Friends of Verdi Square Envisions an ‘Oasis of Green’ and Community Hub

By Michael McDowell

Verdi Square, at Broadway and 72nd Street, is an Upper West Side crossroads with a colorful history. “Needle Park is still considered the ‘real’ name of Verdi Square…where [drug] dealing still goes on in plain sight and junkies nod beside Falstaff’s statue,” wrote Peter Salwen in his 1989 book Upper West Side Story: A History and Guide. It was an era memorably depicted in the 1971 film The Panic in Needle Park, starring Al Pacino and Kitty Winn.

On the other hand, Michael V. Susi, in his 2009 book The Upper West Side, describes the park as a “favorite gathering place of the famous musicians who made their home at the Ansonia across the street.” And it’s this idea of Verdi Square as a favorite neighborhood gathering place—and greenspace—that a newly-formed group of neighbors and friends envisions.

That group, Friends of Verdi Square, held a well-attended kickoff event in Verdi Square on Sunday. State Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal was there, and so was a representative of Partnership for Parks. Numerous passersby stopped at a table, where a sign-up sheet and Friends of Verdi Square stickers were on hand.

Ada Ciniglio, a former executive director at ArtTable and one of the organizers of the effort, spoke about what Friends of Verdi Square hopes to accomplish.

“We feel the park could really serve the community in a better way, rather than just simply as a transit hub, that it could have a greenmarket, that it could have regular concerts or meetings on the plaza, that it could be more comfortable to eat there. [We hope to] remake it into something wonderful, visually,” she said.

Verdi Square’s 72nd Street station is an express stop on the Broadway-Seventh Avenue IRT Line—commonly known as the 1, 2, and 3 trains—and a major transit center in the neighborhood.

Ciniglio said Friends of Verdi Square has arranged with the MTA to have the interior of the station house cleaned, but the group would like to see the outside of it cleaned as well. Rodents are an issue, and there are plans in the works to clean up the area around the statue of composer Giuseppe Verdi, which is a 1906 work by sculptor Pasquale Civiletti. According to Ciniglio, Goddard Riverside Green Keepers are currently under contract to maintain the greenspaces in Verdi Square, but many of those who have signed-up to help so far have expressed interest in planting or gardening.

“Daniel Atha, with the New York Botanical Garden, is interested in planting plants that would attract more native birds, for example, and we are thinking of Verdi Square as a hub for nature—one of the few oases of green between Central Park and Riverside Park. We even had people who want to be gardeners!”

As far as next steps, the group is currently creating a strategic plan for the park, identifying the relevant city agencies to contact regarding the improvements it is advocating for—and determining exactly what it wants these agencies to do—and considering long-term fundraising plans.

How can people get involved?

“People should sign-up, indicate their special expertise or interest, and what it is they want to give to the project. We’re going to need all kinds of people, and there will be opportunities for all kinds of people,” Ciniglio said. You can find out more at friendsofverdisquare.org

Friends of Verdi Square was organized by a handful of motivated women, many of whom are artists, or, like Ciniglio, have had lengthy careers in the arts.

Cingilio is a longtime Upper West Side resident.

“I’ve always been a West Sider. I’ve lived between 106th and 71st for the last fifty years—always west of Broadway,” she said.

Why always west of Broadway?

“It just happened that way.”

NEWS | 7 comments | permalink
    1. Lovely idea. Anything to improve the park is welcome, but probably the resident pigeons may have something to say. They know how to greet a newcommer sitting in “their” park. The pigeons may have been encouraged by local patrons who feed them.

    2. Glitter says:

      To everyone who volunteered THANK YOU! There no more poop on the seat!!

    3. Nancy says:

      What about a mention of George Litton who conceived of the concert series and spearheaded the original fundraising effort?

    4. Lucille Lukaszewicz says:

      So looking forward to the renovation. How about having a craft show of local artists to raise money for the park when it is cleaned up. I live on 73rd and would love to sell my handmade sterling silver jewelry at the park.
      Lucille Lukas

    5. Various Artist says:

      This park is already much nicer than when I lived on 73rd in the late 90s. Back then it was infested with rats and it was entirely enclosed and not open to the public. Used to walk past it on my way to the P&G.

    6. Shirley Z says:

      Wonderfull! Hope independent Booksellers will be included in the plans? UWS has a long historical relationship with books; both readers & sellers.

    7. your_neighbor says:

      The park could use some no smoking signs that are more visible than the 2 small placards on the fence. In the warmer weather it isn’t unusual to see people sitting on the benches and smoking.

      Many thanks for the great work by the group so far.