Last Thursday was the official unveiling and dedication of the restored Mosaic Trail poles as part of the Astor Place and Cooper Square renovation, which greatly expanded the pedestrian space in the area. Go check them out! The poles and bases were removed in 2014 as part of the overall work, which required digging up and rewiring the entire intersection. Seven of them have been now restored and returned. One pole was installed near completion, with some restoration work still needing to be done. Mr. Power will work on the spot when time, resources, and weather permitting.
Village Alliance Executive Director William Kelley emceed the event with Council Member Rosie Mendez, Wendy Feuer of the NYC Department of Transportation and Steve Zeitlin from City Lore (who serves as the fiscal sponsor handling grassroots contributions from the community and supporters of art form around the world). The crowd of dozens heard from local legend, photographer, rebel and gallerist Clayton Patterson, and poet and performer Bob Holman, as well as GVSHP. The incoming chair of Community Board #2, Terri Cude, was present as colorful parachutes were removed to show the poles standing in all their glory.
Many accolades were bestowed upon Mr. Power and his team, and the work they did. Special thanks were given to Julie Powell, Jim Power’s assistant, for all her work, and to Howard Brandstein and the 6th Street Community Center for opening their doors and hosting Mr. Power for much of the restoration work he did to get the mosaic poles back in shape and ready to be re-installed.
The iconic poles had been in storage for awhile thanks to NYCDOT, who moved and placed them in their rightful place last week. The newly re-installed mosaic poles look much like classical columns — not from ancient ruins, but from a continually transforming neighborhood and city.
The Reconstruction of Astor Place and Cooper Square was announced as early as 2011. The project goals were to enlarge Cooper Park, streamline the street grid, and create new permanent pedestrian plazas.
When the project was first announced, GVSHP had three major concerns, all of which we are glad have been addressed. Of course, we wanted a unique publicly accessible space to remain an open public resource, and there it is, without any walls. But we specifically wanted the historic presence and direction of Stuyvesant and Astor Place, some of the oldest streets in New York City, marked and preserved. Granite inlays now note their presence. GVSHP wrote to the Public Design Commission in 2011 about this issue.
Secondly, like so many others, we wanted to ensure the return of the Alamo sculpture (sometimes known as “The Cube”). And now it has been returned, and it’s still spinnable, especially if you have a few friends, or even a stranger, help you.
And finally, GVSHP wanted the work mosaic work of Mr. Power restored and returned.
The special spot they occupy has for hundreds of years served as a vibrant crossroads and place of meeting. The presence of what was one of many Native American trails though this space is memorialized with inlays in granite, marking this as a place of travel and gathering even before the European encounter and the influx of Dutch and English immigrants. Mr. Power included reference to the earliest Americans — from natives, to colonists, to immigrants — in letters and images on one of the poles.
Mr. Power has gifted our city with bits of ceramic and shell and glass on formerly grey and utilitarian lamp poles, noting our local history and heroes, from the speech of Abraham Lincoln at Cooper Union to concerts of the Fillmore East. The events of 9-11, to the Second Avenue explosion, the Museum of the Gangster, Black Sabbath performances, and everything in between are noted in the mosaics. Mr. Power has graced a sometimes grey and forbidding city with eclectic and colorful bric a brac that has assumed monumental proportions in what they represent.
While the work of the mosaic man emerged from one singular genius, it certainly took a village, or villages and an Alliance, to have them restored and returned to where they are today. After the dedication Mr. Power led the assembled crowd on a tour of the Mosaic Trail, explaining some of his inspiration in the final look of the poles.
While they no longer shed actual light, the Mosaic Poles continue to be a welcoming and creative beacon.
We are grateful to all of the entities, agencies and individuals involved to make this initiative a success. And you too can support it. There is a giving page set up by Village Alliance BID and managed by City Lore here.
Thank you Mr. Power for helping NYC show it’s brightest side.