`Tis pleasant, sure, to see one’s name in print
Once the estate of 19th century printing maverick Richard March Hoe (1812-1886), this park – and its bounding streets – pay tribute to Hoe and historic printers Johannes Gutenberg (c1400-c1468) and Aldo Manuzio (1449-1515).
Between the Revolutionary (1775-1783) and the Civil Wars (1861-1865), New York City made great strides in the field of printing technology, prompted in large part by the hunger for news. Richard March Hoe patented the first rotary printing press in 1846, commonly known as the “lightning press” for its remarkable speed. With later improvements, this rotary press could handle continuous sheets of paper (instead of single hand-fed sheets). As a result, the printing press worked faster, newspapers increased in size, and by 1850 there were more than 1,000 printers in the city. Hoe passed away in 1886, and was buried in the crypt at St. Ann’s Church in Old Morrisania.
Like other wealthy businessmen of his time, Hoe’s success led him to settle comfortably in Hunts Point --on land that encompassed the footprint of this park. Hoe purchased an extensive farming estate which ran from the juncture of Westchester Avenue and Southern Boulevard (called “Fox’s Corner”) all the way to the Bronx River. It included an orchard (as did many neighboring estates at this time) and became famous for the Jersey cattle that Hoe raised there. Richard Hoe and his brother Peter both built homesteads within the estate, named Brightside and Sunnyslope respectively. Brightside was located near the corner of Aldus Street and Hoe Avenue, at the southern portion of this park, until 1904 when it succumbed to development. Sunnyslope still survives, at the juncture of Faile Street and Lafayette Avenue, an example of Gothic Revival architecture -- and possibly influenced by the villa designs of Calvert Vaux. It was converted to a synagogue in 1919 and now serves as the Bright Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1904, a portion of the estate was divided into a series of city streets which were named after historic printers. Guttenberg Street (sic), named for Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the early 15th century printing press, was renamed East 165th Street in 1911. Aldus Street is named for Aldo Manuzio, a late 15th century Italian printer and editor who used the new printing press to revive dozens of Latin and Greek classics, and published contemporary writers such as Erasmus. Hoe Avenue refers to Richard March Hoe whose rotary printing press of the 19th century built upon the inventions of Gutenberg and Manuzio.
Over time the estate was sold off in pieces, its agricultural land overtaken by streets, apartment buildings, the subway, and arterial roadways. By the 1970’s, the site had devolved into an abandoned lot. During the 1980’s, community groups reclaimed the site and converted it to a space for both passive and active recreational use. In the years following, due to the sinking of materials beneath the surface, portions of the park – including the tennis courts – fell into disrepair. In 1997, the City transferred the property to Parks.
Since 2001, the park has undergone extensive renovations with city funds. The underground section was stabilized. The northern portion was renovated in 2001, at which time the park was renamed Printers Park. The southern portion was reconstructed in 2009 with a playground modeled after the design of the rotary printing press: graduated steps mimic the cylinders of the press, and the white pathway running through the park alludes to the continuous roll of paper that was fed through the press. Green design elements include the drainage of the spray shower into the surrounding planting bed, and swales to catch water runoff and direct it to other planted areas. The park incorporates recycled materials such as a safety surface made of 90% recycled rubber, asphalt block made of 94% post-industrial recycled materials, granite block recycled from remains of the West Side Highway, benches with partially recycled metal and domestic hardwood (white oak) slats. Plantings were chosen for the amount of water they need -- for example the dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), golden weeping willow (Salix alba ‘Niobe’) and serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) are all water lovers that absorb stormwater and the runoff from the spray shower.