Gustave Hartman Triangle
This plot of land, located at Second Street and Avenue C, is named for Gustave Hartman, a municipal court judge and philanthropist who spent most of his life in this neighborhood. Gustave Hartman (1880–1936) was born in Hungary and immigrated to the United States with his parents while still a young boy. He attended P.S. 22 on Sheriff Street (now Columbia Street), the College of the City of New York, and received his law degree from New York University in 1905. After teaching for several years at P.S. 22, Hartman was appointed municipal court judge in 1913. In 1914 he was elected to serve a full term. Hartman also served as judge in the City Court from 1920 to 1929.
Hartman’s greatest devotion, however, may have been to the Israel Orphan Asylum, which he founded in 1913 and ran until his death. The asylum, which Hartman financed out of his own pocket and through aggressive fund-raising, was located just across the street, on East Second Street between Avenues C and D. It served the needs of children ages one to six (and later girls up to age 14), many of them wartime orphans.
In 1928, Hartman married May Weisser, superintendent of the asylum. The couple had two children and remained in the neighborhood, living on East Third Street and East Fourth Street. When Hartman died in 1936, at age 56, the New York Times reported that community members were so distraught that the “twelve hundred who attended the [funeral] service in the temple refused to leave to make room for invited mourners. . . . The throng was so great on Second Street that 85 policemen were needed to make room for the procession.” Soon after Hartman’s funeral, the Board of Aldermen named this strip of land (then under the jurisdiction of the Board of Estimate) in his honor.
After Hartman’s death, his wife took over as president of the Israel Orphan Asylum. In 1944, the asylum moved to Far Rockaway, and in 1950 its name was changed to the Gustave Hartman Home to honor its founder. It merged with the Hebrew National Orphan Home in 1957, and in 1962 was consolidated with the Jewish Child Care Association.
In 1969, Gustave Hartman Triangle was transferred from the Board of Estimate to Parks for permanent use as parkland. The triangular mall is lined with London plane trees, a species known for its ability to survive in harsh urban environments, including dry soil and polluted air. A hybrid of the American sycamore and the Oriental plane tree, the London plane tree resembles the American sycamore, but its fruit clusters are borne in pairs rather than singly. The tree takes its name from London, England, where London plane trees have flourished despite the city’s coal-polluted air. New York City’s early park designers, who planted many of Manhattan’s most formal parks, considered London planes highly elegant trees. Due to the trees’ enduring popularity, Parks uses the silhouette of a London plane leaf as its official insignia.
Once populated by, Native Americans, Dutch settlers and free black farmers, this Lower East Side neighborhood was in Hartman’s time a largely Jewish enclave. It was home to a flourishing Yiddish theatrical and artistic community, radical intellectuals, and tens of thousands of immigrant families. After World War II, the Lower East Side’s ethnic makeup shifted as the neighborhood became one of the first racially integrated communities in the city. In recent years, the neighborhood’s legendary color and vitality have attracted residents of all nationalities and walks of life.