Posts Tagged ‘SoHo Playgroup’

(Pre)School Daze

April 1, 2017
SoHo Playgroup-related items from The SoHo Memory Project Archives (click on image to enlarge)

In honor of the SoHo Playgroup Reunion taking place this month, I am posting about SoHo’s unique preschool. Our second such reunion, the “kids,” now around 50 years old, and their parents, most of whom are into their 70’s, will be getting together to have a potluck lunch full of reminiscing and catching up. Can you believe it? These are folks that I went to preschool with 45 years ago!

The SoHo Playgroup gang in the playground on Houston Street (photo: Mimi Smith)

I met most of my old-time SoHo friends at the SoHo Playgroup, which was started by neighborhood mothers as a series of playdates in various homes and at Thompson Street Playground (now called Vesuvio Playground) around 1970.  After that, for a time they met at the Children’s Aid Society until two local building owners, Charles and Fritz, donated a basement space on the corner of Prince and Wooster (under the restaurant FOOD, now the site of LuluLemon Men).  The Playgroup parents cleaned out the basement, put down tiles, and painted the walls.

After-playgroup playdate at 80 Wooster Street (photo: Judy Reichler)

Once the Playgroup moved into its own space, it became a bit more structured and organized.  Cynthia, a teacher, was hired for $50 cash per week and the parents paid $20 per child per week and were required to “work” one day per week.  The Playgroup operated weekday mornings, and each morning a group of three parents would help Cynthia look after the fifteen children, thus giving the children a fun place to play and socialize while the other parents had some free time.  An “after-school” program was also set up where groups of five children each would visit a rotating list of lofts to play during the afternoon hours.

Making macaroni necklaces (photo: Donald Gangemi)

I attended the SoHo Playgroup from 1972, around when it opened in the Prince Street space, until I was old enough to enter kindergarten at P.S.3 in 1974 (no such thing as pre-K back then!).  My sister also attended, from around 1974-1977.  Cynthia was the teacher there the entire time we attended.  I was pretty young, so I don’t have that many distinct memories of the Playgroup.  I do remember Cynthia as a wonderful, compassionate teacher and friend.

I also remember that, since we were in the basement, we would have floods every once in a while.  The children would all have to stand up against the wall while the parents tried to clean away the water and dry out our “rugs.”  The playgroup space had moving blankets on the floor, and for the longest time, whenever I saw anyone moving, I always wondered why they covered all their furniture with rugs.

The Cheese Store, precursor to Dean & Deluca (photo: Ben Schonzeit)

I also remember Havarti cheese.  The parents of the day would be responsible for bringing in the snack of the day, and often it was purchased at THE CHEESE STORE, Giorgio DeLuca’s cheese shop at 120 Prince Street (now the site of Olive’s).  Giorgio DeLuca, along with two partners, went on to open Dean and DeLuca, the gourmet food store, across the street (now the site of Club Monaco).  My mother, who was pretty new to New York and the U.S., didn’t know what to buy, and one day she saw that another mom had brought in Havarti cheese, so she bought that too from then on.  I ate A LOT of Havarti cheese back in those days.

SoHo Playgroup was such as wonderful and special place to come into the world.  Mostly, but not all, children of artists, we were encouraged to discover and explore our inherent creativity.  Thank you, SoHo moms, for creating such as nurturing environment for us to grow up in!

If you attended SoHo Playgroup and wish to attend the reunion, please email me offline at yukie@sohomemory.org.

 

SoHo Playgroup Reunion, 2010

An earlier version of this post appeared on this blog in January 2011

Promises, Promises…

April 16, 2011

That big wooden structure that gave us all splinters in the old NYU playground

Before downtown playgrounds became overcrowded, superstar architect-designed, paparazzi magnets, we had the NYU playground (I don’t know if it had an official name).  It was located on the plot of land where the NYU Coles Sports and Recreation Center now sits, just east of the Silver Towers.  There was a dirt baseball field, (supposedly) a basketball court that I do not remember, and a large paved area with a slide, jungle gym, maybe a few other climbing apparatuses, and a huge wooden structure made of enormous pieces of semi-rotten wood that smelled funny when it rained and gave you splinters every time you touched it.  Later, a dog run was added on the southeast end of the lot, and a good one-third to half of it toward the Bleecker Street side was a softball field overgrown with weeds.

The playground was so vast that children could basically play off on their own unnoticed for quite a while.  I remember once hanging upside down from a bar and then falling straight down on the top of my head (see my sister standing on said bar in the photo below).  I lay on the ground, dazed and confused, for what seemed to be quite a while, and when no one came over to see how I was, I eventually just got up and staggered back to my friends.  My mother told me that before the dog run was put in, she used to bring children from the SoHo Playgroup to the patch of dirt on the corner of Mercer and Houston to dig for worms.  During the summer we would all cool off under the sprinkler, which was basically just a shower head coming out of the fence.  There were no trees in the park, so summers were brutal, but who cares when you’re five years old!

