Bring back the Tompkins Square Park band shell!
That's what the lead article in this weeks Villager argues, and we've got to say we wholeheartedly agree. Forty years after the original band shell was put up and nearly fifteen years after it was taken down in response to the Tompkins Square riots, there is a growing desire to see a designated performance space return to the park. And why not?
The original band shell was initially very successful. Acts like the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane, not to mention the poet Allen Ginsberg, all played there. But those days didn't last:
By the late 1980s, it had become a homeless shelter, with 40 to 50 people sleeping in it, as well as Alphabet City’s largest urinal. In addition to the homeless, it was increasingly used by neighborhood activists and squatters as a rallying point. Following a major riot in 1988 over imposing a curfew on the park and another big one in 1991 that started at the band shell — which some accuse police of instigating — a few months after the last riot, the park was closed for a year for a renovation. One of the first things done was to demolish the band shell.
Since then, and this might be surprise to you, a lot has changed in the neighborhood. The yuppies and hipsters have come in and pushed out a lot of the old neighborhood such that the issues that led to the riots have been "dealt with one way or another." The park has once again become a heavily trafficked area which houses countless events, the newest and most notable being the Howl festival. Those events now need to rent stages to put on performances. A new band shell would be a nice addition, and make it easier for events like Howl to grow and prosper. Plus, if they put in a nice fence, the homeless won't sleep in it.
All that we ask is that if a new shell does eventually go up that nobody take seriously parks conservancy member Ellen LeCompte's suggestion that a new band shell have "a really fabulous design by an architect like Frank Gehry." Fabulous design, sure. Gehry, please no. Gehry's design for the Pritzker Pavilion band shell in Chicago is awful! The back doesn't even look finished! And anyway, an open design competition would be much more inline with the neighborhoods character.