Volume 80, Number 43 | March 24 - 30, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Photo by Bonnie Rosenstock

Engraved paving stones around the Tompkins Square Temperance Fountain.

Special pavers make a mark in Tompkins Square Park

By Bonnie Rosenstock

From graffiti tags to elaborately painted murals, the East Village abounds with ephemeral expression. But the East Village Parks Conservancy has devised a unique way to leave a more lasting impression in the neighborhood’s Tompkins Square Park: Set it in stone with Make Your Mark in the Park.

“It’s a way to use the graffiti tradition of the East Village,” said Roland Legiardi-Laura, an E.V.P.C. board member. The Barre, Vt., hexagon-shaped granite pavers surrounding the park’s Temperance Fountain can be engraved to represent feelings and ideas, honor the living or deceased and even oneself.

There are sentiments on the stones, like “We love you Nana” and, in memory of Spalding Gray, “The Best Dad in the World.” There are marriage proposals, declarations of love and welcome-to-the-world birth announcements. Beloved pets, like Tom Tom, the Fat Cat, and Ginger — “the best little dog in the world” — also get recognition.

“She had 12 happy years at the dog run,” said owner Suzanne Kreps of Ginger’s park life.

The stone pavers, which cost $250 apiece, have to be succinct, said Legiardi-Laura, since there are only up to 70 characters (including spaces) to “Tweet with.” But the good news is you can order as many pavers as you want — performance artist/actor John Leguizamo purchased several to appreciate his children, and another East Villager paid tribute to 14 family members, including the cat.

“You can go from stone to stone and write an essay,” quipped Legiardi-Laura.

To date, 155 longer-lasting granite pavers around the fountain have replaced about half of the original asphalt stones, which tend to erode. But in and around the park, there are sites for tens of thousands of messages, Legiardi-Laura said, as he reeled off available areas: the main walking center on the park’s south side where the band shell used to be, the area to the east of the Parks Department building, the park’s entire perimeter. In fact, he hopes someday the entire park will be one beautifully written essay etched in stone, “a part of the evolution of this community,” although you don’t have to be an East Villager to “get stoned.”

Every spring, E.V.P.C. holds a stone-setting ceremony. Last April, those honored included neighborhood activist Philip Wachtel, who died in 1994. Katharine Wolpe, former Village Independent Democrats club president, said that she and Jack Linn, assistant Parks commissioner, purchased the stone “to remember Phil’s many and varied services to the community he lived in and served for so many years.”

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver came out to commemorate Wachtel, whom he knew for 18 years.

“You always got a sense of what was happening in the neighborhood because Phil had his ears to the ground, attuned to everything that was going on,” said Silver, who spoke as a private citizen, since the park area is not part of his district. “This is not about politics or work, it’s about a personal relationship. We ran against each other in 1976 for a vacant seat and got to know each other and remained friends.”

Former Tompkins Square Park head gardener Michael Lytle, who retired in 2009, was also acknowledged with “His Care & Passion made a difference,” by K.J. Grow and the Tompkins Square Park volunteers. Grow, who is from Brooklyn, coordinates the monthly team that helps maintain the park through New York Cares.

Another growing program is E.V.P.C.’s Save the Shade, which began around 10 years ago. For $2,000, E.V.P.C. offers a personalized tree with a ceremony and a bronze plaque, mounted on the east wall of the Parks building on the Ninth St. transverse. There are 14 such arboreal honors (a map on the Parks building’s gate indicates the location and type), including a venerable elm, under which Swami Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in New York in 1966; a brilliant-leafed beech tree for Jonathan Larson, creator of “Rent”; a sturdy red oak for Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Polish pianist, composer and statesman, who died in New York in 1941; a red-leafed cherry tree for Sandra Turner, E.V.P.C.’s first chairperson, who died in 1977, which is across from her old window on 10th St. near the park (she is also remembered with the Sandra Turner Garden and a stone paver from The Ladies Who Read); and a pin oak (which replaced an expired crab apple) for Allen Ginsberg.

This spring (date not yet determined) there are 24 new stones slated to be installed around the fountain. E.V.P.C. board member Ellen LeCompte said she was surprised by the different stories people tell, running the gamut from whimsical to sad and touching.

“For me, personally, it’s a remarkably positive and warm experience,” she said. “I had no idea when we started that it would turn into this. I was just thinking about a way to create an endowment for Tompkins Square Park. It turned out to be much more than that for me.”

Make Your Mark in the Park started eight years ago. The proceeds help fund the park’s gardener and elm tree watch (checking for the deadly Dutch elm disease), and are part of the park’s small endowment in hard times, “which we are fast approaching,” noted LeCompte.

For information about this spring’s Make Your Mark in the Park ceremony and other E.V.P.C. programs, call Ellen LeCompte at 212-533-6452, or Roland Legiardi-Laura at 212-529-9327; write E.V.P.C., P.O. Box 138, Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009; or visit www.evpcnyc.org .


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