Traffic Island Is in Bloom; 19th-Century Time Capsule

New York Times - Nina Siegal

Before Michael Ryan began tending the traffic island between 113th and 114th Streets on Riverside Drive, it was a barren gray concrete swath, home only to a single telephone booth. Now it has been transformed into a neighborhood garden, filled with hyacinth, roses, tulips and chinodoxa.

Mr. Ryan, a doorman at 410 Riverside Drive, adopted the tiny slip of concrete four years ago. To stop people from parking there, the city's Parks and Recreation Department installed boulders around the perimeter of the island, then planted shrubs like hydrangea, oak leaf and berberit. After that, city officials enlisted Mr. Ryan, who planted his own shades of green in his spare time.

Mr. Ryan's garden is only a part of the greening taking place along Riverside Drive. Between 110th and 113th Street, the city and a neighborhood group have begun the restoration of Kossuth Island, a 1.4-acre park along the curve of the drive.

Created in the late 1870's by Frederick Law Olmsted, the park is a small time capsule of 19th-century political concerns. At its southern end is a statue of Samuel J. Tilden, a New Yorker who opposed the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the 1876 presidential election. Tilden, a Democrat, was the only presidential candidate in history who won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College vote.

Nearby is the statue of Lajos Kossuth, the Hungarian statesman and political reformer who led his nation's struggle for independence from Austria in the 1840's. At the height of his renown in the 1850's, 50,000 people turned out to greet him in New York. Each spring, Hungarians and Hungarian-Americans still meet in tribute at Kossuth Island.

The city has supplied $350,000 toward its restoration, at the urging of C. Virginia Fields, the Manhattan borough president, and Councilman Bill Perkins. The Riverside Park Fund, a nonprofit support organization with 4,000 members, has raised $50,000 for the renovation.

James T. Dowell, executive director of the fund, said most of the money was donated by co-op residents and others who live near the island, and by Hungarian-Americans. The ground-breaking was on Nov. 5.

Charles McKinney, the Riverside Park administrator for the Parks Department, said the project would include new topsoil, new paths and irrigation, as well as some fencing to control where people walk and park their cars.

Mr. McKinney said this is one of the first projects in a plan to restore all of the pedestrian areas and islands along Riverside Drive, between 72nd and 153rd Streets.

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