The New York City neighborhood known as the East Village experienced massive arson and destruction during the 1960s and 1970s. The area had been compared to Dresden, Germany after World War II. Rubble from bulldozed buildings lay in mounds, and garbage accumulated. Cars were abandoned. Rats were rampant. Drug use reached epidemic proportions. Drugs and crime made the neighborhood unsafe, but few areas were worse than the neighborhood east of Avenue B.
Normand Valle moved to East Seventh Street between Avenues C and D. From his window, he looked down upon one of these blighted lots, and decided to do something about it. In 1981, Valle, an ex-Marine, and a friend, Reynaldo Arenas, began to undo the mess one brick and one piece of garbage at a time. At the same time, Gilbert Ingram who lived on 8th Street next to the vacant lot had taken control of another piece of that same large lot, creating his sculpture garden where he carved found wood and stone and hosted friends and neighbors who dropped by for a barbecue and sculpting lesson.Both gardens engaged neighborhood children to help with the clean-up and ultimate creation of a combined garden with communal and private vegetable plots; beehives; a grape arbor; a koi pond; dozens of now huge trees, flower beds of perennials and annuals and an iconic gazebo. Thus were Green Oasis and Gilbert's Sculpture Gardens born.
From the beginning, the sister gardens' mission has been to provide a safe, green haven for all people, but especially for the children who lived in that inhospitable environment. Mr. Arenas was particularly interested in the theatre, so theatrical events abounded. Plays for children were written and performed. The first generation of Nuyorican poets read poetry; music was performed; the well-known Butterfly Release ceremony was held here during the all-garden pageant The Rites of Spring until its demise in 2006.
We know that this bountiful space can, and has, changed lives. Though Mr. Valle, Mr. Arenas and Mr. Ingram are no longer living, their vision prospers, and their gift, given to countless neighborhood residents and visitors, continues to give.
Copyright 2015, Green Oasis Community Gardens, Inc.