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Lost Gem
Maggie's Garden 1 Gardens undefined

Maggie's Garden

The shaded garden on 149th street was not always the peaceful hideaway it is today. It was once an abandoned lot littered with garbage - a blight on the side street. Although the garden is now managed by Edo, it was her good friend Miss Maggie Burnett, a resident of the building across the street since the 1980s, who was the original driving force behind its transformation. "She was a cop, so no one messed with her, " Jahanah, Edo’s daughter, told me when I stopped by one Saturday afternoon during the summer of 2017. She was in the garden selling baked goods and cold water. She said that there were "so many badass stories" connected with Maggie. One such legend was that Maggie stopped a shooting outside simply by confronting the instigators and saying, "Not in my garden. ” In fact, she had been known to almost single-handedly police the street. Her dedication to keeping the neighborhood clean and safe is what drove her to contact then-mayor Ed Koch to request the restoration of the abandoned lot, which had long been a site for illegal activity. Mayor Koch offered her the space, and Maggie made it into a garden where she grew vegetables and even kept some chickens, “which was a nice treat for me to hear in the city, ” Edo shared. When the New York Restoration Project - founded by Bette Midler - became involved in 2002, the garden was revamped. Thanks to generous funding from the Brownstone Family Foundation, a team of horticulturists and landscape architects was able to design a place that would best serve the community. Maggie’s Garden officially reopened in 2003 in a ceremony hosted by Bette Midler and attended by guests such as former President Bill Clinton and Representative Charles Rangel. Although Maggie passed away in 2016, she remained devoted to maintaining her garden well into her eighties. “It’s visibly noticed that she’s no longer here, and you feel the absence of Maggie, because she did keep things clean, ” Edo reminisced, adding, “She was almost like a neighborhood staple. ” Edo has done her best to keep the legacy alive, explaining that she is just “tinkering in Maggie’s shadows. ” Edo does, however, allow her own philosophy on gardening to influence her modifications. As we walked down the path to the central arbor draped in hanging vines, Edo showed us the newest wind chime she was planning on putting up. “Part of gardening for me is using all of the senses, ” she explained. For this reason, she has planted more colorful flowers “to give the garden more personality, ” while also including sounds that serve as a pleasant backdrop for anyone resting on one of the benches arranged along the gravel paths. We were curious to find out about the members of the garden and their role in supporting it. Edo told us that anyone can be a member as long as they attend monthly meetings and do their shift working the soil. There are even areas specifically designated for members to grow new plants, and although they do not generally grow much food, we were assured that whatever they do harvest will be shared as a communal meal with all members. “That’s what this is for - sharing. ”

Lost Gem
Hispanic Society Museum & Library 1 Museums Libraries undefined

Hispanic Society Museum & Library

“There is no other institution that celebrates the cultural richness of the Hispanic world like the Hispanic Society, ” said Public Relations Director Mencia Figueroa. The Society sprung from wealthy New Yorker Archer Huntington’s dream to “condense the soul of Spain into meanings through works of the hand and spirit. ” He meticulously documented his progress in his journals, which are preserved by the Society today. As a child, his family’s travels to the National Gallery in London and the Louvre in Paris convinced Archer that “a museum is the grandest thing in the world. ” His journeys through Spain instilled in him an abiding love for Spanish culture. From then on, he began amassing a collection of books, newspapers, and magazine clippings, which he would display in wooden boxes that he used as makeshift galleries. Later visits to Mexico fueled both his passion for Hispanic art and his determination to share these great works with New York. Though skeptical of his son’s ambitions, Huntington Sr. — a railroad and shipyard tycoon — eventually supported Archer’s endower and gave him the money to buy land on 155th Street. This would allow Archer to open the Hispanic Society as a real museum and library that was accessible to the public. Archer then granted the remaining plots of land on the street to other museums, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Museum of the American Indian, the Heye Foundation, and the American Geographical Society.

