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From Condemned Land to National Monument: Christopher Park

Christopher Park sign. Photo courtesy of the Christopher Park Alliance.

Christopher Park has come a long way; beginning its life as a condemned parcel of land on April 5, 1837, the park was born, transformed, and eventually born again as a National Monument.  The park is public space, historic space, and adored by Village residents and visitors alike.  In many ways, Christopher Park reflects everything we love about the Village: it’s open, inviting, historic, political, and pretty.

Christopher Park. Photo courtesy of http://iwalkedaudiotours.com.

Since the land for the park was condemned for this use, it has served as much needed public space for the West Village neighborhood.  However, the story of the land goes back well before its condemnation for parkland to the late 1700’s.  Between 1789 and 1829, Christopher Street was subdivided into lots and blocks were laid out along its length.  However, these blocks were laid out in irregular configurations as Greenwich Village did not conform to a standard grid plan and many oddly shaped blocks were created.  In the early 1820’s, the area saw an increase in population (following the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1822) and Christopher Street was crowded with newcomers.  This eventually led to a fire in 1835 and the outcry from residents to have the parcel of land between Christopher and Grove Streets, west of Waverly Place, turned into much-needed open space.  After two years, the City acceded to the resident’s petitioning and the land was condemned on April 5, 1837, paving the way for it to become a neighborhood park.

These statues by George Segal are titled Gay Liberation in honor of gay rights and the Village’s rich history in this area. Unveiled in 1992, these statues reside at Christopher Park, across the street from the Stonewall Inn.

Christopher Park today is a vibrant and well-maintained park.  In 1983, Friends of Christopher Park, a community volunteer group dedicated to maintaining and beautifying the park, helped raise over $130,000 for restoration work.  The park is also home to George Segal’s “Gay Liberation” statues, as the park is a stone’s throw from Stonewall, the site of the 1969 riot and beginning of the modern LGBT Rights movement.  The park is managed through a private-public partnership between the National Park Service, NYC Parks Dept., and the Christopher Park Alliance, along with support from community residents and volunteers.

Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Barack Obama, second from right, stands with Congressman Jerrold Nadler at a dedication ceremony officially designating the Stonewall Inn as a national monument to gay rights on June 27, 2016 in New York City. (Credit: Getty Images / Spencer Platt)

On June 24, 2016, Christopher Park was designated the Stonewall National Monument, becoming the first U.S. National Monument dedicated to LGBT rights and history.  GVSHP co-nominated the park, inn, and nearby streets for a National Register of Historic Places (NHRP) listing in the late 1990s, and the area became an NRHP-listed site on June 28, 1999, making it the nation’s first NRHP listing, out of more than 70,000 listings that existed back then, to be dedicated exclusively to LGBT history.  On June 23, 2015, after a year and a half campaign led by GVSHP, the Stonewall Inn became a New York City landmark, making it the first city landmark based upon LGBT history.  The Stonewall Inn’s landmark designation was followed by lobbying for the inn and the adjacent park to be designated a National Monument, and a year later in 2016 President Obama officially signed that designation into effect.

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