1974 – 1981
The Corner Garden
In 1974, on a vacant lot at the southwest corner of LaGuardia Place & West 3d Street, a loosely formed group of Village residents began to garden.
In the summer of 1980, the land was sold for development. The Corner Garden, as it was known, ended with the arrival of a bulldozer.
LaGuardia Corner Gardens
In the spring of 1981, several of the gardeners, led by Cheryl Small, Norma Turrill, Susan Kocki, Gean Mathwig, David Blake, Sandy Klabunde, and others, formed LaGuardia Corner Gardens, Inc., as a 501(3)(c) non-profit corporation.
The gardeners negotiated with NYC’s GreenThumb program and Community Board 2 to move the garden to barren land a block south, on city property adjacent to a supermarket.
After many Community Board meetings and hearings, and over some opposition but with the overwhelming support of the majority of local residents, the garden obtained approval to develop the space as a garden.
1981 was spent getting estimates for a fence, planning a water system, laying out plots, and raising money. The perimeter flower border and the pathway around the garden were negotiated with GreenThumb and the Parks Committee of CB2, chaired by Anthony Dapolito.
That summer the top soil from the West 3d Street garden was moved, by court order, to the new site.
1982 – 2013
The Work Begins
By May 1982, the garden had an eight-foot high chain link fence. The garden members set aside a weekend to lay out the garden and spread the soil.
Armed with sifters and wheelbarrows, the gardeners spread the dirt and removed the rubble, which was mostly broken bricks left over from the tenements that had stood on the site. Strings were laid out and plots were assigned. Some used the rubble for their pathways. A wood shed was built to house the tools. And the planting began. Gean Mathwig was the first gardener to plant her plot.
In the spring of 1983, garden members installed boards between the plots. In the summer, Jeffrey Rowland and others broke up the bricks for the perimeter path bed.
The Water System
Water was siphoned from a barrel filled from a fire hydrant outside the entrance to the garden. David Dorfman and Jeffrey Rowland then built an above-ground water system from PVC pipes. They connected the pipes to the hydrant with a hose, which was later suspended overhead to make it semi-permanent. Estimates were sought for a permanent connection to the water.
During the summer members of the garden and Ken Green, Director of GreenThumb, held a party to celebrate the garden’s progress.
In April 1985 an underground connection to the water supply was installed, making the garden self-sufficient.
2014 to 2021
Improvements & Repairs
The garden has celebrated its Silver Jubilee. It has gone through several sheds and more than a few tools. The chain link around the north garden fence has been replaced. White marble chips were added to the path around the perimeter of the garden. And many of the boards between the plots have been replaced.
In the winter of 2019-2020, the Parks Department installed a new rod-iron fence around the garden.
The Future of LaGuardia Corner Gardens
LaGuardia Corner Gardens is on land owned by the NYC Dept. of Transportation. LCG’s members have sought to transfer the site to the NYC Dept. of Parks in order to protect the garden from development. Both Community Board 2 and our NYC Council Member support the transfer. So why hasn’t it happened? NYU has likely blocked the transfer.
NYU owns the land of the one-story supermarket adjacent to the garden, as well as the superblock comprising the Silver Towers and the Washington Square Village. In 2012, the city council approved NYUs massive expansion plan, which included construction of 4 new buildings, one of them at the Morton Williams Supermarket site. As one of the concessions to the neighborhood, NYU offered the city the option to build a public school at the supermarket site. Initially, the school was to be integrated into an NYU building. However, as of 2021, NYU had no plans to build on the site, in which case the school would be a stand-alone building. If the City decides not to build a school there, NYU can build on the site at a later time without restrictions. The deadline for the School Construction Authority to exercise the option to build a public school at the site was moved back several times until 2021.
2021 – present
The future of the garden remains uncertain
In November 2021, the School Construction Authority finally declared their intention to build a public school at the Morton Williams Supermarket site. At this time, the school was planned to serve students with disabilities from across New York City.
Meanwhile, NYU finished the construction of a large multi-use building on Mercer Street, now called Paulson Center. During the negotiations of NYU’s expansion plan prior to its approval, NYU promised to integrate a supermarket into the new building. However, this promise was broken and no space for a supermarket was allocated. Instead, NYU offered a 20 year lease to Morton Williams (albeit with a demolition clause).
The current situation is thus: The supermarket would have to make way for a public school. There is no similar supermarket in the area. No alternative site for a supermarket of the same size has been identified.
Members of the community created the organization Save Our Supermarket (SOS) to preserve a supermarket in the area, ideally at the same site. Early in 2023, SOS representatives met with public officials and the School Construction Authority and learned that any school to be built at the site would be for pre-K to 5th-grade students from the neighborhood. A final decision will be made at the end of 2023 after the need for school seats has been established.
What does all of this mean for La Guardia Corner Gardens?
Our future remains uncertain. The School Construction Authority indicated that the area of the garden would be used to stage equipment during school construction, which is projected to take 2 years. Their idea is to return the land (then destroyed and contaminated) to the community after construction is completed.
We are aligning with SOS in the fight for an alternative site for the school, not the supermarket. This would preserve the garden and the supermarket for as long as NYU has no further plans to build at the site.
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