Volume 75, Number 28 | Nov. 30 - Dec. 06, 2005

PROGRESS REPORT
A special Villager supplement

The setting for the painting “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper is currently a parking lot for M.T.A. trucks.

Board has idea in the hopper for barren parking lot

By Brad Hoylman

On the southeast corner of Greenwich Ave. and Seventh Ave. S. is an area known as Mulry Square consisting of a triangle-shaped parking lot owned by M.T.A. New York City Transit. From a distance, there’s nothing special about the small lot, which is surrounded by a rusted chain-link fence and used by the transit authority to store equipment and emergency vehicles. Look closer, however, and an interesting history and some exciting possibilities unfold.

Hanging from the chain-link fence are thousands of colorful, hand-painted ceramic tiles memorializing Sept. 11. As The Villager reported last year, Lorrie Veasey, the owner of Our Name is Mud, a paint-it-yourself pottery store next to the parking lot, created the display, which she calls “Tiles for America.” Veasey solicited contributions for the impromptu memorial on a Web site shortly after 9/11 and received a huge response. Artwork streamed in from across the country and as far away as Brazil and Japan. The tiles, which number nearly 10,000 (only half of which are displayed), represent a snapshot of different responses. They are decorated with flags, hearts and images of the towers, along with messages like “We feel your pain — God bless you all!”

Villagers have different reactions to the tiles. Some people in the neighborhood seem to appreciate their folk-art quality. Others think the patriotic themes they trumpet are somewhat out of step with the Village’s iconoclastic history.

Regardless, nobody seems to think the tiles should be destroyed. By default, however, that appears to be happening. In the four years since the tiles were hung, they’ve become covered with dirt and soot. Many of them are chipped or cracked and the parking lot door scrapes up against the tiles whenever it is opened.

In October 2004, Community Board 2 unanimously passed a resolution urging the tiles be preserved. Since then, another interesting fact about Mulry Square has come to light. According to a local amateur historian, the artist Edward Hopper based his famous painting “Nighthawks” on a wedge-shaped art deco diner that used to stand in the lot. A portion of the diner’s interior (a wall lined, appropriately, with tiles) is still visible today. Incidentally, Mulry Square is directly across from the former location of the Loew’s Sheridan Theater, which Hopper, an avid theatergoer, often frequented and sometimes painted, as well.

In its resolution, the community board also endorsed another idea that would provide a significant amenity to the neighborhood: to convert the Mulry Square triangle from a parking lot into a public park.

Of course, N.Y.C. Transit would have to find a new location for its vehicles and equipment. And why should anyone expect a government agency to fork over valuable property to the community? In fact, there is recent local precedent for a community-benefit return from a government agency undertaking a public works project. The City Department of Environmental Protection is in the midst of a $5 billion project to dig air shafts for the Third City Water Tunnel. After completion of the project, new green spaces and playgrounds will soon be springing up, funded by D.E.P. as part of a plan to help compensate the community for the months of disruption caused by the construction of the air shafts. The Gansevoort Market area neighborhood, for example, will receive some $2 million to refurbish Seravalli Playground. And a new park will be built with D.E.P. funds adjacent to an air shaft site at Grand and Lafayette Sts.

It so happens that N.Y.C. Transit has some major projects underway in the vicinity of Mulry Square. Last summer, the agency completed the rehabilitation of a pump facility at W. 11th St. and Seventh Ave. And an even bigger (and more controversial) project is the subway fan plant reconstruction underway on 13th St., between Fifth and Seventh Aves. For nearly three-and-a-half years, residents and businesses in this densely populated street have lived in a construction zone. They have complained loudly to the community board about noise, dust, overflowing dumpsters, decapitated trees and the onset of rats. Stores and restaurants on the street have seen receipts decline precipitously. And as the project’s completion date keeps getting pushed back, tensions are running higher than ever.

The transit authority should do everything in its power to encourage the contractor to complete the 13th St. fan plant project as quickly as possible. However, in the meantime, the agency should follow D.E.P.’s lead and consider donating the Mulry Square lot to the community as a park. This plan, which is supported by my co-Democratic District Leader Keen Berger, seems like a fair trade. My guess is that the transit authority could find another location to store equipment other than the middle of the West Village. As part of any rehabilitation plans, the 9/11 memorial tiles could be removed for preservation or perhaps incorporated into the new park. And the site of the inspiration for one of Edward Hopper’s most quintessential New York paintings would no longer suffer the indignity of serving as a parking lot.
 
Hoylman is male Democratic district leader for the West Village and South Chelsea. N.Y.C. Transit will be presenting an update to Community Board 2 on the 13th St. fan plant project on Tues., Dec. 13 at 6:30 p.m. at the Metro New York D.D.S.O., 75 Morton St., between Hudson and Greenwich Sts.

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