RIP Lee Brozgol, Lower East Side Pioneer, Artist and Activist

Lee Brozgol Essex Delancey Street Subway Installation, BW Lee Brozgol 1991

This story was written by Lee Brozgol’s son, author (and TLD contributor) Royal Young.

Legendary Lower East Side local artist Lee Brozgol passed away last month on October 3, 2021.

Brozgol was a pioneer of Lower East Side arts. His pencil drawings of the Lower East Side in the early 1980’s, as well as his deep involvement with local activist causes and communities made him a neighborhood figure with an integral perspective on the changing cityscape.

Brozgol’s mural in the J/M/Z/F Delancey and Essex Street Subway station debuted in 1991. Called “The House I Live In,” this public work celebrated the diverse Latinx, Black, Jewish and Asian communities that made his neighborhood a vibrant and thriving place. These colorfully painted panels are on permanent display in the lobby of University Settlement on Eldridge Street, down the block from where Brozgol lived and worked.

“The Rebels” of “The Greenwich Village Mural,” 1994

Brozgol’s iconic mosaic murals in the Christopher Street 1/9 subway, which went up in 1994, have inspired New Yorkers for over 25 years. Made with kids from PS 41, they show the exciting alternative history of Greenwich Village, including the Stonewall uprising, activists like Emma Goldman, and Washington Square Park’s troubled past as a slave burial ground.

In addition to his art practice, Brozgol was a social worker. He worked at FROSTED on Allen and Houston, immersing himself in helping those in his community who were HIV positive and struggling with addiction. 

Through the ’90s, Brozgol joined coalitions to revitalize Sara D. Roosevelt Park, spending weekends with his young sons cleaning up hypodermic needles and broken glass and planting flowers. He advocated for the unhoused, for the mentally troubled, for public arts, for freedom of expression for all.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire memorial, Lee Brozgol 1995

In 1995, Brozgol envisioned a surreal public monument to the victims of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. In a photograph taken on Delancey Street, Brozgol showed his proposal: an Eiffel Tower-like structure, covered in flowering trumpet vine. 

He proposed this 984 foot-tall memorial, which would also widen Sarah D. Roosevelt Park, plant trees from Forsyth Street all the way to the Williamsburg Bridge and create a green, thriving space that could serve the community while honoring its history.

A perpetual outsider, a Jewish man who was drawn to the immigrant experience, Brozgol represents the Lower East Side he loved in beauty and sometimes devastatingly dark detail.

Woman on Fireescape, Lee Brozgol LES 1980

His astute interest in people and the human psyche was a key element in both of his professions. Brozgol analyzed the human condition through art that is raw and edgy. His intricate, expressive drawings of downtown Manhattan combine whimsy with the harsh realities of capitalism. 

Tenement Stairs, Lee Brozgol LES 1980

An artist, activist and visionary who saw the beauty in imperfection, Brozgol’s work is a portrait of the Lower East Side through shifting decades and demographics. 

Stuffed Bear, Lee Brozgol LES 1980

Brozgol paints a diverse and rich world, presenting one iconoclastic artist’s lens of his loved ones, friends, neighbors and home.

For more of Brozgol’s art and Lower East Side history follow his Instagram @elbrozzie