The blissful Upper West Side garden hiding on top of a condo garage

Neighborhood gardens planted on vacant lots and between buildings are magical places. Walking around the city, I’ve stumbled upon many of these, each with their own enchanting landscape and walkways, sitting areas, and koi ponds.

The Lotus Garden, on 97th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue on the Upper West Side, has these delights as well. What sets this lovely green space apart, however, is that you can’t really stumble upon it from the sidewalk.

This tranquil garden is up a tall staircase and spread out over the garage roof of a luxury condo residence, the Columbia. If you’re not looking for it, you might walk right past—which strangely makes the Lotus Garden more appealing, as if it’s a secret only a few insiders know about.

So how did a 7,000 square foot garden end up on top of the garage? Before the condo and garage were built, volunteer neighborhood gardeners had turned what was an empty lot (once home to two historic movie theaters torn down in the 1970s) into a community garden.

In 1981, developer William Zeckendorf bought the vacant lot, according to a 1984 New York Times piece. His intention was to build a luxury condominium, which met with some neighborhood opposition. After meeting with the local gardeners, he went ahead with his plans and also agreed to spread soil on top of the garage and provide drainage.

Volunteer gardeners then took over. They built “winding paths, installed two fish ponds, and planted fruit trees and flowering shrubs,” the garden’s website states. “At last in the spring of 1983, a group of local residents, including new residents of the Columbia, began to plant flowers and herbs beneath the north facing windows of the Columbia’s tower.”  

The Lotus Garden was born—a hiding-in-plain-site respite from the scorched streets of the Upper West Side in the summer.

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10 Responses to “The blissful Upper West Side garden hiding on top of a condo garage”

  1. Andrew ALPERN Says:

    Ironically, this garden is across the street from an earlier garden called Unter den Linden built as a beer garden by Adolphus Busch to benefit his Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. It became a holdout against the big surrounding apartment house, with the existing little two-story building on the NW corner of Broadway and 97th the successor holdout. I tell the story in HOLDOUTS! The Buildings That Got In The Way.

  2. countrypaul Says:

    Maybe not *only* in New York, but *definitely* in New York. Great post – thank you!

  3. Carla Golden Says:

    I just saw that the NY Adventure Club is hosting a private tour of this garden on August 13th. Are you guiding this tour Esther?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Hi Carla, no, I’m not the guide—I just happen to visit the garden yesterday after the Riverside Drive tour I lead, and I thought it would be a fun post about a very charming secret-ish green space!

  4. Brad Says:

    Just a note: my information is that it is only open to the public on Sunday’s from 1-4pm April through November.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Yes, that’s correct according to the website. Before visiting, consult the site to make sure it’ll be open!

  5. Karen Says:

    Thanks for the article about our wonderful garden. All are welcome to visit Sunday afternoons, 1-4, when gardeners are on duty to answer any questions. Key holders (you can join the garden on our website (https://thelotusgarden.org/) are welcome to enjoy the garden during daylight hours during the gardening season. I’ve been a plot holder for 7 years, but several gardeners have been active for decades & can provide more details on the garden’s history.

  6. Glenn MacDonald Says:

    Wow! What an oasis. Cool that the developer let the neighborhood keep their garden.

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