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City Forces Landlord to Tear Down Sculpture Garden in Hell's Kitchen

By Serena Solomon | December 2, 2009 7:45am | Updated on December 3, 2009 12:42pm

By Serena Solomon

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HELL'S KITCHEN — Artist David Scalza turned a 56th Street apartment courtyard full of trash into a neighborhood arts "treasure" four years ago. On Tuesday, he watched workers tear it all down.

The building's landlord brought in the workers to stave off $18,000 in fines from the city after officials said the "Another Man's Treasure" sculpture garden was a fire hazard.

But the neighbors, friends and fans of the garden who took photos as the art was removed held out hope that community pleas and help from local politicians would get the garden restored.

"When a bunch of little people get together they can seem powerful," said Scalza, who brought the workers cup of coffee as they tore apart his installation.

David Scalza in sculpture garden before it was removed.
David Scalza in sculpture garden before it was removed.
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Serena Solomon/DNAinfo

"[The landlord] put everything down in the basement, so that says something," Scalza said. "He could have just ordered a dumpster and thrown everything in the Dumpster."

The issue now goes before the city's Environmental Control Board, a tribunal that mitigates quality of life issues, in a hearing on Thursday.

Scalza hopes to convince the board that the garden, which he started to help him cope with a cancer diagnosis and contains works of art made from recycled materials and has been a stop on local arts tours, should be restored.

As DNAinfo reported exclusively earlier this week, trouble started for the garden in October when the Department of Buildings said they received two complaints regarding blockage of fire escapes and the presence of combustible materials.

Scalza said this led to the arrival of an inspector, who ordered the artwork be removed or the building would be hit with $18,000 in fines.

Then, Scalza started a petition drive to save the garden and wrote to local politicians for help.

Eric Sumberg, a spokesman for state Sen. Tom Duane, said his office was informed of the matter over the weekend and reached out to the Buildings department, the landlord and Scalza to find a solution.

"It was unfortunate there just wasn't enough time," Sumberg said. "We are exploring possible options to see if there are other ways to resurrect the garden in another form."

Cheryl McGinnes came to see the garden for the first time as the workers dismantled it. The owner of an art gallery said she had heard of Scalza's plight.

"Its very interesting to take a found object, recycle it and use it again and to use it in a creative way," she said. "It is unfortunate that it is not valued and I feel sorry for the artists that put all this together. They had all of this time to put it together and just arbitrarily one day it has to be dismantled and taken apart."