2. It Used to Be Part of a School Playground

Elizabeth Street Garden

“We noticed when we started doing a lot of research into the history of the space that there was this common theme of outdoor recreation even before it was a community garden,” Executive Director Joseph Reiver said on Untapped New York’s first tour of the garden. In 1822, the Free School Society opened Public School No. 5 on Mott Street, taking up part of the lot on which the garden occupies. In the evenings, the school held free night classes for people of color and, to further promote community engagement, hosted public educational lectures for children and adults.

In 1902, PS 5 was torn down and replaced by Public School No. 21, a larger structure designed by noted school building architect C. B. J. Snyder. Prominent in the school’s design was a 75 by 108-foot playground where the children could have recess. The outdoor spaces at the school also served as community meeting spots and open-air classrooms. This outdoor time was seen as an important way to help ward off tuberculosis. In the 1970s, the school building was torn down to make way for affordable housing on the south portion of the lot. While a community space was included in plans for the Little Italy Restoration Apartments (LIRA), it never came to fruition. The remaining 20,000 square feet of open space on the lot were left abandoned.