BUSHWICK — A neglected 36-year-old community garden — once a vibrant hub for block parties and cookouts and home to the largest vegetable patch in the neighborhood — was bulldozed last week, uprooting the legacy of the recently deceased matron who founded it while paving the way for residential development there.
Longtime residents of Linden Street had watched the Bushwick-Linden Community Garden sink into neglect over the last five years, as fewer and fewer families stayed on the block and transient residents moved in, without a younger generation willing to step up and care for the garden.
The woman who founded the garden in 1981, Avellar Hansley and her daughter Martha Coxson, no longer had the strength to care for it.
The lot was slapped with violations for trash and rodents, and when it was finally leveled last week, neighbors watched it go with a mix of sadness and resignation — yet another sign of the rapidly changing neighborhood.
"It's the way the neighborhood is now. I feel disconnected from my neighborhood now," said Kareem Devonish, 27, a post office worker and building manager who grew up on the block and fondly recalled many an afternoon spent playing and eating in the community garden.
When sidewalk sheds shot up around the lot last week, and workers started ripping up trees and plants, he had no idea what was happening.
"I just saw this randomly go up. I had to ask, 'What's going on?'" he said. "It was so abrupt."
Devonish said he hadn't stepped foot in the garden for more than two years, since he had children of his own and hadn't thought to lend a hand.
"Now I wish I did," he said.
He sold the lot for $8.75 million to luxury condo developers Heritage Real Estate Partners and said he'll use the money to buy out his two brothers, who are partners in the store and wanted to get out. Adipietro added that he'll now be able to pass the business down to his son.
"We're going into generation three," he said.
Adipietro's father opened a hardware store down the block in 1951 and moved to the current location at 1325 Broadway, taking the vacant property from the city in 1988 after a fire destroyed the prior location.
They had an informal agreement with the Linden Street Block Association and its head, Hansley, who they let transform the property into a verdant oasis over the years.
"People like to look at the trees and the flowers, but trees and flowers don't pay the real estate taxes at the end of the day," said Adipietro, who grew up and still lives on Long Island. For five years now, no one has been caring for the garden, he noted, and it has been accruing fines from the Department of Sanitation.
"I've been here full time for 31 years. I've seen it at its worst. To leave here and walk a block and a half away, I wouldn't go myself," he recalled of the neighborhood, noting that the area is now booming and land prices are soaring.
"It's time for a new era," Adipietro said.
In it's heyday, the green space — also known as The Secret Garden — was a leafy retreat, rising from the ashes of burned-out Broadway with sprawling vegetable patches of cabbage, collard greens, string beans, turnips, scallions, rutabagas and white onions, according to a 1983 New York Times report. The story said the garden was likely the largest vegetable patch in Bushwick, decades before urban farming became a fad.
Hansley was an active community member who sat on the local community board and precinct council. She was profiled in "Pioneers of Bushwick" by photographer Daryl-Ann Saunders, cultivating the plot over the years and bringing in other block residents to help care for it.
In 2014, her years of work were honored by politicians including U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Assemblywoman Maritza Davila and other community leaders, in a ceremony at which the garden was supposed to be renamed after her, Bushwick Daily reported.
Now, that legacy has been leveled.
"It never belonged to us. It was word of mouth," said Coxson, Hansley's daughter, who moved into her own house on Linden Street in the 1970s.
"We kept it up as long as we could. There was no one stepping up to do anything. I couldn't handle it."
Hansley passed away on Mother's Day this year at the age of 91, with her obituary describing a "lifetime love of God and gardening."
Coxson said she's glad her mother didn't live long enough to see her treasured garden demolished.
"It meant everything to her," she said. "I don't know how I feel about it. My mother's not here anymore. If she were here, I would feel differently."
Developers Jeremy Markowitz and David Stern of Heritage Real Estate Partners, which is behind a luxury condo building at 1399 Park Ave. in East Harlem, didn't immediately return a request for comment. No permits have been filed at the site with the Department of Buildings, records show.
Last week, when the garden was razed,there was no public protest, no press conference or rally, or no attempt to change the garden's fate.
A faded sign on the sidewalk shed in front of the garden was the only public evidence that the land had been loved and lived in for decades.
"This was a community garden," the sign reads. "What will become of it now?"