Volume 74, Number 54 | May 18 - 24 , 2005

Some of the engraved paving stones that will be placed in Tompkins Sq. Park.

A way to leave one’s mark in Tompkins Sq. Park

By Albert Amateau

Graffiti is a crime in New York City but the East Village Parks Conservancy has come up with a way to turn the penchant for putting personal “tags” on public places into a public benefit for Tompkins Sq. Park.

With the Department of Parks and Recreation as a sponsor, the conservancy is making it possible, for a mere $250, to have a message, a name or a quotation (the possibilities are endless) of 70 characters or fewer cut into a granite hexagonal paving block to be set in the park.

The money, minus the cost of the 8-inch-wide, 2-inch-thick paver and incising the characters, will go into an endowment fund to maintain the 10.5-acre park in the heart of the East Village.

On Sunday afternoon, May 22, the first 24 of the pavers in the “Make Your Mark in the Park” program will be set around the Temperance Fountain of Tompkins Sq. replacing the same number of existing asphalt composite hexagons. Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe is expected to come with key staff members to the 1 p.m. ceremony to which Councilmember Margarita Lopez, State Senator Martin Connor and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been invited.

“We estimate that there are 60,000 asphalt pavers in Tompkins Sq., so with most of the $250 going into the endowment, you can imagine the potential benefit to the park,” said Roland Legiardi-Laura, who with his fellow conservancy member Ellen LeCompt conceived of the project.

The conservancy pitched the idea to the Parks Department about five years ago and Benepe, who was then Manhattan borough Parks commissioner, was interested, but the project wasn’t taken seriously until later. “We don’t have a well-endowed constituency like Central Park, Bryant Park or Riverside Park who can give thousands and thousands of dollars, or large corporations like [those around] Madison Sq. Park, so we had to come up with something new,” Legiardi-Laura said.

The Parks Department at first thought that $500 would be a good contribution for each paver. “But we convinced them that it would be more egalitarian if it were lower and have a greater potential for the kind of neighborhood we have here,” Legiardi-Laura said.

“This is really an experiment,” Legiardi-Laura declared. “It took a certain amount of courage for Parks to do it. This neighborhood is a great place for experiment. We have some of the wackiest people in the country. At some point someone will try to say something inappropriate. We’re not going to accept a hate message or anything profoundly offensive. Of course, all messages will have to be reviewed by the East Village Parks Conservancy and approved by the Department of Parks,” he said.

The conservancy didn’t want to restrict the message to names. “It would have looked like a cemetery in the end,” Legiardi-Laura said.

“We are thrilled to launch this fundraising project, not only because of its uniqueness and appeal for prospective donors, but also because of its appropriateness for Tompkins Sq. Park,” said Benepe. “I can’t think of a better way to support this idiosyncratic, colorful park than through a project that adds character and, at the same time, raises endowment funds.”

DeNigris, the Bronx stonecutters contracted for the project, have already cut the first two dozen Barre, Vt., gray granite pavers with a variety of imaginative messages.

“Be here now for joy one with nature for peace in selfless love for freedom,” says one message.

Another paver was endowed by six East Village families who had the first names of all their 11 children incised in a crossword puzzlelike pattern A Shakespeare quotation, “I’ the East my pleasure lies” from “Anthony and Cleopatra” is cut into one stone endowed by Tower Brokerage, Inc.

The former residence on Avenue B of the late jazz great Charlie Parker is commemorated on another granite stone. Yet another paver has seven names: husband, wife, children and their dog, all arranged in a spiral.

The actor John Leguizamo, a neighborhood resident, endowed two stones, one for his daughter Allegra and the other for his son Lucas to be set side by side. And the dancer Trish Brown and her husband Burt Barr contributed two stones with their names, also to be set next to each other

The conservancy continues to accept contributions for pavers, which will be set in the park later, Legiardi-Laura said. To endow a stone, phone 212-353-9063.

One contributor, John Taylor Gatto, a former New York State Teacher of the Year who taught in an Upper West Side public school for many years before he retired, has paid for 10 stones, to be cut and set in a future round of installations. “He hasn’t given us the text yet. He’s a writer who’s published four books, so it could be a short essay at least,” Legiardi-Laura said.

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