894 the Board of Aldermen adopted a resolution granting Schiff permission to erect the fountain, and a week later, at the request of Judge Joseph E. Newburger, mayor Thomas Francis Gilroy affixed his signature to the said resolution on the 28th of that very same month.[7]

Schiff’s fountain was not meant to be a monument in Schiff’s honor, but a gift—that the fountain did not bear Schiff’s name testified to this. As a book to a friend or lover, the fountain was inscribed to reflect that the gift was given in “this year of our grace, 1895.” A second inscription was drawn from Exodus xvii, 6:– “And there shall come water out of it that the people may drink.” As soon as Brunner’s firm, Brunner & Tryon, had finished the granite and bronze fountain, a landmark which, including the seating, covered an entire radius of 60 feet plus five feet of narrow pavement, the proverbial keys to the fountain were immediately turned over to the City. In stature the two bronze basins were 22 feet by 10 feet in diameter, with drinking fountains hewn out of large pieces of granite, complete with mouldings that produced a “good effect of light and shade.” The fountain featured grotesque masks at the spouts as well as four bronze appliqués, combining marine shells and dolphins. The water lines from the spouts were particularly beautiful, having been carefully studied from Italian models with falling spray and denser water volumes which were said to accentuate the design of the structure.[8]

Photograph by Edwin Levick, National Geographic Creative; April 1916.

Photograph by Edwin Levick, National Geographic Creative; April 1916.

Yet, it was not always a given that the City would commit to connecting their water mains with the fountain. Indeed, a push for water needed to be made. Citizens of the City Vigilance League demanded that the fountain be connected to the City’s water mains, stating that—

The slight cost of furnishing water cannot under any pretense be compared to the pleasure and recreation that will be afforded the overcrowded and hard-working people who gather around the fountain in an endeavor to secure a breath of cool air. 

To reject the magnanimous gift of Mr. Schiff is not only an insult to the kind donor, but also to the thousands whom he has endeavored to benefit.[9]

Perhaps the chronic distrust in human nature was the only thing preventing an all out celebration of Schiff’s commitment in stone. Authorities were suspicious the fountain would quickly serve as a trash receptacle, plugging up with banana peels and other such refuse. Within two weeks into the water being turned on these grim predictions were realized. Two policemen were tasked to, “keep the unlucky fountain in working order” but to no avail.

That this was of tremendous concern to the neighborhood was apparent, with leading figures in the neighborhood determined to fight for the fountain’s dignity—Lilian Wald, nurse and founder of Henry Street Settlement took it upon herself to arrange for the protection of the crown jewel of Rutgers Square. Soliciting help from boys from the Settlement house, a day-and-night watchman’s league of sorts was formed to preserve order at the site of the fountain. This solicitation was apparently very well received by the boys who congregated with the City Vigilance League and Good Government club to discuss best approaches.

These meetings resulted in the creation of the Fountain League. The League volunteers all wore badges to indicate membership, which totaled 100 boys over 12 years old, furnished with officer titles such as President (Joseph Goldstein), vice president (Morris Frankel), clerk (S. Joseph), treasurer (David Widrowitz), sargeant-at-arms (E. Frank),  and assistant sargeant-at-arms (Jacob Wisensky). At the time of inception there was even talk of the boys forming a uniformed cadet corps.

President Roosevelt of the police commission promised to aid the boys in their commitment. Colonel Waring of the street cleaning department, knowing full-well that the protection of the fountain was a formidable undertaking, promised to provide two steel cans for the deposit of the “dead cats, old rags, banana and orange peels and other flotsam and jetsam that in the past mysteriously found their way into the recesses of the Rutgers Square fountain.”

Whether or not the League resolved the issues with fountain cleanliness remains unanswered, though it is without doubt that the experiment was watched with much interest by Lower East Siders.[10

On occasion, the fountain could be a lifesaver—in 1909 a taylor by the name of Samuel Rosenberg of No. 141 Delancey Street was sitting in Essex Market court to discover that, somehow, his trousers had caught fire. Bystanders stood by and gawked as Mr. Rosenberg ran down Essex Street in what must’ve been a mad panic as flames gushed from his right hip pocket. A little girl yelled, “Mister, you’re burning!”, to which Mr. Rosenberg yelled back, “I know it better than you—to the water for mine.” He then dove into the water with just his head poking out for air. A friend fished him out and asked him what on earth he wanted doing a thing like that. “Another pair of pants,” replied Rosenberg, vowing never to carry loose matches in his pockets again.[11]

NYC Parks Photo Archive/Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art & Monuments.

NYC Parks Photo Archive/Samuel Gruber’s Jewish Art & Monuments.

The fountain sat at the center of a hub of Yiddish newspaper press whose dealers all congregated around Rutgers Square.[12] The fountain was surely useful as a way of cooling off during the harsh summers, especially in these days where air-conditioning was not a feature of everyday life. While photographic and video evidence exists of children bathing in the fountain, it is suggested that this was not always allowed, as two boys, Solomon Liebowitz and Samuel Mulbofsky found in 1904 when they were singled out amongst a group of lads who thought they’d sneak a dip in the East Side oasis. Harry J. Solomon of No. 71 Forsyth Street, seeing the commotion, called for the police. The boys began to scurry when the policeman approached. They quickly and indiscriminately grabbed whatever clothes they could find, leaving Liebowitz and Mulbofsky without a set of their own. Surely mortified, the pair sought refuge under a bush. The policeman placed them under arrest, covering them with a piece of canvass until clothing could be found.[13]

Commotion around the fountain often breached the quotidian affairs of Lower East Siders. It will probably come as no surprise to most that Rutgers Square, and the fountain by extension, was a center for radicalism in New York. Even the Seward Park children’s librarian in 1917 made repeated references in the department journal to Socialist meetings in Rutgers Square. On one occasion, a May Day parade was being planned to take place in Union Square where Veterans of Foreign Wars were to assemble to celebrate “Americanization Day” along with 20,000 supporters and Russians sympathetic to the pre-Soviet royalist regime. The gathering was to feature denunciations of Communism as a matter of course. In a counter-assembly the 1,800 Communists gathered at our very own Rutgers Square, spilling over into the Seward Park forum, to march over to Union Square for a demonstration at 3pm when the Americanization assembly was set to disperse. The Communists promised a peaceful gathering.[14]

Not all meetings were peaceful. In an area that was at a disadvantage to much of the rest of the City, the Lower East Side was a political powderkeg. Such was the case when the Industrial Workers of the World vocally denounced the Mayor and the Vanderbilt, Astor and Morgan families after 191 of their comrades had been arrested. They vowed to raid churches, restaurants, and hotels until all the unemployed had been housed and fed by the State.[15] Whatever was meant by “raiding” was not clear from the brief article reporting on the incident.

Schiff Fountain, Seward Park, 2017.

Schiff Fountain, Seward Park, 2017.

Yes, the fountain which sat in the Square must’ve seen plenty of action, as it gushed forth during the period where the Lower East Side would reach its highest density in 1910. From buying and selling to demonstrations and strikes, to riots, to the arrest of anarchist Emma Goodman herself… yet the neighborhood would calm down considerably as it depopulated to almost half its size in the 1930s. This was not the only change the 1930s would bring. A subway would be built connecting Essex/Delancey Street to East Broadway, requiring extensive tunneling that would take many structures in its wake—the old P.S. 62, and the Seward Park forum being among the notable. The fountain, too, would need to go—but instead of being demolished completely, it and its stone benches would be moved to their current location in Seward Park in 1931. It is unknown to me whether or not the fountain ever again circulated water but it is generally accepted that in the second half of the 20th century the structure suffered the same fate that Seward Park and many City parks suffered—neglect and disrepair.

Though the park would finally receive a much-needed renovation in 1999, nothing would restore it to its former glory. Perhaps the current “Parks Without Borders” renovation can serve to renew our commitment to the fountain, as the fountain was Schiff’s commitment to the Lower East Side itself.

Rendering of proposed Schiff Fountain restoration.

Rendering of proposed Schiff Fountain restoration by Studio Castellano.

 

[1] Schiff, Jacob Henry, Best, Gary Dean (American National Biograhpy) [1999]

https://doi-org.i.ezproxy.nypl.org/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.article.0802117

[2] EAST SIDE MORNING FOR JACOB H. SCHIFF. New York Herald, Mon, Sept 27, 1920 Page 7 Downloaded on Oct 11 2019

[3] https://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/straus-square/history

[4] New York Herald, The Proposed Monument to Mr. Tweed. Jan 21, 1871 page 4 iss 21 vol XXXVI

[5] Oregonian. Monuments to Incapacity. Jan 11, 1889

[6] New York Herald. Nov 28, 1894. Page 10 Issue 332

[7] To Accept Mr. Schiff’s Gift. New York Times.Nov 28, 1894

[8] The Critic: A Weekly Review of Literature and the Arts. Jul 20, 1895; 24, 700 Pg. 45

[9] KING’S BRIDGE ROAD GRANT, New York Times Aug 21, 1895.

[10] TO GUARD A FOUNTAIN.  The Wilkes-Barre News (Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania) Sat, Oct 5, 1895, Page 6 Downloaded on Oct 11, 2019

[11] TAILOR’S TROUSERS AFIRE IN COURT. New York Tribune (New York, New York) Tue, Jul 20 1909, Page 12 Downloaded on Oct 11

[12] Off the record. Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) Fri, Aug 21, 1959 Page 9 Downloaded on Oct 11 2019 as remembered by Nathan Ziprin

[13] Clothed like Adam. The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) Fri, Sep 2, 1904 Downloaded on Oct 11 2019

[14] NEW YORK POLICE READY FOR MAY DAY. United Press

[15] MASS MEETING IN NEW YORK THREATENS TO MAKE RAIDS.

Groundbreaking at Seward Park: $6.4 Million Revamp Underway

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All smiles this past Friday morning as Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver and Lower East Side community leaders celebrated the start of a major renovation project at Seward Park.

The historic public space, the oldest municipal playground in the country, is receiving a $6.4 million revamp as part of the city’s “Parks Without Borders” program.  When the project is completed months from now, there will be a new plaza in front of the Seward Park Library, an expanded garden, lowered fencing, new plantings and new perimeter paving.

Friday’s groundbreaking was attended by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council member Margaret Chin, members of Community Board 3 and local community organizers.

There was praise all around for the Seward Park Conservancy, which led a grass roots campaign for city funding.  Before the groundbreaking, Silver noted that he and the mayor came to Seward Park in 2014 to announce his appointment as commissioner. At the time, said Silver, he noticed the high, imposing fencing around the park, and thought the space could be a lot more inviting. Parks Without Borders has since become the commissioner’s pet project.

There is, of course, still lots of work to be done in Seward Park. The conservancy continues to advocate for the renovation of the broken down Schiff Fountain and the reactivation of a community space inside the comfort station.

Celebrate Groundbreaking for Seward Park Renovation Friday Morning

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Much of Seward Park has been shrouded in construction fencing in recent weeks, as the city begins a major renovation project there. On Friday morning, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver comes to the Lower East Side to celebrate the groundbreaking.

Seward Park was selected for the mayor’s “Parks Without Borders” program, which is intended to more effectively integrate parks into surrounding communities. Seward was selected in large part due to strong community support during a citywide competition for funding. The $6.4 million project includes new pavement, curbs, benches, game tables, drinking fountains, trees and other plantings.

The groundbreaking will take place 9 a.m. Friday at East Broadway and Essex streets. Community members are encouraged to attend. RSVP to special.events@parks.nyc.gov or by calling 212-408-0111.  For more information, visit the Seward Park Conservancy, which led the grass roots campaign to refurbish the park.

Read our previous coverage here.

Signs of Change in Seward Park

Photo by Amy Robinson.

Photo by Amy Robinson.

Seward Park is now officially a “Work in Progress.” In December, fencing went up around a portion of the park along East Broadway in preparation for a major face lift for the area surrounding the Seward Park Library. Now the Parks Department has put up signage announcing the project, which is part of the mayor’s “Parks Without Borders” program.

The plan is to transform the southeast corner of the park with new pavement, a meadow, a small amphitheater, benches, tables and chairs and game tables. The perimeter fences will be dropped to 4 feet. You can see the full plan here. According to the Parks Department’s capital tracker, $4.879 million is allocated for the project and it’s expected to be completed in November.

The Seward Park Conservancy organized a successful campaign in 2016 which ultimately led to the selection of the historic public space as a featured project in the Parks Without Borders initiative.

