New Yorkers love their markets. They pop up in every borough in every form, from the greenmarkets to the flea markets, and they are a large part of our history. Last June, Untapped Cities wrote of a market that celebrated East Harlem’s past. Located under the overhead tracks and running from 111th Street to 117th Street along Park Avenue, La Marqueta, Flea Marqueta and The Urban Garden Center have brought back the spirit of Fiorello LaGuardia’s original 1936 plan conceived as an informal gathering place–a place for pushcart vendors and other merchants to sell their produce. Unfortunately the market slowly declined in the 1970’s and several attempts to bring it back failed.
The Urban Garden Center opened in 2011 and Flea Marqueta in 2013 thanks to the hard work and dedication of Harlemite Dimitri Gatanas and his wife Sara. La Marqueta, Flea Marqueta and The Urban Garden Center became a colorful and fun shopping experience for those new to the community as well as the old-timers, and a place for new businesses to sell their wares. Live music and food vendors added to the festive atmosphere. Local artisans created their own areas on the multi-leveled open air space. The garden center held pig roasts, a compost program, a kids gardening club and even offered free trees to the community. The greenhouse was the sight of free performances, workshops and a place where neighbors could feel free to meet.
All of this came to a screeching halt on March 12th, 2014 when two adjacent buildings directly across the street from The Urban Garden Center exploded. Because of their proximity to the explosion, it took weeks before Dimitri and his team were allowed in to check the damage.
Long hours and a lot of hard work and determination have gotten the Urban Garden Center back up and running in record time, although they still have a long way to go. While we were there, a neighbor came to drop off some compost, a man who just opened a wine bar across the street stopped by to offer support and a woman who lives nearby was leaving with an armful of pansies. Dimitri, whose grandparents lived in East Harlem and did their weekly shopping at La Marqueta, was busy arranging trays of new plants and talking to customers.
On the morning of the explosion, someone tossed a chicken over the fence. It was not the first time someone abandoned a chicken at the center. The chicken landed on the netting and two of the Urban Garden Center employees had to walk outside the greenhouse in an effort to retrieve her – and then there was the explosion. It ripped the greenhouse apart, where minutes before the employees had been working. Later, The New York Times would publish an article on ‘A Fortuitous Chicken Saves Lives in East Harlem Blast’.
If you wish to help in the rebuilding of the Urban Garden Center, they have a fund-raising campaign set up on GoFundMe.
You can follow the Urban Garden Center on Twitter or Facebook. We are all looking forward to another season of Flea Marqueta. You can also follow Dimitri Gatanas on his blog site, Rooftop Linnaeus, where he advises on urban, rooftop and green roof gardening.
Read more about the revitalization of Flea Marqueta on Untapped Cities.