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Wonderful Wednesdays: The Mosaic Man’s Work, and Hudson River Piles, Both Live On

Today you may be shaking your head over the Landmarks Preservation Commission’s shocking plan to de-calendar some 100 buildings from landmark consideration. But there’s plenty of good news in our neighborhoods as well. Feel free to send your observations from the sunny side of the street to kloew@gvshp.org.

From light poles come sculptures

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One of the poles to be removed and reinstalled. Photo courtesy village Alliance.

The ongoing project to remake Astor Place and Cooper Square to increase pedestrian mobility and make the area a greater public space is having a collateral effect on beloved East Village folk art: the removal of lightpole mosaics by “Mosaic Man” Jim Power.

Lightpoles that Power had decorated with his local, colorful, historical designs had to be removed for the construction project, with a different model of lightpole slated to replace them in the new design. The question of what would happen to Power’s creations became a question for DOT, Power, and the Village Alliance – the business improvement district that functions as the city’s maintenance partner for Astor Place – to answer. Following a sometimes bumpy negotiation process, Village Alliance Executive Director William Kelley is happy to report that a new plan has been developed, which would reinstall Power’s poles as freestanding artworks.

“It would reincorporate them as decorative art pieces rather than functional ones,” Kelley told Off the Grid. There actually are two options for how to achieve this, which will be discussed at a public meeting of the joint Community Board 2 and 3 Astor Place Task Force on Tuesday, December 9 at Grace Church High School, 46 Cooper Square, at 6:30 p.m.

Years in the making, the overall Astor Place project involves the usual city mix of interlocking agencies, approvals, budgets, and timelines. If the Task Force, and then the Community Boards, approve a “sculpture plan,” then it will go to the Public Design Commission. If the Design Commission approves it soon, then this plan can be enacted as a change order to the current construction process – and Power’s poles can be back in Astor Place by springtime, Kelley said.

Jim Power stands by one of his lightpoles on Second Avenue, with his trusty companion, Jessie Jane. Photo by Elizabeth Avedon.

Reached today by Off the Grid, Power sounded exhausted and exhilarated in turns by his own ambition and the community’s reaction to it. “I set out to do 80 lightpoles to crown this place the colony of art of the world,” said Power, 67, who would like to honor and document even more local personalities and past and present events than he has so far. He’s feeling his age and injuries, however, and to realize his vision he says he needs a four-person crew and a reasonable budget. (He says he presently makes less than $200 per month in donations.) He points out that a respected British art journal dubbed him the Gaudi of the East Village, after the Spanish artist, architect and “mosaic man,” Antoni Gaudí.

“What they’re about to do with me is fabulous. Don’t get me wrong,” Power said. But if health and financing allow, there’s so much more he wants to accomplish. Indeed, his many fans are relieved that his creations won’t disappear along with the Astor Place we used to know.

Pile fields are forever

The picturesque pile fields in the Hudson River are not exactly news – they just stand there being lapped by water, providing habitat for aquatic life, and inspiring wistful feelings. What may be news to you is that — unlike other mellow reminders of earlier times — they are not in any danger [of the manmade variety, at least] of disappearing. That’s because, as Hudson River Park Trust Vice President of Environment and Education Nicolette Witcher told us: “Among the Park’s most unique assets is its 400-acre Hudson River Estuarine Sanctuary. Designated by New York State in 1998, Hudson River Park’s estuarine sanctuary and the ecological abundance it supports have informed virtually every aspect of the Park’s planning and operations, including its decision to retain piles throughout the park.”

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A futuristic new pier may join the old pile fields.

The piles have actually been in the news lately, due to the out-of-the-blue proposal to build a new “Pier 55” on the site of the current, deteriorating Pier 54. While GVSHP is not sure this in particular is a great idea, we are delighted that the piles still aren’t going anywhere. “The Trust retained timber piles that are remnants of the former Pier 56, which is located just north of the existing Pier 54 site. The Trust plans to retain these piles as well as the piles within the current footprint of Pier 54 once the unsafe concrete decking of that pier has been removed,” Witcher wrote to us.

Within Hudson River Park, there are about seven areas where clusters of piles are clearly visible, she said: “A few locations in the Greenwich Village area that are easy to spot include a pile field aligning with Morton Street (just north of Pier 40) , the western end of Pier 46 (across from Charles Street), and a pile field just north of those locations that aligns with Bank Street.”

Community Board 2’s Parks & Waterfront Committee is hearing a presentation on the Pier 55 plan tonight.


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