Washington Square Music Festival Dramatically Scaled Back Performances at Washington Square Park This Year Due to Park Redesign; Final Concert of 54th Season Tonight

Charles Mingus Orchestra on previous stage at WSP

Updated-There is a story behind the scaled back number of concerts the Washington Square Music Festival is performing this year at Washington Square Park. Traditionally, the Festival, which has performed in its namesake park for 54 years, would present four or five concerts each season at the landmark park. This year, the number of concerts taking place was scaled back to two. The other performances have taken place at nearby St. Joseph’s Church, traditionally the ‘rain date’ venue. The final concert of the season takes place tonight at Washington Square.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told the New York Times that the festival “kept clear of the park it was named for this summer, partly because of construction and partly because the music on its first two programs was better suited to the festival’s rain space — St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, on Sixth Avenue at Waverly Place — than to the traditional outdoor setting.”

However, that’s not entirely accurate; perhaps she didn’t think the New York Times was going to care about all the specifics behind this decision but Ms. Friedman knew this blog would. It would be hard for any one involved in the years’ long saga behind the park’s redesign not to have known that the stage would ultimately not work out for the Music Festival. Last year was the first year the Washington Square Music Festival (WSMF) performed on it after Phase II opened in June.

The reconfigured stage was forced upon the community and the park by the Parks Department despite the concerns the Music Festival – and pretty much everyone involved – expressed. The WSMF said publicly upon viewing the plans that they anticipated problems with the sight lines, the size of the stage, the height of the stage (28″ versus a standard and acceptable 36″), the fact that there is no railing, and no real back stage.

One of the ‘stipulations’ of the (basically non-binding) “Gerson-Quinn Agreement” was that the redesigned stage work for the Washington Square Music Festival. (The Gerson-Quinn Agreement was an intervention of sorts by former NY City Council Member Alan Gerson – WSP fell in his district – and Council Speaker Christine Quinn – neighboring parts of Greenwich Village were, and are, in her district – which acted as a quasi-blueprint to alleviate some of the concerns the community had about park’s redesign.) It was clear all along that it wouldn’t.

However, if the Music Festival had spoken up to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in April of 2009 before Phase II was approved and stated ‘it just wouldn’t work,’ the Parks Department and designer George Vellonakis would have had to go back to the drawing board. Instead, the WSMF told the Landmarks Preservation Commission they reluctantly supported the plans. The reason the organization did not (and I gather felt it could not) speak out is because they are under the “auspices” of the Washington Square Association — which was in favor of the Bloomberg Administration’s redesign of the park. And so, they sealed their fate and the fate of others who would utilize the stage by not speaking out.

Executive Director Peggy Friedman told me before the season started why the Music Festival had scaled back this year:

We faced two challenges last summer on the new stage that need to be addressed  1) the total lack of security and the inability to contact police help 2) the overwhelming heat now that the trees that used to surround the stage near Garibaldi have been cut down.  We are hiring private security which is a considerable new expense and probably performing in the Wenger Wagon, a covered stage which must be rented from Parks, another new expenseTherefore we have designed two indoor concerts of music that is more appropriate in a controlled, indoor space.  It is cheaper to do concerts indoors and St. Joseph’s has been very generous to us.

Shortly after the 2009 LPC hearing at which the new stage was addressed, a comment came in to this blog with some interesting feedback from reader Elton:

“Praise be to Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz for her stand in redirecting the Phase II design proposals toward stated community needs. Another community need I feel is getting very short shrift in Phase II is the PERFORMANCE STAGE. Its design and location should be restudied, especially in the light of potentially expanding long-range uses of the park, and in line with the recommendations envisioned by many park-use evaluations. For instance, in past seasons, attending musical performances at Teen Plaza, one must contend with competition from being seated in the middle of a crossroads, limited stage area, no acoustical baffles or wind (or even slight, provisional weather) protection, etc., and Phase II envisions even more compromised conditions. Why can’t a STATE OF THE ART PERFORMANCE STAGE be insisted on as a FOCUS and (geometric, if that’s the winning buzzword) FEATURE of that axis of the park, not a badly-served and watered-down afterthought? Wouldn’t this be an essential part of a long-range plan to underscore the park’s continued and expanding viability as a performance venue?”

However, there was no rethinking of the plan. At some point, years from now, I believe this stage will be readdressed but, for now, you can catch the last concert of the Washington Square Music Festival’s season at the park tonight at 8 p.m.