Lost Gem
American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters 1 Headquarters and Offices Art and Photography Galleries undefined

American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters

Before I even stepped foot into the American Academy of Arts & Letters, my attention was caught by the elaborate sculptural bronze doors at the entrance. Created by Academy member Adolph Alexander Weinman and dedicated to fellow member Mary Wilkins Freeman, the doors represent literature, fine arts, and music. They are a fitting first sight for an institute that is devoted to honoring the greatest American artists, architects, composers, and writers and encouraging further great works. The first room that the Manhattan Sideways team entered was the Portrait Gallery, a breathtaking space lined from floor to ceiling with framed pictures of the hundreds of renowned members of the Academy. The photographs are arranged by date of induction, dating back to the Academy's inception in 1898. While walking around the impressive display, the Manhattan Sideways team and I spotted familiar faces, including Toni Morrison, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Frost, and E. B. White. Cody Upton, the Academy’s Executive Director, remarked that they will soon need to create more space to accommodate pictures of their newest inductees. Membership is capped at 250, and once selected, inductees are members for life. When we visited in 2017, playwright Sam Shephard had recently passed away, so there was a lot of discussion concerning who would replace him. Cody explained how the system works: Members send in nominations to the Academy, and vacancies are broken down by department, so those within the department in question get the first vote on the nominees. A similar process is undertaken to select the recipients of the seventy awards and prizes presented in the ceremonial held each May, which is also when the new members are inducted into the Academy. Not only is it a great honor to be selected, but according to Cody, it is amazing to be part of a process in which “very illustrious artists single out their peers. ”In discussing the passing of Sam Shephard, Cody revealed that one of the more fascinating and touching traditions of the Academy is to hold a memorial service, during which the family of the departed selects one of his or her peers to deliver a eulogy that “pays tribute to a deceased artist. ” These eulogies are some of the most significant works stored in the Academy library, Cody shared, since many of them showcase “the greatest writers writing about other writers. ”As we continued browsing through the pictures on the wall, we were curious to learn more about how the diversity and demographic of the members might have changed over the years. Cody clarified that although the Academy was once “kind of like a boys’ club, ” that is not the case anymore. Rather, the artists selected for membership “reflect the changing attitudes of America over the course of the twentieth century - progressively more liberal as time moved on. ” To illustrate, he pointed out the portrait of Julia Ward Howe, famed for writing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic, " who was the first woman to join the Academy's ranks in 1907. Nevertheless, no further women were selected until the induction of Edith Wharton and Mary Wilkins Freeman in 1926 - a significant gap that alludes to the conservative beginnings of the Academy. One can compare that to the new members in 2016: Out of seventeen total inductees, twelve were women. Cody directed our attention to the stained-glass windows outside of the Portrait Gallery. The windows belonged to Arabella Huntington but were donated to the Academy by her son, Archer Huntington, who was also responsible for deeding the Academy its location on 155th Street, where it has remained since 1923. The heir of a railroad magnate as well as a notable poet and Hispanophile, Archer Huntington used his wealth to cultivate culture in the city. Specifically, he purchased the entirety of the property now known as Audubon Terrace and apportioned it to organizations such as the Hispanic Society of America and the American Academy of Arts and Letters in order to preserve vital works of art and literature. He also donated several pieces of furniture and rugs from his personal collection that are still on display in the building today. "[Huntington] bankrolled us, and we are still using the money that he gave to us in the 1930s, " Cody explained. Other members have followed Huntington's example - “Much of the artwork throughout the space is either by our members or given to us by our members. ” The same is true of the expansive library on the upper floor of the building, which solely contains volumes written for or about the Academy members. As extraordinary as the main building is, we were just as enthusiastic to explore the auditorium, constructed in 1930 as an attachment to the original structure. It is a stunning space, with the classic ambiance of an old-world theater, complete with red velvet drapes and chairs and a high arched ceiling. It has some of the best acoustics in the city, Cody informed us. Those that are fortunate enough to be "in the know" take advantage of the unparalleled acoustics when preparing live recordings of their music. “Only a few musical or theatrical companies know about it, but more people should, ” he added. Needless to say, this was the most fitting conclusion to my journey, walking from 1st Street to 155th and from the East River to the Hudson. As the owner of a children's bookstore and the daughter of a renowned author, discovering this hidden gem in Manhattan was a perfect last stop.

