Posts Tagged ‘Tompkins Square Park’

Where was New York’s “German Play Ground?”

November 24, 2010

While browsing the Museum of the City of New York’s Byron collection online archive, I came across the photo from 1903.

Interestingly, instead of going by the park’s real name, it’s mysteriously labeled the “German Play Ground.”

Must be Tompkins Square Park, which was heavily German at the time—so much so that the neighborhood was known as “Kleindeutschland,” or Little Germany.

Of course, lots of neighborhoods were German, such as Bushwick, known for its breweries. But here, I think the winding paths and benches give it away.

The most holy tree in Tompkins Square Park

January 11, 2010

To Hare Krishnas, that is.

In 1966, an Indian spiritual leader came to the East Village and founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness at 26 Second Avenue.

He took some followers—including poet Allen Ginsburg, who lived in the neighborhood—to Tompkins Square Park. Sitting under one of the towering elm trees in the park, he began chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. 

Since then, the tree has been gathering place for Hare Krishnas, who view it as the birthplace of the religion in the Western world.

It’s not marked, but the sacred elm sits in the center of the park, and the Parks Department has a sign up about it nearby.

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.

Wigstock: New York’s other Labor Day tradition

September 2, 2009

The first Labor Day parade was held in September 1882; thousands of workers marched and rallied in Union Square for better workplace conditions and pay.


A century later, the first Wigstock was held in September 1985. One thousand spectators came to Tompkins Square Park to see founder Lady Bunny and other drag queens perform in sequins, sky-high platforms, and big wigs at the park’s bandshell.

Wigstock’s genesis was a little less serious than Labor Day’s: It was conceived by Lady Bunny and friends after a drunken night in 1984 at Avenue A’s Pyramid Club.

An instant, outrageous hit, Wigstock became a Labor Day tradition. By 1990, the crowd swelled to 10,000. If you were stuck in the city that weekend with no friends inviting you out to the Hamptons or upstate, you could always head downtown and get a kick out of the crowds and performers spilling over into the streets.

When the park closed for renovations in 1991, Wigstock moved to Union Square, and in 1994, it relocated to the Christopher Street Piers. 

Until 2001, that is, when the last Wigstock took place. In subsequent years it was absorbed into the Howl! festival in the East Village. But it seems that 2009 will be Wigstock-less. 

Here’s more Wigstock info and ephemera.

Tompkins Square Park’s first dog run

June 26, 2009

In a city obsessed with dogs, it’s hard to imagine that there were no dog runs in city parks until one was established in 1990 in Tompkins Square Park. Now, dog runs exist in about 60 parks across the five boroughs.


At Tompkins Square Park, the amenities aren’t bad. The privately funded “First Run” has a granite sand surface, wading pools, and separate sections for the big dogs and little guys.

These two shaggy pups are loving the picnic table—it brings them closer to the squirrels in trees.

Tompkins Square Park has a pretty colorful history going back a century and a half. 

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.

“Avenue B—the Place to Be”

June 18, 2008

“3 Teens Kill 4” is a great name for a band, isn’t it? The weather was probably hot as hell on July 11, 1982—the afternoon they played at Tompkins Square Park, according to this ad from the East Village Eye.