By Chris Flash
|Adam Purple, the legendary Lower East Side artist best known for creating
Garden of Eden, a world-famous "Earthwork," has been living without
gas, electricity or running water for 17 years. Now he is being threatened
with eviction from his home of 26 years.
On February 24, 1972, Adam moved to 184 Forsyth Street as a tenant, and later became the building superintendent for landlord Sol Janklowitz of Bermike Realty in Brooklyn. When Janklowitz abandoned the building in November of 1976, Adam and the building's residents took over and kept the furnace running. In February 1981, in an effort to get paid for utilities, Con Edison asked the city who owned the building. According to the Inner City Light newspaper, Con Ed was told the "Purple People" owned it, even though the City of New York had taken the building in an "In-Rem" foreclosure. As the landlord, the city is responsible for providing electricity for hall lights and the furnace, but it has refused. Con Ed then cut off all utilities to184 Forsyth. Soon, the water pipes froze and burst, and the water had to be cut off. Adam says that the tenants tried to get help from various city agencies, but "we got the runaround." The tenants then moved out one by one, until finally, only Adam was left. In July 1980, the city began billing Adam $2,400 per month for rent as "John Peter Zenger II". The bills stopped in August of 1992 when a reporter asked the city why they were charging rent while providing no services at 184 Forsyth. By then, the total rent charge had reached $352,706.
At the time Adam moved to 184 Forsyth, the city was facing bankruptcy. With the economy in a deep recession, insurance companies and banks "redlined" certain neighborhoods, making it impossible for small landlords to keep their buildings. Some landlords who were insured torched their buildings to cash out, while others simply walked away. At the same time, crime increased as heroin flooded the Lower East Side, further fueling the cycle of arson, abandonment, and "white flight" (the middle class moving from the city to suburbs). Throughout the 1970s, the City of New York amassed a huge portfolio of real estate. Instead of repairing their housing stock, buildings that were unsafe or burned out were either sealed or simply demolished.
Around 1974, Adam, watching kids at play in a rubble-strewn pit where two buildings had stood on Eldridge Street, decided that a garden would better serve his community. By the time he and his neighbors finished creating a garden, the city had taken down more adjacent buildings, and the garden expanded into those lots as well. At its peak, The Garden of Eden, with a large double yin-yang center, encompassed five lots, had 45 fruit and nut trees, attracted tourists from all over the world and was featured in National Geographic magazine (Sept. 1984).
By 1985, Adam says, the city considered The Garden of Eden a threat: "They couldn't just say `go away,' so they found a HUD project and got all the local poverty pimps to jump up and down and say `we need housing, we don't need flowers.' They divide the community, conquer it, and everybody loses." A transcript of testimony in an August 22, 1985 US District Court hearing provided to the SHADOW by Adam reveals false and contradictory testimony by "housing organizers," including Margarita Lopez, now city councilmember representing part of the Lower East Side. At the time, Lopez said: "our people don't go there...that garden never was put together in a way that included our children..." The purpose of this testimony was to support the false claim that Adam had created a private garden, unavailable to the community. One poverty pimp remarked "Well, it may be art, but his canvas is too big."
On January 8, 1986, The Garden of Eden was destroyed to make way for the "Infil" housing project, that Adam says was chosen for the site of the garden "because the garden was there. It was deliberately used by the city to smash something they found offensive."
Adam says "I call the garden a psychic booby trap. Who gets caught in a psychic booby trap, except a psychic booby? They destroyed the garden but they got caught, and now they have to live out the rest of their lives in psychic exile because of their act of vandalism."
Since the destruction of The Garden of Eden, the city commenced eviction proceedings against 184 Forsyth in 1986, but it never went further, due to improper service. In September of 1994, Community Board Three (CB3) approved a proposal by poverty pimp housing group Asians for Equality to take 184 Forsyth, but their approval was mysteriously switched in October to the New York Society for the Deaf.
Now CB3 is stepping up its efforts to get Adam out of his building. On February 24, the 26th anniversary of Adam's move to 184 Forsyth, the board voted 30-1 in favor of a proposal by the Society for the Deaf to acquire site control of Adam's building and a vacant lot next door as a step toward building 21 units of federally-funded housing. The Society for the Deaf already has a large building on several lots on Forsyth, just south of 184, built in 1993. According to CB3 member Herman Hewitt, Adam would not be eligible to live in the new units since the apartments would be awarded under a lottery system. Strangely, just a few hours before the CB3 vote against him, Adam was served with a notice to vacate his building by March 31.
"Now they're seeking to go around the courts," Adam says, by having his building transferred to the Society for the Deaf. "Nice neighbors. They move next door and they want to throw you out." Adam says that by transferring his building, the city can avoid housing court, the legal process and public oversight. He notes that the city can grant site control, but they cannot sign over an occupied building.
Rudolph Giuliani, as US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, oversaw the legal effort to destroy The Garden of Eden. As mayor of New York City, it is not likely that he will defend Adam's "huwomanimal rights under Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights."
"Whether I'm here or not, this building should be landmarked. It's in good shape. It needs love and attention, and it's getting neither from the City of New York."
Concerned readers are urged to contact city councilmembers Margarita Lopez and Katherine Freed and demand that they help Adam keep his building. If you or someone you know has legal expertise, advice, suggestions, resources and if you can make a donation to Adam Purple's Defense Fund, please send whatever you can to his attorney Colleen McGuire at: 305 Broadway, Room #402, New York, NY 10007. Phone: 212-571-4080. Fax: 212-571-4079.
**PLEASE INTERNET THIS!!**
"How long do I have to do this? I've been here 17 years without services,
I'm willing to do another 17 years, but they're not willing to let me do
another 17 years, ...I've demonstrated that I can do it. It is possible
to survive in really cold weather with the minimum. Henry David Thoreau
said in Walden, 'Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.' And now this
society is based on complexity, complexity, complexity. And we can all
see what is happening, the environmental systems are going down the tubes."
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