Posts Tagged ‘Tompkins Square Park riots’

1980s East Village cafes still packing crowds

August 4, 2010

Restaurants have always had a short shelf life in New York.

But even in today’s frat bar-happy, quasi-Bridge and Tunnel East Village, some old-school eateries are still drawing crowds.

From the January 1986 issue of local arts newspaper the East Village Eye comes this ad for Life Cafe—once a refuge for the bloody and battered who were caught up in the Tompkins Square Park riots of the late 1980s.

I never knew Yaffa Cafe had a slogan. But here it is in their ad from the same newspaper.

The bad old days of Tompkins Square Park

December 12, 2009

In December 1986, the city unveiled plans for a massive renovation of Tompkins Square Park—new landscaping, new playgrounds, no more bandshell. The goal was to create more open space and make it a lot less sketchy.

Well, those plans didn’t go over well with community leaders, reported an article in that month’s East Village Eye

“Open space would break up the traditional uses for the park. As it is, all the people in the community have a little part they feel comfortable in,” one local told the paper.

“There’s the Ukrainian old men’s area, and the bandshell, used mostly by younger people. There are four different playground areas, divided more or less by age group. And there’s the part where older black men play cards. Tompkins Square is like a mirror held up to our community.”

Eventually the park did get its renovation in 1991-1992. But not without a fight, namely the riots in the late ’80s sparked by cops trying to clear encampments of homeless people—like “Dog Man” above.

The turbulent history of Tompkins Square

January 17, 2009

This photo, from John Gruen’s The New Bohemia, shows a snow-covered, placid Tompkins Square Park in the early 1960s. No hipsters or crusties; no playgrounds or dog runs either.

There’s St. Brigid’s Church on Avenue B in the back. The statue of post-Civil War Congressional Rep. Samuel Cox is in the foreground. And you can just make out the shadows of the then-new housing projects on Avenue D. 

tompkinssquareparkTompkins Square is quiet and lovely these days, but it’s been the scene of some pretty bloody riots since it opened in 1850. Food shortages and unemployment prompted demonstrations in 1857; the deadly 1863 Draft Riots spilled into Tompkins Square as well. 







Then came the Tompkins Square Riot. In 1874, thousands of workers gathered at the park to protest poor economic conditions brought on by the Panic of 1873. Police on horseback fought back the crowds by beating them with clubs, as illustrated below.


A new round of Tompkins Square riots pitting cops against protesters started up again in the late 1980s and early 1990s—another period of economic recession.