Bolling Green

Bob Bolles elevated in front of the now demolished Tunnel Garage (photo: SoHo Arts Council)

Remember those fabulous welded metal sculptures that used to live on that triangular piece of land where Broome and Watts came together, over near where the old Film Forum used to be?  People called it Bobby Bolles Park, though it didn’t officially have a name.  I don’t even think it was considered a park before the sculptures arrived.

A sculptor named Bob Bolles, a diminutive man in jeans and a red scarf who was a regular fixture at the Broome Street Bar, installed his work at this location in the 1960’s, without permission from the City or Parks Department, but nobody seemed to mind.  In fact, the sculptures made an otherwise unremarkable intersection on the way to and from the Holland Tunnel quite interesting.  The rusted metal forms rose out of the street.  Children (and probably some adults too) climbed on them, garbage from twirling trash cyclones got caught under them.

The sculptures thus remained, until one day at around the turn of the millennium when the Parks Department decided that we needed a park there as part of their Greenstreets program.  It is true that SoHo has very little green space.  In fact, maybe none at all.  Nevertheless, I question the integrity of the decision to remove the sculptures and put them in storage at the Parks Department’s facility on Randall’s Island after stipulating in the plan for the new park that the sculptures would remain.

There were arguments made on both sides.  The sculptures are part of SoHo’s artistic heritage.  They are grandfathered in place because they predate the NYC Arts Commission.  They are an official historic landmark.  We didn’t ask for a bushy park.  Countered by, they are an eyesore.  They are too expensive to maintain and insure.  They were but there illegally.  They are “trash magnets.”

In a September 2003 article in The Villager, Ashley Winchester reported:

Bolles’ art was “part of the artistic heritage of this blossoming arts community which we now call Soho, when there were murals on buildings where there are now billboards,” Don MacPherson, a Community Board 2 member, said. “I have seen [the neighborhood] go from a manufacturing and printing district, through the creation of Soho when the artists originally started, to the real estate boom at the tail end of the artists’ hard work. I saw a commercial invasion that now has … high-end chain stores appearing. All attributable to the creation of an arts district. If it were up to me, I think Soho should remain an arts district.”

Sunflower Park at the intersection of Broome, Watts, and West Broadway is part of the NYC Parks Department's Greenstreets program.

After a long battle with the Parks Department, MacPherson and the SoHo Arts Council he founded were able to return three of Bolles’ sculptures to their original home in late 2005 and are hoping to bring more of the sculptures back and to re-rename the plot Bob Bolles Park.  But the sculptures now look out of place, like interlopers in someone’s somewhat twisted idea of urban beautification.  The park is now officially called Sunflower Park and is surrounded by tall shrubbery, giving people (men) ample cover in the spring and summer months for public urination.

From trash magnet to pee magnet.  We’ve come a long way, Bobby!

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 Responses to “Bolling Green”

  1. Sean Sweeney Says:

    Yukie,

    Your comments today reflect what many SoHo residents feel about the atrociously arbitrary and capricious behavior of the Parks Department regarding Bolles Park under the Parks commissioner at the time, the eccentric Henry Stern.

    No one in SoHo requested the park that is there now, which, as you state, mainly serves as a urinal. After all, who wants to sit in a park surrounded by gridlocked New Jersey bound traffic?.

    Many did appreciate the sculptures, however.

    In 1999, Commissioner Stern took a notion to himself to create exactly 2001 green spaces in NYC by 2001. Sound eccentrically capricious to you?

    One of his victims, er, projects was the Bobby Bolles sculptures. His assistant commissioner, Bill Castro, promised the community board that the sculptures would be returned after the park was built. He lied. They were not returned. Only when activist Don MacPherson threatened to file a lawsuit were some returned. However, they were not displayed correctly or with respect.

    The philistines at Parks, professional bureaucrats all, did not consider the sculptures “art”. They refused to add any more visible or prominent works of Bolles.

    Worse, they concocted a silly name for the park, Sunflower Park, allegedly at the request of a wealthy SoHo individual who likes sunflowers. They refused to name it after Bobby Bolles

    Coincidentally, there is a move afoot at the community board to put pressure on Parks to rename the park to what the community wants it named, not what a rich SoHoite or an eccentric bureaucrat wants it named.

    Stay tuned.

  2. Yukie Says:

    We will stay tuned! Thanks for filling in the gaps. The Bolles Saga continues…

  3. Magdalena Tabor Says:

    I was a personal friend of Bobby’s and remember him introducing me to his work at Broome Street in the 1970’s. I truly hope they will reinstate his sculptures to their rightful home and rename the “park” for him. His name was synonymous with Soho and I still think of him every time I hear it said. Before I read this article on him, I had planned on writing my own memories of the man. It will be posted on my website tomorrow at “whadawethink.com”.

  4. Magdalena Tabor Says:

    Thanks, Yukie. And if there’s anything I can do to help restore Bobby’s work to his park, please let me know. Maybe I can round up the old gang to pitch in.

  5. Setting the Bar « The SoHo Memory Project Says:

    […] Bar, a meeting place for neighborhood artists, including the late Bobby Bolles (see my post on him here), since it opened in 1972.  Another artist associated with the Broome Street Bar is Mako Tanaka, […]

  6. Cherl Harrison Says:

    I learned of Bob Bolles’ art from Doren and Caroline (Arnold Doren and Caroline Cornish) who were two of his good friends. What a free spirit and a dedicated artist was Bolles! I hope his sculptures will be re-installed because they represent the era devoid of commercialism and filled with free expression. There are a few letters and postcards from Doren’s archive which I would be glad to send to anyone who needs them.

  7. Anna Steegmann Says:

    My husband supported Bobby Bolles work and his drinking habit by buying several of the sculptures. Now my husband and Bobby are both gone and I still have the sculptures. They give me joy every day.

  8. LaGuardia Corner Gardens | The SoHo Memory Project Says:

    […] near SoHo that residents visit and cherish for lack of their own. First, in 2011 I wrote about Bobby Bolles Park, now called Sunflower Park, the small triangle of land at West Broadway and Watts Street where Bobby […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: