The History of Little Italy’s Iconic Elizabeth Street Garden

Elizabeth Street Garden pic
Elizabeth Street Garden
Image: elizabethstreetgarden.org

A longtime resident of New York City, Allan Reiver has served as president and gallery operator at Elizabeth Street Gallery for more than 25 years. Concurrent to his responsibilities at the gallery, Allan Reiver has leased Elizabeth Street Garden in Little Italy and played a key role in its development into a popular neighborhood destination and community garden open to the public.

Elizabeth Street Garden is located on a 20,000-square-foot lot facing both Mott and Elizabeth Streets. The space boasts a long history, first developed as a public school and playground in 1903. A potion became a 152-unit affordable housing building before the Manhattan Community Board 2’s Parks Committee agreed to recommend that New York City begin leasing the remaining space to the Elizabeth Street Gallery in 1991. Since acquiring the space, Reiver has helped reinvent it as a community garden that far exceeds the Cities predetermined requirements to simply clean the lot of garbage and store objects.

Though the lease originally stated that the area would serve as storage space, Reiver spearheaded efforts to turn it into a garden full of historic artifacts and statues with grass,trees,shrubbery and a sprinkler system. Today, Elizabeth Street Garden is perhaps best known for its lion statues, which are likely replicas of original pieces from Italy. Other famous additions are the columns and a gazebo that were sourced from a Fredrick Law Olmstead-designed garden. Many residents recognize the garden as an iconic part of Little Italy and have lobbied to turn it into a community garden open to the public.

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