“Parks Without Borders” Project Begins in Seward Park

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You have, no doubt, noticed the imposing chain link fence that went up around the east end of Seward Park in the past several days.

It’s your signal that the city is beginning a large-scale restoration of one of the Lower East Side’s main public gathering spaces. Seward Park was one of the winners of the 2016 competition, Parks Without Borders, which is meant to better integrate city parks into surrounding communities.

The other day, work crews were starting to take down parts of the fencing near the Seward Park Library (you’ll have to use a passageway to reach the library’s main entrance while this work is going on). The main focus of the project is the barren space in front of the library. In the months ahead, it will be transformed with new pavement, a meadow, a small amphitheater, benches, tables and chairs and game tables. The perimeter fences will be dropped to 4 feet. You can see the full plan here.

According to the Parks Department’s capital tracker, $4.879 million is allocated for the project and it’s expected to be completed in November of next year.

The improvements have been championed by the Seward Park Conservancy.  You can learn more about their work here.

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Seward Park Reopens After November Storm

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The other day we mentioned that Seward Park had been shuttered since last month’s storm. As you might have noticed, the gates are back open this week.

Broken branches were hauled away, but there’s still lots of damage in the park. If you’d like to help out, the Seward Park Conservancy has a cleanup/planting day coming up on Saturday. They’ll be working in and around the garden (near the Seward Park Library) from noon-2 p.m.

By the way, the park is going to be a work in progress during the next year. A major restoration through the Parks Without Borders initiative is about to begin construction.

Officials Investigate Fire, Vandalism at Seward Park

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Police and fire investigators are looking into a series of unfortunate incidents in Seward Park during the past week.

Last night, Wednesday just after 9 p.m., a fire was reported outside the bathrooms on the east side of the park. No one was hurt, but today both the girls’ and boys’ bathrooms are closed. There’s still a strong smell of smoke in the area, there’s a hole in the ceiling of the girls bathroom and the electricity is out.

A shopping cart and other items belonging to a homeless woman were burned in the fire. Those charred items were piled up on the curb near the park entrance on East Broadway this morning.

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According to the 7th Precinct, officers responded last night to a report of a fire in the general area. The police report indicated a trash can fire at the corner of Essex and Canal streets. Six or seven teenagers (ages 14-15) were seen nearby before the fire started. [It’s unclear whether there were two fires, one on Essex Street and one in the park, or whether the initial information just got garbled.]

On Tuesday night, several teens set a small fire in a corner of the park during a showing of Singin’ in the Rain. It was quickly put out. The same evening, the front doors of the Seward Park Library were damaged. While they were quickly repaired, the public library’s security team is reviewing security camera tape to find out who might have been responsible.

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This morning, we walked through the park with Amy Robinson and Carol Anastasio of the Seward Park Conservancy. The homeless woman had been camped out with all her belongings in the garden on Wednesday, and according to park staff, had been there on Tuesday, as well, and had refused to move. Robinson called 311 and alerted Community Board 3. A staff member from the Department of Homeless Services tried to visit the woman this morning, but she wasn’t in the park today.

Community Board 3 is working on setting up an inter-agency meeting (involving Parks, police, Homeless Services, etc.) to address this week’s incidents. One major concern amongst members of the Seward Park Conservancy is that there’s no park staffing after 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The bathroom door should not have been open when the fire occurred last night, since the park closes at dusk.

We have contacted the Department of Parks, Homeless Services and the Public Library for more details. We’ll update this story if and when we hear back.

Tonight’s Showing of Wizard of Oz in Seward Park Cancelled

Seward Park, 2016.

Seward Park, 2016.

The organizers of tonight’s showing of The Wizard of Oz in Seward Park have had to cancel the event. As you’ve probably heard, we’re expecting thunderstorms and strong winds this evening. There’s still an outdoor film to look forward to later in the summer. The Metrograph, Seward Park Conservancy and Henry Street Settlement bring you Singin’ in the Rain Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Celebrate “Moms & Pops of the L.E.S.” in Seward Park Tomorrow

Photo: James & Karla Murray.

Photo: James & Karla Murray.

You’ve seen their exhibition in Seward Park. Now it’s time to celebrate “Mom & Pops of the L.E.S” with photographers James and Karla Murray. The official opening festivities take place tomorrow (Saturday) from 1-3 p.m.

