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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Rapkin-Gayle Plaza

This past July I happened upon a new plaza on East 4th Street, Manuel Plaza, which I have now learned, thanks to Gotham to Go,

is named in acknowledgment of the first North American free Black settlement, known as the Land of the Blacks. The name honors Big Manuel, Clyn Manuel, Manuel Gerrit de Reus, Manuel Sanders, and Manuel Trumpeter, who were among 28 people of African descent who negotiated their freedom from the West India Dutch Company and over 100 acres in land grants in the mid-17th Century in New Netherland.

Just a few weeks ago, thanks to a (mercifully short) bout of jury duty, I walked by Manuel Plaza's mate, the similar Rapkin-Gayle Plaza, which opened at the same time in 2022.

rapkin-gayle plaza manhattan soho new york city parks

This site honors urban planner Chester Rapkin (1918-2001), the "Father of SoHo," and preservationist Margot Gayle (1908-2008).

The Parks Department website explains that we have Rapkin to thank for the saving of the lofts that made SoHo (a name he coined) an artists' haven – at least until the current gentrification priced most artists out.

Gayle, a member of the Municipal Art Society, helped save the Jefferson Market Courthouse (now the Jefferson Market Library), the most distinctive building in my neighborhood, from destruction. In addition, as founder of Friends of Cast Iron Architecture she helped preserve SoHo itself (not to mention Washington Square Park) from Robert Moses' execrable expressway plan.

rapkin-gayle plaza manhattan soho new york city parks

Both sites are Department of Environmental Preservation properties, formerly gravel lots. But in the early 1800s, the Rapkin-Gayle site was Vauxhall Gardens, a pleasure garden and theater and "one of the most popular attractions in New York City" according to The Bowery Boys.

rapkin-gayle plaza manhattan soho new york city parks

P.S. Incidentally we have Margot Gayle to thank that the city is still home to some of the old "bishop's crook" lampposts. Here's one with the Jefferson Market Library in the background:

rapkin-gayle plaza manhattan soho new york city parks
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