Harlem Art Park
East Harlem Art Park
East Harlem Art Park is located at the corner of East 120th Street and Sylvan Place, a small road between Lexington and 3rd Avenues that was closed off for use as parkland. The City of New York originally acquired the first part of this property, a .174-acre plot directly behind the Harlem Courthouse, as a site for a public bath in 1929. The bath never materialized and the site lay vacant for nine years. By 1938, the land had become a popular informal sitting park, but Parks did not acquire jurisdiction over the land until 1945. Sylvan Place was closed off in the early 1980s between East 120th and East 121st Streets to be used as a park by the Casabe Houses, the neighboring senior citizen housing development. On October 30, 1992, about half of the closed off road was assigned to Parks and added to the existing park, doubling the size of the park.
The park area is nestled between the Harlem Courthouse and Casabe Houses, which shares maintenance responsibilities for East Harlem Art Park with Parks. The courthouse, a red brick and brownstone structure with gables, archways, an imposing corner clock tower, and a terra-cotta roof, was originally the site of police court hearings in the early 1890s. The building later played a role in reformers’ struggle to establish a separate correctional facility in the city for female inmates. In June 1966, the courthouse was granted landmark status.
In the early 1990s, the Small Claims Court moved to another location, but the Sanitation and Air Pollution Control Departments continued to keep offices in the building. During the last several years, the Department of General Services and its successor agency, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, have begun to restore the building.
One of the main attractions of the East Harlem Art Park is “Growth,” an engaging 15-foot-high red sculpture located in the center of the park. Artist Jorge Rodriguez dedicated the sculpture in 1985. “Growth,” Rodriquez’s first large-scale permanent work, was also the first project completed by the Percent for Art Program. Administered by the City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Percent for Art Program uses one percent of specific capital project budgets to commission works of art as part of new construction.
Of his work Rodriguez says, “I have tried to capture the interaction between trees, birds, insects, flowers, and man. My sculpture may portray a seed sprouting from the ground, an insect transforming into a flower, or a bird changing into a tree. I hope to create an art piece that will serve as a source of enjoyment and inspiration to the community.”