Posts Tagged ‘Upper West Side parks’

Why a West Side park is named for an Italian poet

August 20, 2018

New York City parks and playgrounds don’t just honor the usual city founders and war heroes—they’re named for artists, singers (Diana Ross Playground, anyone?), even vaudeville comedians.

But unless you count the Shakespeare garden in Central Park, not many are named for poets.

So how did a postage stamp of green on the Upper West Side in 1921 become a monument for Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet of the Middle Ages best known for the Divine Comedy, completed in the 14th century?

It wasn’t just a concession to the growing Italian-American population in Manhattan at the time. But the growth of this immigrant group was instrumental in naming the park and erecting the bronze statue of Alighieri that still stands.

“The New York branch of the Dante Alighieri Society had intended to erect a Dante monument on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Italian unification in 1912,” states the New York City Parks Department website.

“Carlo Barsotti, editor of Il Progresso (the first Italian daily newspaper in the United States), urged subscribers to contribute towards the creation of the statue.”

Barsotti had already helped erect monuments honoring other Italians: Giuseppe Garibaldi in Washington Square, Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle, Giovanni Verrazano in Battery Park, and composer Giuseppe Verdi in Verdi Square—not far from the soon-to-be site of Dante Park, which was then known as Empire Park at 63rd Street and Columbus Avenue.

Money was raised, but according to NYC Parks, the sculptor didn’t finish the imposing bronze statue of a robed Alighieri wearing a garland and holding a copy of the Divine Comedy until 1921.

Another source has it that the original monument was too big and in too many pieces, so the city rejected it. Funds were again collected, and a second statue arrived in 1921—past the anniversary of Italian unification yet marking the 600th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Whatever happened, the dedication was held that year. The statue (described as “dour and grumpy” by the AIA Guide to New York City) was officially “a gift of citizens of Italian descent.”

[Second photo: MCNY X2011.34.3603; third photo: Wikipedia]

Is this patch of green New York’s smallest park?

June 27, 2014

Septuagesimounonycparks2If you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss Septuagesimo Park.

At .04 acres, this slender gap in a row of brownstones on West 71st Street (hence the name) has been called the city’s smallest official park.

By contrast, Central Park has 843 acres, and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is three times Central Park’s size.

This postage stamp of a park, originally known as “71st Street Plot,” owes its existence to Mayor John Lindsay.

“New York City acquired this property through condemnation on March 28, 1969,” explains the Parks Department website. “Mayor Lindsay’s vest pocket park initiative supervised the landscaping of the parcel.”

Septuagesmiounonycparks

By 1981, as the Upper West Side was emerging from decades of decline, it was put under the jurisdiction of the Parks Department. In 2000, commissioner Henry Stern gave it an illustrious new name that sounds like a cafe in Rome.

In New York, of course, small is good. Septuagesimo Park’s one bench-lined lane is framed by gardens and a few shady trees—all you really need to take in summer in New York.

[Photos: NYC Parks Department]

The musical history of 72nd Street’s Verdi Square

December 19, 2012

These days, Verdi Square, a tiny triangle between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue north of 72nd Street, seems mainly to be a safe traffic island for pedestrians dodging the rush of cars.

Verdisquarestatue2

It’s served a few other functions over the years. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was Needle Park, populated by drug dealers and users (and memorialized in the 1971 Al Pacino flick The Panic in Needle Park).

EnricocarusoArturotoscaniniAnd in the early 1900s, it was a meeting place for musicians such as tenor Enrico Caruso (at left; he lived nearby at the Ansonia) and conductor Arturo Toscanini (right), according to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation.

George and Ira Gershwin also hung out there, reports DNAinfo.com.

The history of Verdi Square—acquired as a park in 1887 but not named for Italian opera composer Giuseppe Verdi until 1921—makes it an ideal place to listen to music. Fittingly, a series of summer concerts have been held there in recent years.

Verdisquareluminaire

Verdi Square also hides a gem from the city’s past: this 1913 luminaire once stood at 100th Street and Riverside Drive, at the Fireman’s Memorial there. It was reinstalled here and recast when the park was renovated in 2004.