James & Karla Murray have spent years documenting New York’s vanishing storefronts. The exhibition features nearly life-size photos of four businesses (all but Katz’s Deli are gone). The project is part of the Art in the Parks UNIQLO Park Expressions Grant Program.

On Saturday, James and Karla will be talking about the exhibition — their motivations for it, and what they hope park visitors will gain from seeing the iconic storefronts. “Mom & Pops of the L.E.S” is set up in the southeast corner of the park. There will be free pickles from the Pickle Guys and candy from Economy Candy.

“Round Robin” Mobile Studio Arrives in Seward Park

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Beginning today, there’s a new community-focused art exhibition in Seward Park. Here’s the Facebook invite:

We invite local residents and immigrants to the launch of the trilingual newspaper project, Round Robin, in Seward Park with resident artists Art Parley, an art collective formed by Sue Jeong Ka and Mélissa Emily Liu! Come by during Art Parley’s Open Studio hours to learn about the next six weeks of activities and workshops around Round Robin, an ongoing socially-engaged project to build spaces for cross-cultural solidarity and understanding through storytelling, conversation, and empathy resonant to participants from diasporic communities in #Chinatown, #LES, and #TwoBridges. The Round Robin Neighborhood Archive and Library will be available during all Open Studio hours, activities, and workshops. Come read the first ever trilingual issues of Round Robin along with other collected materials related to issues of immigration and gentrification.

You can visit the mobile studio, set up in front of the Seward Park Library, today from 3-9 p.m. It will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as weekends (noon-6 p.m.) through Aug. 15.

The program is a collaboration among ArtBuilt, the Queens Museum and the NYC Parks Department. Local partners include the Seward Park Conservancy and Immigrant Social Services.

James & Karla Murray Launch Kickstarter For “Mom & Pops” Seward Park Installation

Renderings courtesy of James & karla Murray.

Renderings courtesy of James & karla Murray.

Back in February, we told you about a new installation in Seward Park from the local photographers James & Karla Murray.  It’s part of the Art in the Parks UNIQLO Park Expressions Grant Program.

“Mom & Pops of the L.E.S.” is a “rectangular wood-frame sculpture consisting of near life-size photographs” of four independent neighborhood businesses, most of which no longer exist. James & Karla will begin installing the sculpture next month on a parcel in the southwest corner of the park. It will be up for a full year.

Because the project, including fabrication of prints that will hold up during the harsh winter months, is so expensive, the Murrays have launched a Kickstarter. Here’s more from their pitch:

Each of these four shops… a bodega, a coffee shop/luncheonette, a delicatessen, and a newsstand represent small businesses that were common in the Lower East Side and helped bring the community together through people’s daily interactions.When viewing the near life-size photographs one can get a visceral sense of the impact of these losses on the community and on those who once depended on the shops that are now gone. The installation is an artistic intervention and a plea for recognition of the unique and irreplaceable contribution made to New York by small, often family-owned businesses. These neighborhood stores help set the pulse, life, and texture of their communities.

The fundraising goal is relatively modest: $3,250. The deadline is June 19. Here’s the link to the Kickstarter campaign. There’s also a special Instagram for the project.

1/10th scale miniature of "Mom-and-Pops of the L.E.S."

1/10th scale miniature of “Mom-and-Pops of the L.E.S.”

Artists Invited to Apply For Community-Focused Residency in Seward Park

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If you’re an artist with a passion for community engagement, here’s an opportunity you’ll want to consider.

Applications are now being accepted for Studio in the Park, a six-week residency program located in a 150 square foot mobile studio. This year, one of the studios will be located in Seward Park on the Lower East Side.

The program is a collaboration among ArtBuilt, the Queens Museum and the NYC Parks Department. Local partners this year include the Seward Park Conservancy and Immigrant Social Services.

According to the project page, projects should:

“…serve the diverse immigrant communities that surround the park, which have become threatened by a climate of increasing xenophobia and shifting immigration enforcement.”

“…address ways in which neighborhoods adjacent to park are changing in response to rising rents and property values.”

“…connect with the (often varied) cultural traditions of communities surrounding the park.”

The application deadline is Monday, April 23. More info here.

