By Barry Benepe
A new cast iron picket fence, similar to the one now surrounding Abingdon Square Park, will be erected around the Jane Street Garden before the end of the year. The entrance to the garden will be relocated from Jane Street to 8th Avenue to conform to New York City Parks & Recreation (NYC Parks) Commissioner Mitchell Silver’s policy of making parks more accessible to passing foot traffic. Redesigned by NYC Parks’ landscape architect George Vellonakis, the garden will be in a guitar shape, the neck pointing toward the relocated entrance. In 2004, Mr. Vellonakis redesigned Abingdon Square Park which, originally constructed in 1836, had become an unused, empty asphalt lot.
A temporary chain-link construction fence will be installed on the sidewalk surrounding the existing chain-link fence, sealing off the entrance to the garden while construction takes place during three to four months in the late summer. The garden will remain closed, as usual, during the fall and winter. Plantings will be installed in the spring of 2019 in time for the garden opening the following summer.
The Jane Street Garden is maintained by the West Village Committee (WVC) which, in 1987, took over responsibility at the request of the Jane Street Block Association. At the time, with the help of writer and activist Jane Jacobs, the WVC was issued a 25-year lease by the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). Bill Bowser, who was the President of the WVC, worked with block association members Dan Stewart, a landscape architect, and Gerard Mutsaers, who built a small windmill used for tool storage and planted the still-standing elm (Ulmus hollandica) on the sidewalk. Jack Gillen, Arthur Stoliar, Jean and Chuck Verrill, and numerous others devoted many years to laying bluestone paths and planting trees, shrubs, and flowers. Wood benches were added to make the garden more inviting for reading, resting, snacking, and leisure enjoyment. Before his death, Bowser turned over planting and maintenance to Susan Sipos, who has used her extraordinary gardening talents, honed by working on the superb Jefferson Market Garden, to produce the gem on Jane Street we enjoy today.
At the end of the lease with DCAS in 2012, the WVC was able to transfer ownership of the Jane Street Garden to NYC Parks. It will remain a public open space, and will not be sold to a developer as long as it continues to be a garden used by the community. While the city no longer issues long-term leases, gardens under NYC Parks’ jurisdiction are issued licenses with four-year renewable terms through Green Thumb.
The fence is made possible by an appropriation by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. It is hoped that the garden will continue to keep its quiet landscaped seclusion despite the relocation of the gate.