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Volume 77, Number 4 | June 27 - July 3, 2007

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

A new black stone fountain — which eventually will sport a novel nighttime illumination system — is the centerpiece of the renovated Father Demo Square.

Community can’t wait to open new Father Demo Square

By Lincoln Anderson

Whether it was the official or unofficial opening of Father Demo Square didn’t much matter to Greenwich Villagers last Friday morning.
As the N.Y.U. Pep 5 band played a funky slow jam of Chaka Khan’s “Tell Me Something Good,” more than 300 community members funneled into the small triangular park at Bleecker and Carmine Sts. and Sixth Ave. The tune was appropriate, since they definitely had come to celebrate “something good” — completion of the square’s $1.4 million renovation.

“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said David Gruber, president of the Carmine St. Block Association. “This is the unofficial opening. There will be another official opening — whatever that means — in a few months.”

The official ribbon cutting, with Council Speaker Christine Quinn in attendance, had been all set to go for Friday, but was abruptly postponed the day before. Gruber couldn’t get an explanation for why the postponement occurred.

On Monday, Cristina DeLuca, a Parks spokesperson, said the official opening was postponed “due to scheduling issues of various elected officials” and that “key people” couldn’t make it. Asked if the key people included Quinn or Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, she said she didn’t know.

Meanwhile, Maria Alvarado, a Quinn spokesperson, said, “We were told by the Parks Department that it was rescheduled — so we obliged. All I know is that the Parks Department rescheduled the event.” She said Quinn could have attended last Friday.

Regardless, the park is now fully open for the community’s use, Gruber said. It will open daily at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. and close at 1 a.m., he said.

The square now features a new charcoal gray stone fountain, stylish paving, benches and a low perimeter fence. The fountain eventually will be illuminated at night — though the lights still have to be installed — both from the ground and by a special transparent sheath along its vertical column.

“This is what we call ‘the gateway to Greenwich Village.’ This is the four-park system which comes up Sixth Ave.,” Gruber explained, referring to nearby Downing Playground, Minetta Triangle and the Sixth Ave. vest-pocket park.

Landscape architect George Vellonakis did the redesign of Father Demo Square, and, several years ago, also did the renovations of the three other small “gateway” parks. Like Quinn and Benepe, Vellonakis didn’t attend last Friday’s unofficial opening.

Michael Ameruso, a trustee of Our Lady of Pompei Church, which fronts on the square, credited Gruber for pushing through the renovation.

“David Gruber is a very unique individual. He was able to stay focused on this project for a very long time,” he said. “I think, without David, this park would not have been renovated.”

Taking the mike again, Gruber said it was Quinn who deserved praise.

“Let me tell you about Chris Quinn — you talk about dedication and perseverance and a politician who keeps her word — it’s Chris Quinn,” Gruber said. “I really want to acknowledge it. Thank you, Chris Quinn.”

Our Lady of Pompei’s existing church was built in 1926. Previously, the parish, led by the Scalabrian order, started on Sullivan St., moved to Waverly Pl. and then occupied the Father Demo Square triangle itself, until it was demolished for construction of the Sixth Ave. subway.

One elected official who did show up was Borough President Scott Stringer. With his trademark sense of humor, he noted, for the record, that it was he who recently appointed Gruber to Community Board 2. Admiring the park and fountain, Stringer said, “You see a community on the move, both preserving the architectural history of this neighborhood — but also moving ahead.”

The popular Deputy Inspector Theresa Shortell, receiving the biggest applause among the speakers, said the new square makes police officers’ job that much better.

“It’s great to see this beautiful addition to Greenwich Village,” Shortell said. “We at the Sixth Precinct enjoy this area so much, just to be part of this community on a daily basis.”

Gruber also gave thanks to New York University, whose Pep Band 5 — unlike others — kept their commitment to attend and provided the musical entertainment.

“I know sometimes they’re controversial — ‘N.Y.U. this and N.Y.U. that’ — but when you need them, they come through,” Gruber said.

Local residents generally said the renovation was great, albeit if it took a bit long.

Jeannie McKeon, who lives nearby on Morton St., said, “The best thing they did is widen the sidewalk. You don’t feel as close to Sixth Ave. as you used to.” The sidewalks around the plaza were extended 7 feet into Bleecker St. and 5 feet into Carmine St.

Vellonakis also designed the Washington Square Park renovation plan, which, unlike Father Demo Square, has been delayed by opposition from community lawsuits. Gil Horowitz, a champion of the Washington Square project, said the renovated Father Demo Square shows Villagers what they’re missing by fighting the project.

“I think it’s in the Vellonakis spirit,” Horowitz said of the renovated South Village square. “It’s clean design, modern design, with a historical feel and easy to use.”

Michael Bitong, however, a private chef who cooks for a princess and lives two blocks away, criticized the square’s fountain — feeling it needs a statue on top.

“I know a lot of artists in Soho,” he suggested.

One neighbor took exception to another new park element, the low fence around the square.

“If they’re saying this is a gateway to the Village — this is the first time the gate is locked,” stated neighbor Robert Reiss.

“Stop, stop,” scolded Gruber. “It wasn’t a barrier. It was a way for police to say the park is closed. If we wanted a barrier we would have built it taller. This is a community-based park. Even an old guy like me could jump the fence.”

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