By Carter B. Horsley
When the Women's House of Detention behind
the Jefferson Market Courthouse Library tower, designed by Vaux
& Withers in 1877, on Tenth Street west of the Avenue of the
Americas, was demolished, it was replaced by a large community
garden that fills the rest of the triangular block down past Ninth
The large Art-Deco jail had replaced much
of the larger Victorian-style court complex with fabulous clocktower
on the site. The clocktower remains and part of the courts
were converted to a library.
The garden, supported in part originally
by the Vincent Astor Foundation, is quite nice, with one little
problem: it is surrounded by a very tall, chicken-wire fence.
Gardens are little man-made manipulations
of nature designed either to provide food or visual sustenance.
How can the latter exist when it is overwhelmed by chicken wire
What is extraordinary is that no one in
Greenwich Village, to say nothing of the local and architectural
press, has gone on record protesting this outrage which has gone
on for about a quarter century!
This ugly fence should be taken down, or
replaced with a handsome cast-iron fence. Since the garden is
across the avenue from Balducci's, which is known for its fresh
produce, and began across Greenwich Avenue from the site, perhaps
it should help fund the new fence, or better yet, perhaps the
Jefferson Grocers, up the avenue one block, could do it and get
an handsome engraved sign honoring their civic mindedness just
large enough to be seen from inside the windows at Balducci's!
In the spring of 98, the fence came down
and was replaced by a low plywood fence with a small sign that
indicated "Not to worry" and that The Astor Foundation
had provided funding for the erection of a cast-iron fence around
the garden. Bravo!
There is an even more egregious chicken
wire fence that must be removed, the one enclosing the reservoir
in Central Park!
It is not attractive!
It is ugly!
These chicken-wire fences should be donated
to New Jersey.
How can the denmothers of the park, the
Central Park Conservancy, permit this? How can they dare ever
make any comment or suggestion about beautification, or the sanctity
of the park, or the need to appreciate nature, or man-made gardens,
or the environment , or, indeed, the marvelous present condition
of much of Central Park, and not immediately remove this obscenity
and replace it with a glorious cast-iron fence chosen by a panel
of landscape architects from an international design competition!
The Roadrunners Club perhaps should foot much of the bill as penance
for their members terrifying pedestrians and for their less than
always elegant attire. Frederick Law Olmstead and his associates
have provided plenty of inspiration for the design of a new fence
in their many bridges in the park. The fence should also not be
so high as to mar vistas of the surroundings that are among the
best in the world. There probably is no need for a fence at all
since seagulls like to lounge in the reservoir already and the
fence is not going to prevent a terrorist from mischief anyway.
A new fence conceivably could be emblazoned
with the name of the donor of the greatly lamented Children's
Zoo at 65th Street, whose generosity has been blasphemed by the
do-gooders of the city's Parks Department and the New York Zoological
Society to their lasting infamy!
Fences are enslaving. Fences are ignoble.
Fences are insulting. Fences deny freedom.
The annual Hispanic Day Parade is one of
New York's largest and colorful. In 1999, many of the more expensive
apartment buildings on Fifth Avenue took rather extravagant precaution
against the crowds by erecting temporary fences around their sidewalk
landscaping as shown above at 1035 Fifth Avenue and below at 1040
Fifth Avenue. The wooden fence at the latter is a little surprising
as it is generally considered a more elegant building.
Some fences, of course, are attractive such
as those in poems, those on large horse farms, or around Buckingham
Palace, or the former Andrew Carnegie mansion that is the Cooper-Hewitt
Museum overlooking the reservoir on Fifth Avenue and even those
quaint white picket fences somewhere in suburbia.
A New York Times article by Douglas Martin
April 19, 1998, entitled "Bewailing a Barrier in Central
Park, Some Visitors Say That Fence Obscures Beauty of Reservoir,"
specifically ignored this story that appeared in The City Review
March 15, 1997, a full year earlier.
Mr. Martin's story was pegged to the announcement
in April, 1998, that the Central Park Conservancy would spent
$500,000 to refurbish the jogging track aound the reservoir. The
plan contained "no plans to upgrade, miuch less remove, the
chain-link fence," Martin wrote, adding that the 8-foot-tall
fence was only a little over four feet tall before World War II.
"Within a few years, the city's Department
of Environmental Protection, which oversees the municipal
water supply, will give the lake to the Parks Department, which
has coveted it ever since Robert Moses dreamed of making it the
world's largest swimming pool.
"Only then, the Parks Commissioner, Henry
J. Stern, has said, will any alterations come, though he is not
sure of what sort. But he does promise tht the fence will
be gone," Martin's article continued.
Arthur Rosenblatt, an architect involved in
major museum restorations, was quoted in Martin's story was saying
that "There's nothing beautiful about chain-link fence,"
and Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, a founder of the Central Park Conservancy,
was quoted as recalling that the park's restoration plan, published
in 1976, suggested the possibilities of swimming, windsurfing,
boating and ice skating on the lake.
Perhaps the Conservancy might take a ride on
the park's fine carousel and gander at its "fence,"
shown below, for inspiration.