BY YANNIC RACK | Famous East Village artist Jim “Mosaic Man” Power, has been rallying support to save some of his iconic lamp poles from being removed during upcoming restoration work on Astor Place.
Power, known for his East Village “Mosaic Trail” of tile-encrusted lampposts, has reportedly been putting up signs alerting passersby that his artworks are endangered, starting roughly two weeks ago.
The Village Alliance has been getting calls from concerned residents as well, according to executive director William Kelley, who contacted the city Department of Transportation, resulting in a commitment on the D.O.T.’s part to salvage and store the poles until they can be re-incorporated into the streetscape at a later date.
The planned Astor Place redesign will commence this fall and see the temporary removal and storage in a D.O.T. facility of seven of Power’s mosaic poles, according to an emailed statement from the city agency.
“The D.O.T. is working closely with the artist Jim Power and our partners City Lore and the Village Alliance to incorporate the light poles into the new plaza design,” the statement further read.
“I had a meeting with Jim to tell him that we are interested in helping to save them,” Kelley said on Tuesday, adding that there is no immediate danger to the artworks. He said the signs started appearing about two weeks ago, but that “nothing precipitated that” in terms of specific developments in the construction works.
Jim Power couldn’t be reached for comment.
“I think it’s going to be several months before D.O.T. actually gets to that area with the project, they’re working on the Cooper Square area right now, which is further south. But be that as it may, at least my understanding is that D.O.T. will not throw them away, they’re going to salvage them,” Kelley said.
Last year two of Power’s works – his F.D.N.Y. 9/11 tribute on Astor Pl. and another work on St. Marks Pl. – were both removed without notice by the D.O.T., although both were later restored.
The Village Alliance “ran some community outreach” last year, Kelley said, to see which kind of uses the public would like to see at the redesigned Astor Place.
“We heard a lot about how unique the poles were and how they’d like to see them incorporated,” Kelley added. “I mean, I personally really like them as well. And at the time – the design went through maybe five years ago or four years ago – unfortunately at that time I don’t think it occurred to anyone [that the poles might be removed]. And I don’t think it was a deliberate omission or anything, it just came about more recently.”
A report from the Project for Public Spaces and the Village Alliance from August 2013, summing up the initiative to come up with a viable strategy for Astor Place, even mentions Power’s trademark mosaics although it doesn’t include any details on a possible relocation.
“Traces of history also adorn Astor Place’s lamp-posts and vertical surfaces, the work of ‘Mosaic Man’ (Jim Power). He built up 80 light poles in 1988, and for 25 years has made mosaic installations which depict Lower Manhattan’s history, from Al Capone to 9/11. In 2004 he was even inducted into the City Lore Peoples Hall of Fame with official recognition of contribution to city by Mayor Bloomberg. The ‘Mosaic Trail’ is now a tourist activity, and the installations have been one of the most commonly discussed historical elements discussed by our participants – telling, as Powers is currently seeking ways to preserve his work,” the report reads.
“We believe they’ve been around for 30 or 40 years and they’re really unique cultural artifacts,” said Kelley. “We really hope that there will be a way to keep them – if not in their exact place, then at least as part of the trail, because the new design actually re-orients some of the curbs. My understanding is they can’t be located exactly where they are, but possibly along the same trajectory.”
“Jim Power’s mosaics are indigenous to the East Village/Lower East Side community,” Councilwoman Rosie Mendez wrote in an emailed statement on Wednesday. “I understand that the lampposts will be moved with the re-design of Astor Place during the streetscape reconstruction which will, also, protect the mosaic lampposts. I will work with the Village Alliance and the Department of Transportation to ensure that upon completion of the work, the mosaic lampposts are returned to or near the area where it was once located.”
The redesign at Astor Place and Cooper Square will create large areas of pedestrian space, according to the D.O.T. website. Traffic will be realigned along Fourth Ave., the pedestrian island housing the northbound 6 train will roughly double in size, and Astor Pl. between Lafayette St. and Fourth Ave. will be pedestrianized. Medians will also be constructed in the center of Third Ave. between Fourth and Ninth Sts.
With reporting by Sergei Klebnikov