'A Breath of Fresh Air.' Fences Down, Bogardus Plaza Opens. Finally.

The new Bogardus Plaza. When weather permits and the pandemic subsides, 22 tables and 80 chairs will occuply the space, along with the current permanent bench and "egg" seating. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 18, 2020

The construction fences had just come down around Bogardus Plaza on Wednesday, and Victoria Weil stood at the center of this new public space for Tribeca, trying to take it all in. 

“It’s actually open. It’s real.” she said, almost in disbelief. “It’s shocking to have it open.”

For a full decade, Weil had been the driving force behind the reimagining and reconstruction of this 9,000-square-foot triangle at Chambers, Reade and West Broadway, a project plagued with delays. 

But beginning this day, children could play on the plaza’s 13 granite “eggs”  (a nod to the neighborhood’s past as a butter-and-egg district), pedestrians would have a wide, new path to traverse, and, when weather permits, the plaza’s ample seating would offer welcome respite from the busyness of the nearby streets. 

“Every little decision, I see it,” Weil said, scanning the plaza. “What are we going to do about the eggs? What are they going to be made of? Are we going to put lights under them? What are we going to do to make sure the steps are safe?”

She paused. “Wow, we’re open, just in time for the blizzard.”

What had been a viewing garden and adjacent plaza is now merged into a unified triangular park, designed by Signe Nielsen of Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, with new seating, lighting and paving, and added trees and plants. There’s also the two-sided 1910 mechanical clock near Chambers Street.

Work on the $4 million project, which began in fall 2017, ended two years later than expected, and was a persistent target of residents complaints.

“They took long enough,” said Barbara Berg, a nearby longtime resident who was encountering the ungated plaza for the first time. “But to see this open, I think it’s lovely. Really a breath of fresh air.”

Though one feature confused her. “I don’t know what the dinosaur eggs are.” 

“Finally it’s done,” said Aly Jetha, whose daughter Mila, 5, had quickly discovered those eggs and was jumping, climbing and lying on them with glee. “It’s beautiful. This corner is so important to the neighborhood.”

The triangle was a mere traffic island between Hudson Street and West Broadway when a community group in the 1980s named it the James Bogardus Triangle, in recognition of the father of cast-iron architecture. In 1997, 13 years after the now defunct Tribeca Community Association submitted its application, the city created the fenced garden. But by 2010, the organization had disbanded and Weil, whose apartment overlooks the space, formed Friends of Bogardus Garden to care for the greenery.

Not only did they maintain the plantings, but the group also convinced the city, which had closed off Hudson Street for the reconstruction of Chambers Street, to turn the roadbed into a temporary public space, and later into a permanent one.  

But Weil had an even bigger vision.

“Why do we have two separate areas?” she said back in 2013. “Let’s integrate them. Take down the fence and have a plaza and a garden that intermingle sensibly, beautifully.”

The Department of Transportation agreed and selected Bogardus Plaza for its Plaza Program. A $2 million DOT grant, plus additional public funding through elected officials and $365,000 raised by the Friends group funded the project that finally opened on Dec. 16.

Viewing it all on Wednesday, 10 years after her passion for transforming that triangle was sparked, Weil summed up the new Bogardus Plaza in a word.

“Amazing,” she said.