EAST VILLAGE — A community garden on Avenue C that shuttered 17 years ago to make way for a residential development reopened Wednesday — renamed in honor of the gardener and activist who first created the beloved sanctuary when the neighborhood was riddled with drugs and crime.
Gardeners, community members and elected officials celebrated the opening of the newly renovated Carmen Pabon Garden, previously known as El Bello Amanecer Garden, after a years-long battle to preserve a slice of the green space between East Seventh and Eighth streets that for decades served as a gathering place for the community's most vulnerable.
Garden founder Carmen Pabon, who used the space to serve the community's elderly and to feed the homeless population during the 1970s and '80s, was present at the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with her daughter, Inis Arroyo, who spoke about her mother's legacy and the importance of the green space.
Carmen Pabon was present at Wednesday's ribon-cutting. (DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs)
"Most of the time, when I would get up in the morning and she was gone, she was here," recalled Arroyo of her childhood in the neighborhood. "This was her paradise, this was la casita where she helps people."
Just as the garden offered community services during its first life, the newly opened incarnation will be a gathering place for local children and seniors, Arroyo explained.
"This is really important to our community," she said. "We're going to open it up to the kids, we're going to open it up to the schools, we're going to open it up to the senior homes — it's just going to be a wonderful, wonderful thing for this neighborhood."
A battle over the garden began in 1999, when developer BFC Partners bulldozed the land to construct the Eastville Gardens residential building. Two of the three lots comprising the garden were lost to the construction, but the community fought for the preservation of the green space, and ultimately the developer agreed to work alongside the community to restore it.
The newly renovated garden, designed by local architect Paul Castrucci, features Magnolia and Pink Dogwood trees, cherry laurel and holly shrubs. It will be open year-round, according to a BFC representative.
Eastville Gardens and the neighboring garden space were purchased in May by L+M Development Partners, which has pledged to help community members maintain the space.
Pabon, known as the "Mother of Loisaida," shared her story as part of the Lower East Side Biography Project, describing her contributions as a "social worker without a license."