A local park known as the “secret garden,” located between East 35th and East 36th Street on Second Avenue, has now officially reopened after 20 years. St. Vartan Park, named after the St. Vartan Cathedral of the Armenian Orthodox Church in America, has undergone a few renovations dating back from the early 1900s.
It was initially named St. Gabriel’s Park in 1904 after the previous nearby St. Gabriel Church. When the park went under construction in 1936, it included a variety of active grounds such as a tennis court, roller skating track, playground, wading pool, and horseshoe pitching. In 1940, when the Queens-Midtown Tunnel was complete, half of the park was divided and given over to the Board of Estimate as part of an agreement with the New York City Tunnel Authority.
In 1951, residents restored the lost playground areas after the tunnel’s installation. That renovation included much of what remains today: a jungle gym, a sandpit, seesaws, and a 16-foot-high fence that separates the sports park and the playground. In 1978, it officially became St. Vartan Park. Vartan was remembered for the Battle of Avarayr in 451 A.D. in Armenia and for his martyrdom.
In 1984, the community once again renovated the St. Vartan Park’s field house and playground. The field house building served as a preschool as well as a program center for seniors and teens. In 2000, the park was renovated for the last time, including the installation of new pavement, benches, safety supplies, and a drainage system. Since then, it has been open exclusively to the children who attend St. Vartan Preschool and their families.
While local Murray Hill residents and neighbors were excited to see the gated doors opened to the public once more, the founder of the St. Vartan Preschool, Stefanie Soichet, shares a different view. “The garden should not be open to the public,” she told NY Patch. “Don’t let them start because then they’ll want to build a supermarket and a restaurant.”
Soichet’s concern draws from fear of “pushy people who want to be on the grass, and I’m worried for the grass.” For over 21 years, Soichet ran the one-room preschool within the park, and the garden serves as part of the schoolhouse. She remains concerned about the public ruining her planted 200 Dutch tulips that she cares for every day. The garden also includes magnolia trees, irises, and rose bushes.
According to NY Patch, the neighbors have a different perspective. Many pointed out that the schoolchildren allowed to access the beautiful garden are on the whole privileged and lament that the garden is not very open to working-class families. The children are allowed in the park only when accompanied by their parents or guardians. Other neighbors also believe the park was necessary to reopen for the neighborhood to have more “green space.”
As the park faces a two-month trial opening, “No Pets” signs are posted along the gated fence to protect Soichet’s protected plants and flowers. For now, St. Vartan Park will be open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week.
Next, check out the Top 11 Secrets of the Queens Midtown Tunnel!