Volume 74, Number 12 | July 21 - 27, 2004

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

From left, at ribbon cutting, Brad Sussman, an aide to Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, Tom Duane, Bill Castro, George Vellonakis, Kate Seely-Kirk and Gregory Brender, aides to Councilmember Christine Quinn and Assemblymember Deborah Glick, respectively, Art Strickler and three members of the Abingdon Sq. Alliance, Chris Garvin, Lee Zimmerman and Bob Cole.

All we are sa-a-ying, is give Abingdon Sq. a chance

By Lincoln Anderson

Peace at last? Well, maybe….

A renovated historic Abingdon Sq. was rededicated Monday, despite the presence of steadfast opponents to the project who held up protest signs or silently stood outside the park’s historic fence during the ceremony to show their disapproval.

Councilmember Christine Quinn funded the $760,000 renovation for the .222-acre park. The square, actually a triangle, was named after the Fourth Earl of Abingdon, who married Charlotte Warren, daughter of Sir Peter Warren and his wife, Susan De Lanky, who lived in a manor house in the area in the mid-1700s. Charlotte’s dowry included a part of the Warren estate.

Manhattan Borough Parks Commissioner Bill Castro said the end result, designed by landscape architect George Vellonakis, “transcends” usual park renovations. Castro approvingly noted how the old asphalt has been replaced by hard bluestone pavement, how the “Doughboy” statue is now situated at “an appropriate location,” so that pedestrians and car drivers can appreciate it, and how spaces were left between the new City Hall-style benches so wheelchair users can sit by friends on benches. Castro called it “a park to sit and enjoy.”

Quinn could not make the ceremony, but Castro promised they will hold another celebration in the park on a weekend that Quinn will be able to attend.

State Senator Tom Duane prefaced his remarks by noting he endorsed Quinn for the Council.

“Nothing is accomplished without controversy,” Duane said. “This park is so gorgeous. From the lovely bluestone, to the flowers, I think we are going to be able to enjoy this park for many seasons to come.”

Arty Strickler, district manager of Community Board 2, speaking on behalf of Jim Smith, the board’s chairperson, who did not attend, called the renovation impressive.

“I think it’s wonderful what they’ve done to an old, decrepit park,” he said, “made it a modern park, but also historic.” Strickler noted that none of things like the children’s sandbox or swings that were removed for the renovation were there “when Lord Abingdon was running around and owned all of this.”

Lee Zimmerman, a member of the Abingdon Sq. Alliance, recalled the four-year effort to improve the park.

“All of us — even our illustrious adversaries — must agree it was worth it,” Zimmerman said. “This will be a place about relaxing and getting to know our neighbors, a wonderful place for our community.

“To George Vellonakis — all we can say is, Wow!” added Zimmerman. “To think that a year ago this was a place of broken asphalt and swings and a ‘Doughboy’ that nobody even knew was here.”

Before the ceremony, Ray Russell, 84, perusing a display of historic photos of the park, deemed the redesign top-notch.

“It’s outstanding,” said Russell, who when asked what kind of work he’d formerly done, replied, “50 years on the docks.”

The opponents included Betty Rinckwitz, who made a point of standing outside the park’s gate during the ceremony, and Margie Rubin, of Disabled in Action, who sat in her wheelchair during the speeches holding aloft signs saying the park design discriminates against the handicapped.

Afterward, Jessie McNab, another opponent, said, “The dedication was a love fest — it’s still grotesque.”

Jean Krampner said while she approves of the redesign, she had to respect her allegiances.

“I’m coming in as neutral,” Krampner said.

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