July 31, 8 pm: DEEP SAHARA BAND — free
Washington Square, main stage south of Fifth Avenue
Abdoulaye Alhassane Touré leader and vocal soloist
performs music of West Africa, the roots of American jazz, on guitar, Kora,(African harp), ngoni (ancestor of American banjo), talking drum, tama, drum set, conga, djembé (a rope-tuned skin-covered drum played with bare hands)

**************************************************************
Review of first concert this season New York Times (July 11), Dickinson and Dylan Thomas, Set for Strings and Voices

Review, New York Times (July 19th), Echoes of Vienna and Byron

Previously at WSP Blog:

Landmarks Preservation Commission Approves Phase II of WSP Redesign; Parks Department Agrees to Increase # of Alcoves

On the 2011 season

Photo: Nan Melville

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Official NYC Public Space Recycling — Now in 906 Locations City-Wide — Has Arrived at Washington Square Park

Official NYC Public Space Recycling!

Previously, there was somewhat make shift recycling at the park that appeared in early 2011 and I wondered at the time if WSP might get some shiny, flashy bins like other parks had. Now, through a joint effort by the Department of Sanitation and the Parks Department, Washington Square has been added as one the city’s official public space recycling locations!

From 2002 (when Mayor Bloomberg cut recycling of plastics and glass in New York City, citing it as too costly) to 2009, I was very involved in reuse and recycling with a group I co-founded called Recycle This!. I remember in 2007 when the city’s public space recycling pilot program began in 8 locations throughout the five boroughs. It is now up to 906, quite an improvement, and Washington Square Park is one of them.

Washington Square, Sunday: Mystery Atop the Arch, Phase III Construction Continues, Obscured from View, More

As I wrote earlier, I’d been in San Francisco. Here are some ‘snapshots’ from yesterday. Most perplexing: what is protruding from the top of the Arch?

A first look

the thing atop the Arch… another view

Wider view…

another view… (there’s a small bird there checking it out)

fenced off construction area

Interesting. The fence cordoning off Phase III construction has been draped with green plastic sheeting to obscure public view. Was this a decision of the contractor? the Parks Department? This was not the case during Phase II or Phase I. It’s not a terrible idea but it makes me wonder. Also there are no official signs indicating what is being done (as is traditionally the case).

southern end encased fencing

inside the construction zone

A last look at park buildings before demolition

A pigeon tried to land on this light and diverted his course and that’s when I noticed..

this…

shattered light, fountain plaza

Rain, the Fountain Plaza


(This post was amended from an earlier version.)

Lots to report…

Hi Blog Readers,

I was in San Francisco for a little over a week — which has its own Washington Square (I did not get to visit it tho’!) and public space/park issues — so blog posting was a bit sporadic. But I’m back in NYC and there’s lots to report. Check back in a short while…

Thanks!

Cathryn.

Midnight Movie Tonight at Lincoln Center “Fritz the Cat” (WSP has a cameo in the film!)

from “Fritz the Cat”

Tonight at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, a Midnight Screening (one in an ongoing series) of “Fritz the Cat,”  a 1972 film which has the distinction of being “the first x-rated animated feature.” The film features “Fritz” romping through NYC; the image above of Washington Square is from the movie. A description of the film from the Film Society site:

Adult animation pioneer Ralph Bakshi’s inspired adaptation of R. Crumb’s Help! magazine comic strip became the first X-rated animated feature as well as one of the most successful independent animated films of all time. Bakshi (Wizards, Lord of the Rings) follows the libidinous, pot-smoking feline on an amoral odyssey across New York City, as he indulges his primal urges, dodges the police and incites the occasional riot, aided and abetted by a heroin-addict rabbit and other assorted accomplices. Crumb was reportedly appalled by the end result, but 40 years later Fritz the Cat endures as a cheerfully profane, equal-opportunity send-up of the right and the left, fascist pigs and self-righteous revolutionaries, and just about everything in-between.

