What was here before?
Lenapehoking, the homelands of the Lenape, encompassed territory from Connecticut to Delaware. The village of Sapokanikan stood northwest of here near Minetta Brook where the Lenape farmed and fished.
In the 17th century this site was part of the estate of Nicholas Bayard, Mayor of New York City in 1685-86, and a nephew of the last New Netherland director-general Peter Stuyvesant. In 1803, this property became Vauxhall Gardens, a pleasure garden and theater. By 1852, it was Board of Education property, first the home of Public Primary School No. 17 & 47 and then an administrative building. By 1925 the building was converted into commercial lofts. The lofts were demolished to make way for a parking lot in 1955.
How did this site become a plaza?
In 2022, NYC Parks partnered with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to create a public plaza on DEP property in this dense neighborhood with little open space. Working collaboratively with the community, NYC Parks designed a plaza featuring herringbone patterned permeable paving, a central green space with native plantings, "pebble" seating, areas of synthetic turf, drinking fountains, and perimeter seating and plantings.
Who is this plaza named for?
This site honors economist and urban planner Chester Rapkin (1918-2001) and preservationist Margot Gayle (1908-2008), two major figures who had a profound impact on the SoHo community.
Rapkin was born in New York City. He graduated from City College of New York in 1939 and earned a Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University in 1953. He was a professor of city and and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania from 1954 to 1966 before becoming a professor of urban planning at the Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University.
In 1962, Rapkin conducted a groundbreaking study of the conditions in SoHo that revealed the economic vibrancy and cohesiveness of the industrial lofts and helped galvanize efforts to save the neighborhood from destruction. The study led to the area being rezoned to protect the tenancy of artist residents, light industry, and small businesses. Rapkin later became a member of the City Planning Commission. He is credited with coining the term "SoHo" for South of Houston.
Gayle was born in Kansas City, Missouri. She graduated from the University of Michigan and earned her master's degree in bacteriology from Emory University. She moved to Greenwich Village in the 1950s and became active in historic preservation. She was known for a pictorial column in The Daily News, "New York's Changing Scene." In 1956 Gayle joined the Municipal Art Society and helped save the Jefferson Market Courthouse from destruction. The ornate building was renovated for use as a public library in 1967 and was later landmarked.
In 1970 Gayle founded the Friends of Cast Iron Architecture in opposition to Robert Moses's plan to build an expressway through SoHo. The group was successful, and the plan was canceled in 1971. After a previous unsuccessful effort to landmark the area in 1965, Gayle was instrumental in gaining approval of the SoHo Cast Iron Historic District in 1973. Gayle worked tirelessly into her 10th decade to landmark more buildings and expand the historic district. This site was included in the historic district's extension in 2010.
Submitted by @lampbane