Don't Fence Me In

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 Street.

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 fencing?

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! Hint, hint.

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!

Unsightly Central Park reservoir fence

Central Park Reservoir fence is unsightly

It is not attractive!

It is ugly!

Central Park Reservoir fence

Unattractive fence around Central Park Reservoir

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.

Temporary fence at 1035 Fifth Avenue

Rather impressive temporary fence

against parade watchers at 1035 Fifth Avenue

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.

1040 Fifth Avenue wooden fence

Temporary fence against parade watchers at 1040 Fifth Avenue

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.

Central Park carrousel fence


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