“A gloriously funny, brilliantly pointed and superbly executed entertainment, right on target—and its target is, at long-awaited last, the muddle-headed radical chicks and slicks of the sixties… Fritz the Cat is a ball for the open mind.” —Judith Crist, New York

Venue: Francesca Beale Theater (W. 65th between Broadway and Amsterdam).
Admission: $13 General Public, $9 Students & Seniors, $8 Members

Illustration: Ira Turek

Two of Central Park’s Fledgling Red-Tailed Hawks’ Lives in Jeopardy — Rat Poison Likely The Culprit

sick young hawk in tree near Museum

Near Central Park, two fledglings hawks, children to famed Red-tailed Hawk Pale Male and mate  Zena, are in precarious health, believed to be poisoned by secondary poisoning after their parents fed them a rat poisoned by rodenticide. The Pale Male Irregulars Blog has been updating regularly since Monday (July 23rd) first via an alert from Central Park hawkwatcher Jeff Johnson:

Very bad news–one fledgling was found sick in an enclosed space on the American Museum of Natural History grounds yesterday and is now in the care of the Horvath Rehabilitators. This second fledgling is displaying symptoms of rat poisoning also…it has not left the tree it has been perched in for almost two days now and refused to eat a meal left in plain view.

Pale Male’s previous mate, Ginger Lima, died from secondary rodenticide poisoning earlier this year.

At Washington Square Park, in May of last year, the Parks Department agreed to remove all the rat poison at the park.

Rehabilitators Bobby and Cathy Horvath, who were involved in the rescue of Washington Square’s Violet (who died last year), wrote on their Facebook page Monday:

The Fifth Avenue fledgling had blood work done today and we should have results tomorrow. He looked a little better than yesterday , is perching well and bright eyed and alert this morning and is keeping food down. We are treating it even before results for poisoning and frounce too but don’t know how much pigeon is eaten compared to definite rats being consumed regularly.

The other young hawk, pictured above, is not faring well; he has not been rescued yet (he is in a difficult position to intercept) and he is not eating although he has moved (himself) between at least two trees.

In response to this, and the death of six other hawks this year in our city parks (!), there’s a petition to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to stop the murder of our Red Tailed Hawks in NYC:

Stop the MET, Museum of Natural History and Central Park Precinct from indirectly killing wildlife. … We are privileged to be able to watch them [Red Tailed Hawks] build their nests, raise and lovingly care for their young all while enriching our lives in this urban jungle. … We, are the fortunate ones being able to witness this incredible sight. Unfortunately, we also get to see them die. Their death is a slow, painful and torturous one. The type of poison that these institutes use for rodent control is deadly, not only to our majestic birds, but to all wildlife, our families and our own pets. We are all interconnected, what happens to one, happens to all of us. This year alone, there were 6 deaths of our magnificent Red Tail Hawks in the NYC area, (that we know of), from this type of poison. At present, we are watching two of the legendary Pale Male babies dying, because of this poison.

I wrote last year at the time the Parks Department agreed to remove the poison about rethinking rat poison in our city:

Meanwhile, it might be time to rethink rat poison in our city parks in general.

In Robert Sullivan’s book, “Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants,” he interviews David E. Davis, “the founding father of modern rat studies.”

Sullivan writes: [Davis] consulted with cities on their rats, preaching his most important discovery throughout the country – that poisoning rats was not in itself an effective way of controlling them. In fact, when rats are killed off, the pregnancy rates of the surviving rats double and the survivors rapidly gain weight. The rats that survive become stronger. “Actually, the removal merely made room for more rats,” Davis wrote.

The only way to get rid of rats was to get rid of the rat food, or garbage, but no one wanted to hear this: as it was the dawn of the age of ecology so also it was the dawn of the age of the chemical, of poisons and pesticides, and people seemed to want a sexier, chemical-based fix.

Seems they still do.

Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, Former Village Resident, Film in the Park Earlier this Week

the actors on a park bench

Filming this week at WSP were actors Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld and Mark Ruffalo on a park bench (above). Ruffalo was at the park in October for Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly (see below).

From The Daily Mail about the film:

Can a Song Save Your Life? sees Knightley’s character arrive in New York with her long-term love interest (Adam Levine) with the aim of pursuing a musical career together.

But Levine’s character dumps her for what he thinks will be a successful solo career without her.

In a rather typical movie twist, Levine’s character meets with a bad ending while Knightley’s Greta is happily discovered by a producer, played by Ruffalo,while singing in a bar on an open mic night.

Love and happiness ensue.

In October Ruffalo at Occupy Wall Street at the park

Ruffalo, while in town filming another time, stopped by Occupy Wall Street at WSP in October. He told me he used to live in the neighborhood or nearby (8th Street or St. Mark’s Place…? I can’t recall.) and was very concerned about NYU’s overwhelming influence. About Occupy Wall Street, the actor, also an activist, was supportive and wanted to see what was going on so he stopped by and hung around for awhile. While doing an interview by the Fountain, he said — “[I recognize] When I’m losing hope, it’s because I’m not doing enough.”

Photo, Top: Ivan Nikilov/WENN.com

Bottom: Cathryn

At the Park: There WILL be bathrooms while Phase III is under way, NY Dosas is here, and more

“port-o-potties” have arrived in front of ‘old’ bathroom location

In the wake of the news that there would be no replacement bathrooms while the existing rest rooms were under renovation during Phase III, the Community and park goers’ reaction was outrage. Well, kudos to the Parks Department (and I don’t get to say that often enough)– in this instance, they listened and responded. It’s hard to get too excited about portable toilets (although it was also hard to be enthusiastic about the state of the bathrooms as they were*) and I’m not sure if there could have been a better solution but … hey… it’s something. Three “port-o-potties” have appeared outside the location of the previous building.

Relocated park favorite NY Dosas

Vegan – and everyone’s – favorite cart vendor NY Dosas, featuring “South Indian Food,” has moved out a bit further on Washington Square South but he’s still there, construction and all! People were patiently waiting in line for his vegetarian crepes and $1 bottled water.

Vibrant flowers, eastern side.

Lone pigeon amidst the bustling fountain plaza.

* The rest rooms were the phase of the park that pretty much everyone in the community lobbied to be done first – they were in such dire state and falling apart. Now in year four of the redesign construction, they are now being replaced. The Parks Department almost purposefully left them for the very last.

And Then There Were Nine: Ninth Tree Dead Around Washington Square Fountain Over Three Years

second time tree dies in location by the Arch

oh dear…

Previous tree, Last August

Since the Fountain Plaza was redesigned in 2009 and existing healthy 40 year old trees were axed so the Fountain could align with the Arch (sort of), nine young trees have been planted and subsequently died. The latest tree, located right near the Arch, hadn’t looked healthy for awhile and at last succumbed (pictured above). A tree died in this same location last August. Here is a recap from this blog on August 17, 2011 when the previous tree alongside the Arch died:

I’ve previously reported on the young trees dying repeatedly around the Washington Square Fountain, this tree (pictured above) now makes tree #8. Over the last two years, trees have been replaced by the Parks Department and died 3x in two locations around the fountain; a new arborcidal incident occurred on the western side just recently. Now this — the fourth location lining the fountain to exhibit a dead tree.

These events were forecast by a landscape architect I encountered back in August of 2009 who predicted ALL the trees around the fountain would likely die and attributed this to the design.

These young (now dead) trees replaced perfectly healthy living trees which were 40+ years old, axed because they got in the way of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to move the famous fountain 22 feet east to align with the Arch at Fifth Avenue.

The reality is that these aren’t the only dead trees dying at Washington Square Park. North, South, East, West, Perimeter, Within – trees are dying all over at the park.

What can be done to stop the New York City Parks Department from committing this arborcide?

Note: In late September of last year, the Parks Department told WNBC-TV’s Chris Glorioso that they were studying the issue and conducting tests but it didn’t sound as if they planned to do anything differently despite expert advice isolating what they were doing wrong (that they continue to ignore).

Why will this agency in charge of our city’s trees not do the right thing? Is it political as I surmised (based on information from a source) at the onset?

Previously at WSP Blog:

July 11, 2011: Why do the Newly Planted Trees Around the Washington Square Fountain Keep Dying?

July 15, 2011: Arborcidal Design for Fountain Trees — Will City’s Parks Department Address This at Last?

December 10,2009: Two of Seven Newly Planted Trees that Line the Fountain have died — Is the cause the design?

Photos: Cathryn

Book Launch Party: “While We Were Sleeping: NYU and The Destruction of New York” Sunday July 15 McNally Jackson Bookstore


News from the NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan — they have written a book along with other notable authors, academics, artists and activists titled “While We Were Sleeping: NYU and the Destruction of New York.” (Not subtle at all but appropriate I’d say.) They are launching it this Sunday, July 15th with a book party at McNally Jackson bookstore on Prince Street (between Lafayette and Mulberry). Fran Lebowitz, Peter Carey, Joseph McElroy and more will be there! Come join them 7-9 p.m.!

p.s. Update on this site’s redesign if you didn’t see other post — Whereas this blog in the beginning seemed to just create itself, the redesign (of the site this time, not the park!) has been a tad more complicated. So! I took a two week break and new posts have now resumed (with this one). New site will appear in the near future. Thanks!