March of the Penguins Comes to Seward Park Tuesday, Aug. 15

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There’s more summertime family fun coming up in Seward Park. Next Tuesday, the Metrograph movie theater presents March of the Penguins.

The film starts at sunset, at around 8 p.m. You should definitely bring a chair and a blanket. Free popcorn will be provided by the Metrograph.

Co-sponsors are the Seward Park Conservancy and Henry Street Settlement. Here’s the Facebook invite.

Seward Park Art Installation Opens Saturday With LES Historical Discussion

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You may have noticed artist Cheryl Wing-Zi Wong’s In Retrospect, a piece recently installed in front of the Seward Park Library. Coming up tomorrow (Saturday) at 5 p.m., there will a public conversation in celebration of the sculpture, which is part of the city’s Art in the Parks Program.

The artist will be on-hand to co-moderate the discussion. Other participants include: librarian Andrew Fairweather, Lower East Side historian Joyce Mendelsohn, architect Ron Castellano, local tenant leader Daisy Paez and architect/educator Alexis Kraft. The conversation will focus on the history of the Lower East Side and of Seward Park, and look at the transformations in the neighborhood and in the library building across the decades.

More information here.

Straus Square Renovations Detailed; Plans For Recycle-a-Bicycle Outpost Announced

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Local residents will start to see changes in Straus Square during the next several weeks, as the neglected area at East Broadway, Rutgers Street and Canal Street begins to look more like a full-fledged pedestrian plaza. The changes were outlined last night at a meeting of Community Board 3’s Parks Committee.

As previously reported, the community board has already approved the closure of a one block section of Canal Street alongside Seward Park. Last night’s presentation before the parks panel dealt with design and programming aspects of the plan. Seward Park is about to undergo a $6.4 million renovation as part of the Parks Without Borders Program. The idea behind the Straus Square changes is to make the plaza feel like it’s an extension of the park.

Tim Laughlin, president of the Lower East Side Partnership, walked community board members through the plan. His organization is teaming up with the Parks Department to operate the plaza. Temporary seating will be installed in the next few weeks. Benches will be created using jersey barricades (see the rendering below). A more permanent and elaborate plaza setup will be in-the-works in the spring of 2018 (funding needs to be locked down for that).

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Laughlin said the Citi Bike station currently located alongside Straus Square will be temporarily removed (probably at the end of this month). It hasn’t been decided for certain where it will be relocated. One possibility is the wide sidewalk on Rutgers Street adjacent to Wu’s Wonton King, a Chinese restaurant. In response to concern from committee members, Laughlin offered assurances that the heavily used station would not be eliminated. It will likely be out of commission for 2-4 weeks.

Another feature of the plaza, to be implemented next year, will be a bike repair operation from Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York. It will be established in a shipping container set up in the plaza. Recycle-a-Bicycle gave of a storefront on Avenue C this past spring after 17 years on the LES, so the operation will mean a return to the neighborhood for the not-for-profit organization.

The repair station will be a regular presence in Straus Square during warm weather months. In addition to bike repair, classes for children and adults and other free programs will be offered. Recycle-a-Bicycle and Bike New York already provide similar services in seven city parks. Staff members, said Laughlin, will be “eyes on the street,” and be able to assist in breaking down plaza elements like bistro chairs and tables at the end of each day.

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In a previous meeting, members of the Seward Park Conservancy raised questions about traffic congestion in the area. City officials conducted a survey that indicated the stretch of Canal slated for closure is used by a lot more pedestrians than cars. In the new configuration, vehicles will continue on East Broadway, rather than having the option of veering off onto Canal. They’ll turn onto Rutgers/Essex Street. In response to the concerns, the Department of Transportation is conducting a traffic study to evaluate the impact of the proposed changes.

Last night, Carol Anastasio, one of the leaders of Seward Park Conservancy, reiterated the concerns about traffic. But she was generally optimistic about the plan. “We believe something good has come from this design even though there’s not much money (to work with right now).” The conservancy does not want to see granite blocks used in the plaza (they’re a prominent feature of some other plazas in the neighborhood).

The parks committee approved a resolution in support of the changes. The area will be resurfaced at the end of this month with installation of the interim seating taking place in July.

You can see the full presentation below.

 

Straus Square Redesign by The Lo-Down on Scribd