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Volume 77, Number 19 | October 10 - 16, 2007

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Local senior citizens opposed to the Washington Square Park renovation project held a musical protest in the park last week.

Old folks hold folk sing-in against park renovation

By Albert Amateau

“This park is so beautiful — so many memories, a history of demonstrations, music makers, mothers and children, students. We should keep it that way. We have better things to do with $16 million than waste it on a project that nobody wants,” said Carr Massie, president of Disabled in Action, at a rolling and walking tour last week of Washington Square Park.

Massie, a 30-year resident of Penn South in Chelsea, was one of more than 20 demonstrators, several in wheelchairs and most from Caring Community senior centers in the Village, protesting the Department of Parks’ planned Washington Square reconstruction.

To the tune of the Woody Guthrie song, they sang their own lyrics: “This park is your park, this park is my park. … This park was made for you and me — Say ‘renovation,’ not ‘devastation,’ ’cause this park was made for you and me.”

In a park crowded with the familiar complement of Villagers, visitors, students, chess players and impromptu performers on a warm Friday afternoon, the demonstration attracted followers, some wise to the issues but most blissfully ignorant.

A doo-wop quartet called Groundstone joined at one point to lead a chorus of the revised Guthrie song.

“We sing all over the city,” noted Gerard Giddens, Groundstone’s lead tenor.

“We practice mostly at my house in Brooklyn,” said George Ellington, a Groundstone singer not related to the late great Duke.

Eight eighth graders from the Grace Church School — “We get out of school at 2 o’clock on Fridays,” one of them noted — also joined in. They learned about the proposed project — from the demonstrators’ dissenting side — and agreed they liked Washington Square Park the way it is.

“I met a lady walking with her daughter who asked me, ‘What are they doing to the park?’ People are not aware their park will be deconstructed and come back as a garden,” said Margie Rubin, who lives in the Westbeth artists’ housing complex in the West Village. Rubin, a 37-year resident of the neighborhood and an opponent of the park redesign, said she has been vainly seeking assurances from the city since 2005 that people in wheelchairs, like herself, would have access to all parts of the redesigned park.

“We’re here because of the people who say that seniors are O.K. with the design,” said Susan Goren, organizer of the Oct. 5 event. “These people are members of the senior center just across the street. They’ve signed petitions against the redesign and they’re standing together to defend their park.”

Harvey Osgood, of E. Ninth St. and a member of the Caring Community Senior Center on Washington Square North, said he was enthusiastic about the redesign when it was first presented in 2004.

“But in the past two years, I’ve become disenchanted and I’m no longer willing to accept what the Parks Department tells us,” Osgood said. “Why were the most recent plans so closeted? It was a pathetic example of a closed administration, and I think the only people who can speak and do something are [Assemblymember Deborah] Glick and [Councilmember Alan] Gerson.”

Sam Soifer, who lives on Fifth Ave. at E. 10th St., a member of the Caring Community Senior Center at First Presbyterian Church at Fifth Ave. at 11th St., also likes the park the way it is.

“I’d just like the pathways to be repaved. They don’t have to tear up the park,” said Soifer, who uses a wheelchair on his visits to the park.

Soifer, who came to New York from Cincinnati as a boy with his family, remembers working as a 16-year-old for the Corn Exchange Bank — a long-gone bank chain — at Fulton and Pearl Sts. when the stock market crashed in 1929. He became a lithographer, married and moved to the Village with his wife, now deceased, and his son 50 years ago.

“I like the mix in the park, the college kids, musicians,” Soifer said. “It’s going to take the city four years for the reconstruction. I’m 94 — how many more years have I got? I’ll lose the park.”


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