The big slide in the old NYU playground (Mercer Street in background)

In the late-70’s, NYU announced plans to build a sports complex on the playground site, causing an uproar in the community.  Sean from the SoHo Alliance posted a comment a few days back about the issues surrounding the building of the Jerome S. Coles Sports and Recreation Center, which opened in 1981:

As part of the deal to build Coles (NYU needed special zoning permits), NYU promised the community use of a playground on top of Coles (as well as use of the gym itself).  NYU built the playground on the roof, and you can see the equipment on the Houston Street side, but provided no stairs to enable the public to access it, except by entering Coles – which is generally off-limits to the public. Catch-22 anyone?  NYU also had built a smaller sandlot playground inside the I.M. Pei towers, at Greene and Houston. It was primarily for use by its tenants in the towers, but NYU closed it about ten years ago.. . .Finally, although NYU promised adults in the community use of Coles, admission hours are so restricted as to be useless as a regular gym, being accessible only a few hours on the weekend.

But after all was said and done, The Coles Center was built, we lost our playground, and NYU never followed through on their promises.

Nowadays, due to the astronomical rise in the number of children being raised in SoHo, our area playgrounds are often overcrowded.  They are also safer—my daughter will not be falling on her head unnoticed or getting any splinters!  And my family is lucky enough to have a community key to the gated NYU Key Park in Washington Square Village, for exclusive use of NYU and a limited number of community (non-NYU) families.  I must admit that I feel entitled to the key, as a small compensation for NYU’s unfulfilled past promises.  The Key Park is a wonderland of colorful chutes and ladders, swings, a sandbox, and oodles of toys.  Yet I still miss the Wild West ruggedness of the old playground, splinters, weeds, worms, and all.

P.S. NYU recently announced new development plans for the area just north of Houston Street.  According to Sean:

Now, NYU wants to demolish Coles, take over that long strip of land on Mercer that contains the dog run and closed-off sitting/sitting area and small playground from Dept of Transportation, and build on this larger land area its “Zipper” Building, which will be as high as 26- stories.  http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2011/03/24/nyus_greenwich_
village_expansion_plans_from_the_ground_up.php#more

NYU wants to relocate the dog run inside the I.M. Pei complex and add a playground there. Cynically, I guess to win over the parents, NYU has opened the sandlot playground on Houston/Greene this week after closing it for a decade. I guess they are trying to win over parents to support their proposal to build the God-awful Zipper Building on Mercer.. . . Remember all this when NYU gives promises and asks for permits to build the Zipper Building next year. The SoHo Alliance is working with community groups in Greenwich Village who oppose NYU’s scheme.

To keep up with the latest news regarding NYU’s future building plans, sign up for the SoHo Alliance’s newsletter.

The SoHo Playgroup

January 12, 2011

THE VETERANS OF SOHO PLAYGROUP (photo by Donald Gangemi)

I met most of my old-time SoHo friends at the SoHo Playgroup, which was started by a bunch of neighborhood mothers as a series of playdates in various homes and at Thompson Street Playground (now called Vesuvio Playground) around 1970.  After that, for a time they met at the Children’s Aid Society until two local building owners, Charles and Fritz, donated a basement space on the corner of Prince and Wooster (under the restaurant FOOD, now the site of the Lucky Store).  The Playgroup parents cleaned out the basement, put down tiles, and painted the walls.  Once the Playgroup moved into its own space, it became a bit more structured and organized.  Cynthia, a teacher, was hired for $50 cash per week and the parents paid $20 per child per week and were required to “work” one day per week.  The Playgroup operated weekday mornings, and each morning a group of three parents would help Cynthia look after the fifteen children, thus giving the children a fun place to play and socialize while the other parents had some free time.  An “after-school” program was also set up where groups of five children each would visit a rotating list of lofts to play during the afternoon hours.

I attended the SoHo Playgroup from 1972, around when it opened in the Prince Street space, until I was old enough to enter kindergarten at P.S.3 (no such thing as pre-K back then!).  My sister also attended, from around 1974-1977.  Cynthia was the teacher there the entire time we attended.  I was pretty young, so I don’t have that many distinct memories of the Playgroup.  I do remember Cynthia as a wonderful, compassionate teacher and friend.

I also remember that, since we were in the basement, we would have floods every once in a while.  The children would all have to stand up against the wall while the parents tried to clean away the water and dry out our “rugs.”  We had moving blankets as rugs, and for the longest time, whenever I saw anyone moving, I always wondered why they covered all their furniture with rugs.

I also remember Havarti cheese.  The parents of the day would be responsible for bringing in the snack of the day, and often it was purchased at THE CHEESE STORE, Giorgio DeLuca’s cheese shop at 120 Prince Street (now the site of Olive’s).  Giorgio DeLuca, along with two partners, went on to open Dean and DeLuca, the gourmet food store, across the street (now the site of Club Monaco).  My mother, who was pretty new to New York and the U.S., didn’t know what to buy, and one day she saw that another mom had brought in Havarti cheese, so she bought that too from then on.  I ate A LOT of Havarti cheese back in those days.

SoHo Playgroup was such as wonderful and special place to come into the world.  Mostly, but not all, children of artists, we were encouraged to discover and explore our inherent creativity.  I am still in touch with quite a few friends from back then and would love to know what the others are up to and what they remember from those days.  Thank you, SoHo moms, for creating such as nurturing environment for us to grow up in!

The Downtown Macaroni Necklace Factory (photo by Donald Gangemi)

After-School Gathering at Judy's (photo by Judy Reichler)

P.S. If you have any Playgroup photos you would like to share, please email them to sohomemory@gmail.com!


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