Lost Gem
Jenny's Garden   Riverside Valley Community Garden 1 Gardens For Kids undefined

Jenny's Garden - Riverside Valley Community Garden

"You're lucky to meet her today; she's famous in this area. " This is how I was greeted by two lovely women who were busy at work in the beautiful garden that I discovered on 138th and Riverside Drive. And they were absolutely correct. What an amazing lady Jenny Benitez turned out to be. At eighty-six years old, she was working the land as if she were still in her twenties. Her enthusiasm, her spirit and her belief in the flowers, trees and plants that she has been cultivating since 1980 has got to be an inspiration to anyone who has the pleasure of meeting her. When I asked Jenny if we could sit for a moment and have her share her story, she immediately settled down and began. Thirty-five years ago, in the early 1980s, this area was a "real mess. " The space where we were sitting had been filled with drugs and nothing but garbage, abandoned cars and debris. "It was real bad, " Jenny reflected. She was living on Riverside Drive, just opposite the park, and was raising four children. She needed a place for them to play and decided that she was going to take it upon herself to clean up this space. With her husband by her side every step of the way, until he passed away in 2016, they cleaned it up and have kept it going all these years. Today, the gardens and park area extend from 135th up until 143rd Street. On 138th, there are sixteen small plots that are community gardens within the gates of Jenny's Garden. People in the neighborhood pay a small fee and are allowed to plant whatever they would like, but they must maintain it and also lend a hand in taking care of the rest of the property. One of the volunteers I spoke to was proud to show me her patch of soil decorated with pinwheels and colorful trinkets, and the impressive cucumbers almost ready to be harvested. She also mentioned that the couple tending to the land adjacent to hers was vacationing for the summer, so she took it upon herself to plant tomatoes and eggplants in their soil for when they return. If Jenny feels that volunteers are not contributing their share of the work, she does not hesitate to ask them to leave. Jenny's true passion, however, are the endless vegetable patches that include broccoli, collard greens, eggplant, string beans, potatoes, Swiss chard and so much more. On our guided tour, Jenny proudly pointed out her fruit trees including pear, peach, apple, cherry, plum and even apricot. "This is all for the homeless, " she announced. "There is a church on Riverside Drive and 114th Street that I donate everything we grow. "As we continued to stroll through the pathways, we discovered a butterfly garden. Jenny stopped here and said that she always imagined this to be a fun spot for children to come and discover. There were butterflies fluttering about as well as numerous birds singing and flying to and from the different trees. And when we were there in the middle of the summer of 2017, the pink and blue hydrangea were in full bloom, the roses were getting ready to come out, and there were a variety of lilies, hibiscus and numerous other flowering plants making it not only look gorgeous, but also smell heavenly. What an oasis in the middle of our city, not only for children, but for adults as well. I was fascinated by what this woman had created in the middle of New York. I had so many questions. Where did she get the water, initially? "Oh, that was easy, " she declared. I ran a long hose from my apartment window, across the street and into the garden. Several years back, the Trust for Public Land provided a water source and then Jenny said that today, in 2017, they are busy building an irrigation system. "Green Thumb sent me two groups of students from Bronx Science and Stuyvesant High School. " Together, they have already built benches and greenhouses. She then added that Columbia University provided fences, at one point, to help her to protect the land. How did Jenny manage to remove the dozens of homeless people who were living in the park? "I just began cleaning the place up and I had conversations with each of them. " Slowly, she moved them out. "I was not displacing them, I was just taking care of nature, " she joyfully exclaimed. "By the time they were leaving, I had them all calling me Mama. " Jenny then went on to tell us that she had done this "practically on my own, " with the help of her husband, her own kids and the children in the neighborhood. "Honestly, I don't know how I did this. I went to sleep one day and woke up and this was here, " she said with a big smile. Jenny has been living at the same address on Riverside Drive for some fifty-five years and has had the extreme pleasure of watching the neighborhood change and change again. When I inquired about her relationship with the city, Jenny responded, "The city doesn't give me any problems. I give them problems. " She then continued, "I planted whatever I pleased then and to this day, I still do. " I then learned that Jenny was a school teacher, but retired in 2002. At that time, the River Park Conservancy offered her a small salary to keep going with her gardening project, and as she put it, "I am still on it, " and then added, "You cannot imagine how much I love it. I wish I could write, I have so much to tell - chapters and chapters to share - but God gives different energies to each of us. My gift is to communicate with the people and to bring magnificence to New York. "

Lost Gem
Mirabal Sisters Cultural & Community Center 1 Social Services Non Profit Organizations undefined

Mirabal Sisters Cultural & Community Center

Founded in 1990 by a group of Dominican immigrants, the Mirabal Sisters Center devotes itself to living up to the legacy of its namesake by fighting against injustice. The Mirabal Sisters, three Dominican heroines who protested Trujillo’s brutal dictatorship and were martyred for their cause, serve as a central inspiration as the organization works to serve its community, people of color and working class families in particular. The Center has led a series of initiatives over the years, such as youth programs that educate adolescents on substance abuse, a partnership with public schools to arrange for more after-school activities, and a cultural program with a focus on arts and crafts. In 2017, the organization has focused most of its efforts on a collaboration with the Urban Justice Center and tenant associations in order to support the rights of tenants. Pio Tejada, brother to Luis Tejada, the head the organization, explained to us that the increasing gentrification of the city - and Harlem especially - has resulted in numerous conflicts between landlords and tenants. “Landlords are trying to drive off and profit from tenants, ” he said, citing examples of escalating rent prices in non-rent-controlled buildings and even sabotage to the facilities to force residents to pay additional maintenance fees. To help right the injustices being wrought against tenants, the Center holds open consulting hours every Tuesday and Thursday, during which anyone from the five boroughs are welcome to bring up their concerns and grievances. In return, the Center offers advice and connections to legal counsel or similar organizations that can aid tenants in the fight for fair treatment. The Center is Luis’ passion project, almost entirely self-funded, since it is a relatively small organization that has difficulty garnering significant support. “Work like this can only be done from the heart, ” Pio insisted with pride, sharing how his brother, once a high school teacher and university professor, left academia to start the Center out of a genuine desire to help others. Much of their work involves educating the community on their rights as renters, since a common issue that Luis and Pio face is people’s lack of trust in the system. Many are resigned to mistreatment and do not believe that their circumstances can change for the better, so it is the Center’s job to encourage people to speak up.

Lost Gem
Fortune Society & Castle Gardens 1 Non Profit Organizations undefined

Fortune Society & Castle Gardens

As I reached the end of 140th Street, I was intrigued by an imposing structure designed to resemble a castle on the corner of Riverside Drive. Further investigation revealed that the building, aptly known as “the Castle, ” was opened by the Fortune Society in 2002 as a housing unit for those with a history of incarceration who are in need of a place to reside. The adjacent building, Castle Gardens, opened in 2010 as an expanded version of the original program that allowed for long-term rather than just temporary housing. The residence is designed to facilitate the tenants’ transition into society after their incarceration and reduce the number of repeat offenders. Residents are assessed on an individual basis to determine the best course of action for them, including their projected length of stay and what programs they might need the most in order to readjust smoothly. To this end, the Fortune Society offers services in education, counseling, and career planning. Just as importantly, the shared housing creates a community that helps combat the feelings of isolation that commonly afflict the formerly incarcerated. Since opening its doors, the Castle has housed and helped nearly 1, 000 people. Yet this is only one of several efforts the Fortune Society is involved in that aim to correct the injustices of what can be an excessively harsh penal system. The Society has a series of programs that improve the lives of the formerly incarcerated, such as readily available mental health services, treatment for substance abuse, a nutrition program that encompasses both free meals and cooking lessons, and even opportunities in the arts. In addition to this, it tries to attack the root of the issue through its Alternatives to Incarceration programs, which seek to reduce the potential for reoffending by providing adequate mental healthcare and various other support services.