By Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP
Pick any public park, and it has a story to reveal about what it once was, and how it came to be a parkland in a densely built metropolis.
In this ‘bird’s-eye’ rooftop view, Hudson Street heads straight south from the Meat Market district, with Bank Street intersecting in front of the last private occupant of the space, the Stetler Warehouse. Businessman Henry Stetler made a fortune in the late 19th century warehouse industry, and subsequently lost it during the Great Depression. In 1927 the warehouse was the scene of a sensational rooftop shootout and fire that injured 46 firefighters.
An octagonal comfort station shown here immediately to the north of the warehouse and surrounded by streets, also doubled as a bandstand pavilion. It was later condemned along with the warehouse to build a park. Bleecker Street is at the left of the warehouse, and bends around the pavilion to terminate at Hudson Street.
Bleecker Street Park development followed the implementation of a new traffic pattern that involved the bending connection of Hudson Street to Eighth Avenue, elimination of part of Bank Street, and widening of Bleecker Street’s end as it too is blended into Hudson Street. Historic Abingdon Square, ca. 1830, is just north of this intersection, and was also affected by the traffic pattern changes.
When the playground and sitting area eventually opened in 1966, Parks Commissioner Thomas Hoving noted “we would have been spared the years of guerilla warfare over such little but important items as the shape of a bench or a light fixture” if community input had been solicited earlier.
In 1997, Bleecker Playground Park facilities underwent a large renovation that included new lighting, benches, shrubbery, handicap accessibility, new play equipment and the reinstallation of play equipment that was contributed by the Mollie Parnis Livingston Foundation in 1994. Animal art and decorative details were added that reflect the architecture of this Historic District.
The adjacent sitting area features linden trees and Chaim Gross’s statue, The Family, dedicated by the artist to former Mayor Edward I. Koch in 1992. Gross’s sculpture is a large bronze set of five figures on a Carnelian red granite pedestal. This Bleecker Sitting Area was renovated in about 2008 primarily through a large donation from neighborhood resident Clifford Ross, that includes improved perimeter plantings and more hospitable seating.