Have you heard about the exciting progress on the restoration of the beautiful mosaic-covered lamp poles as part of the Astor Place Reconstruction? Maybe you’ve even seen one of the poles installed, now wrapped like a fig tree in the winter awaiting the official unveiling in September. The progress has been tracked by The Villager newspaper, and Village Preservation’s Instagram page.
Jim Powers, aka the Mosaic Man, who is responsible for the mosaics which first began to pop up on lampposts in the east Village, especially around Astor Place, about thirty years ago, has been hard at work to finish seven poles for the grand opening of the redesigned plaza later this year. Village Preservation has been tracking the progress, and trying to help it along in several ways.
The Astor Place/Cooper Square Reconstruction project, spearheaded by the NYC Department of Transportation with local collaboration from the Village Alliance BID, has been years in the making. The re-installation of the unique mosaic creations will affirm and highlight the importance of local artists and creatives who have made the East Village what it is. This seems more important now than ever, as the unique hand-tiled poles will stand in stark contrast to some of the out-of -context developments to the north and south.
Jim Power has been at it for over thirty years. His artworks withstood even Mayor’s Giuliani’s Anti-Graffiti Task Force, which actually removed many of the original mosaics installations. Jim Power later garnered a proclamation signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2004 thanking him for “beautifying the city with distinctive, artful mosaics.”
His first mosaic piece was around a tree pit in front of the St. Marks Hotel. Since then he has dedicated much of his time to creating the renowned Mosaic Trail which runs from 8th Street to Tompkins Square Park.
Power has received incredible support from community members over the years, but only 25-30% of the original lamp posts remain. Seven posts remained along 8th Street between Lafayette Street and Third Avenue, though they were removed to make way for the construction of new Astor Place plazas. The City and the Village Alliance has committed that these will all be restored and returned.
GVSHP has been working with all parties to help ensure that this promise becomes reality. Thanks to Howard at 6th Street Community Center who answered the call for a local space able to host Mr. Power and his team in his important work of reconstructing the mosaics on the posts.
Besides the mosaics, in 2011 GVSHP asked that any changes to Astor Place and Stuyvesant Street respect and preserve the historic street patterns as they are pedestrianized and reworked as part of this project. Stuyvesant Street, Astor Place, and the Bowery are among the oldest streets in New York. GVSHP recommended that their former routes should be made plainly clear in the design, and their paths should continue to be distinct, with a permanent commitment that the memorialization of these highly‐significant historic roadbeds be maintained in perpetuity. The historic street patterns are being recognized with granite inlays in curb markings that reflect the previous path of the streets. There are three such treatments in total in the final design now under way, with two already visible. We are glad to have played a role in that successful outcome.
And you can help support Jim Powers’ mosaic restoration work as well. While the mosaics are an official part of the redesign, Mr. Power is working on a limited budget. Coupled with his mobility in an assisted chair, there are a lot of personal challenges he overcomes everyday in his work to add beauty to the city.
And if you are a business or interested in larger direct support, contact them to discuss possibilities of a sponsorship.
Jim Powers and fellow artists are committing over 50 hours a week to rehabilitate the poles to their former glory, which is no small task. Though an arguably small piece of this dense and complicated crossroads, the mosaics are an essential part of that makes this gateway to the East Village, NoHo, and Greenwich Village so special, dynamic, and unique. We’re doing everything we can to make sure the mosaics continue on for generations to appreciate and to continue to define this neighborhood. Now you can too.