With the surprise return of the Astor Place Cube yesterday came many reactions. At least, for those who noticed it had disappeared in the first place.
The long redesign of Cooper Square and Astor Place is finally nearing completion– knock on wood. This morning, landscapers worked to plant dozens of new trees around the square. We’re told that in total about 55 trees—oaks, sweetgums, and blackgums—will be planted over the next few days, bringing some much needed greenery to the area.
Jim Power, better known around the East Village as the “Mosaic Man,” was on hand for the reinstallation of another of his ceramic-encrusted lampposts along Astor Place this morning, the third of seven poles that will eventually return to the redesigned blocks around Cooper Square. Power, 69, observed from his mosaic-laden motorized scooter as staff from the Village Alliance positioned the lamppost near the Astor Place subway entrance, pausing to chat with neighborhood friends and curious passersby.
In just a couple of weeks, 10 Astor Place will be home to yet another franchise of the ever-popular mini-chain Sweetgreen whose salad-tossing expertise and local-farm-to-tongs ethos have hoisted them to top of the lettuce pile, so to speak. In a city full of assembly-line salad joints that follow Subway’s personalized sandwich-prep model (without being gross about it), Sweetgreen seems to be sweeping the competition– their Williamsburg location regularly draws lunch-hour lines extending all the way to the door, making them a standout in the fast food new wave that’s taking over our increasingly health-obsessed city.
Jim Power, working out his makeshift studio at the 6th Street Community Center, is busy getting ready to leave his mark on the new Astor Place Plaza, using the same creations he’s been planting around the East Village for the last 30 years: mosaics. With the help of his assistant, Julie Powell, he’s scraping, chiseling, and tiling new poles. The product of all this work is something that he and the rest of the East Village are quite used to seeing at this point, so much so that Power’s earned the nickname “Mosaic Man” for the dozens of colorful, chipped tile pieces he’s congealed together, then cemented onto light posts over the years.
Last month, the city’s Department of Design and Construction told us the Astor Place cube was set to return in June. Today was supposed to be the big day, according to a construction update noticed by EV Grieve. But alas, the newly redesigned Alamo Plaza is still as cube-less as a sad cup of iced coffee left out in the sun too long. The city now says it won’t happen till August.
A DDC rep told us today that the cube was “awaiting final inspection by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Once completed, it will be delivered and re-installed.” A spokesperson for the Parks Department, which has traditionally been involved in the upkeep of Tony Rosenthal’s beloved sculpture, added, “The City is looking forward to an installation of the Cube in August. The Cube must first be inspected by a conservator.”
We were bereaved last month when The Sock Man’s awning came down for good after 33 years on St. Marks Place. But what’s this? This morning we spotted a new sock man selling $2 tube socks, beanies and chullos on Astor Place, a block away from the old Sock Man’s location. Totally tubular! With spring just around the corner, it might be his time to shine.
Hard to believe, but it’s now been over a year since our beloved Astor Place cube was boxed up and unceremoniously hoisted onto a flatbed and hauled off. We were briefly consoled by a human cube on Halloween, but mostly there’s been a hole in our heart — or, at Astor Place, anyway — where the cube used to be. This week, however, excavation of the future Astor Plaza finally commenced, and the city tells us the reconstruction should be completed by spring.
This week and next, we present a series of longer pieces unraveling the histories of storied buildings.
New York City publisher Horace Greeley considered the Academy of Music opera house so ugly that he is reported to have asked how much it would cost to burn the place down. “If the price is not unreasonable,” he is said to have declared, “have it done and send me the bill.” Greeley got his wish in 1866, but the opera was rebuilt. Fifty more years would pass before the Academy of Music — the largest opera in the world when it opened 1854 — was finally demolished.
As construction around Astor Place continues to make things noisy and horrible around Cooper Square — for real though, navigating those sidewalks is beginning to feel a little bit like a game of minefield — there’s a little pocket of weird opening up this Sunday that hints toward a strange future for the area.