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Columbus Park

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Formerly the Mulberry Bend slums, now a park used by mahjong and basketball players alike

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Chinatown
Parks and Gardens, Play

Place Matters Profile

Place Matters Profile

Bounded by Mulberry, Baxter, Worth and Bayard Streets, and located at the southwestern edge of Manhattan’s Chinatown, Columbus Park occupies the site of one of 19th century-New York’s most infamous slums. In 1855 it was near the center of the Five Points neighborhood -- widely considered the toughest place to live in antebellum New York City. Five Points was an important neighborhood for the African American population living in Lower Manhattan, and immigrants, including significant numbers from Ireland, settled there as well. It was also the hub of the city’s cheap retail clothing trade, with scores of clothing workers living in the area, and forty-eight percent of Five Points’ women working long hours in overcrowded buildings, sewing shirts, caps, dresses and vests for the lowest wages available to them.

By the 1870s, the site of future Columbus Park was known as Mulberry Bend. Reporter-turned-reformer Jacob Riis (who worked from an office located just blocks north of “the Bend”) began

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Nominations

M.A. Jung

It replaced the notorious Mulberry Bend Slums in the late 1890s. Today it bustles with card and mahjong players, basketball and baseball games, children and the elderly.



Bruce Rosen

The park had been physically expanded through actions of the Department of City Planning staff, which led to street closures and the park's current shape. Redesign and reconstruction followed. The core of the Chinatown Garment District was actually along the Soho corridor formed by Broadway and Lafayette Street. The Koch administration created inducements to get the space-restricted industry across the East River into the then-vacant Brooklyn Army Terminal. That also led to the development of a satellite Chinese community in Sunset Park.

Visually, the southward expansion of the park links with the preexisting landscape of Chatham Towers, the Corbu-like, Lindsay epoch apartment buildings. The original home of the Museum of Chinese in America was a second story space in a former public elementary school catty corner to the northeast edge of the park. The park's expansion coincided with the completion of the transiton of the funeral homes on the east side from serving an Italian clientele to a Chinese one, but at least initially, the funeral bands remained Italian.

The expansion of the Tombs to the northwest of the park led to perhaps to only prison facility with ground floor retail space, in a show of the Chinese community's strength and desire to have the otherwise unwelcome structure integrated into its surroundings. The public art component was a solid nod to Chinatown. (May 2012)



Nominated during the Asian American Art Alliance's Locating the Sacred Festival (2012)

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