A few weeks ago, I discovered a secret garden. It has been there for over three decades, but it truly is one of the hidden gems of the Upper West Side. The Lotus Garden is located 20 feet above the street on top of a parking garage on West 97th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. You could easily walk past the large wrought iron gate that opens to a set of concrete stairs. But, if you venture up those steps, any Sunday between 1-4pm starting the second week of April, up until the first week in November when the Lotus Garden is open to the public, you are in for a very pleasant surprise.
Only a sixth of an acre in size, the landscape is surprisingly diverse with winding garden paths, fruit trees, a multitude of lush flowering plants, several tranquil sitting areas and even 2 fish ponds. The story of this location begins back in1912-13, when two grand Vaudeville theaters, the Riverside and the Riviera were built on Broadway between 96th and 97th street. The theaters remained operational in one form or another until the mid 70's. After the buildings were taken down, Carrie Maher, a horticulturist, and Mark Greenwald, an architect and local rooftop gardener, who also happened to work at the Department of City Planning worked along with members of the local block association to persuade the bank who owned the single acre vacant lot, to allow the group to clear the existing rubble and bring in soil to create 75 garden plots.
In the early 80’s, real estate developer William Zeckendorf Jr optioned the lot for a building and community leaders were able to strike a deal with Mr Zeckendorf to incorporate a green space into his 32 story Columbia Condominium plan. Mr. Zeckendorf was said to have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to engineer the parking garage so it would support three and a half feet of topsoil and also allow for proper drainage. He also provided the volunteer gardeners with sufficient start-up funds and in the Spring of 1983, a group of local residents, including new residents of the Columbia began to develop the gardens.
Today, 28 families tend garden plots and community membership is available for $20 a year. This year the garden is open until November 9th, so you still have a few more Sundays to pay a visit. There was a wonderful article published about the garden in the NY Times a few years ago with many photos and there is also a nice video tour on the Lotus Garden website.
To see the NY Times Article. visit:
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