Tompkins Square Park

This article is about the park in Manhattan. For the Mumford & Sons song, see Tompkins Square Park (song).
Tompkins Square Park

The park's entrance is at East 7th and Avenue A, and it has been the heart of the neighborhood since it opened.

location in New York City

Type public
Location Alphabet City, Manhattan, New York City
Coordinates 40°43′35″N 73°58′54″W / 40.72639°N 73.98167°W / 40.72639; -73.98167Coordinates: 40°43′35″N 73°58′54″W / 40.72639°N 73.98167°W / 40.72639; -73.98167
Area 10.5 acres (4.2 ha)
Operated by New York City Department of Parks and Recreation

Tompkins Square Park is a 10.5-acre (4.2 ha) public park in the Alphabet City portion of East Village, Manhattan, New York City. United States. The square-shaped park, bounded on the north by East 10th Street, on the east by Avenue B, on the south by East 7th Street, and on the west by Avenue A, is abutted by St. Marks Place to the west.


"Salt Meadows" in a British map of 1776

19th century

Tompkins Square Park is located on land near the East River, that originally consisted of salt marsh and open tidal meadows, "Stuyvesant meadows", (map, left) the largest such ecosystem on Mannahatta island,[1] but has since been filled in.[2] The unimproved site, lightly taxed by the city as most agricultural properties were, seemed scarcely worth the expense of improving to its owners, the Stuyvesants, who inherited it from the 17th-century grant awarded to Peter Stuyvesant, and their Pell and Fish relatives. The City aldermen, to raise the tax base of the city, accepted a gift of land in 1829 from Peter Gerard Stuyvesant (1778–1847) with the understanding that it would remain a public space,[3] and compensated other owners with $62,000 in city funds to set aside a residential square; transforming the muddy site took another $22,000 before Tompkins Square was opened in 1834.[4] Surrounded by a cast-iron fence the following year[5] and planted with trees, the square was expected to have a prosperous and genteel future,[6] which was undercut, however, by the Panic of 1837 that brought the city's expansion to a halt.[7]

Tompkins Square Park is named for Daniel D. Tompkins (1774–1825), Vice President of the United States under President James Monroe and the Governor of New York from 1807 until 1817. He had overseen some early drainage in the locality in connection with minor fortifications in the War of 1812. The park was opened in 1850.[8]

In 1857, immigrants protesting unemployment and food shortages were attacked by police. In 1863 the deadly Draft Riots occurred in the park.[8]

On January 13, 1874, the Tompkins Square Riot occurred in the park when police crushed a demonstration involving thousands of workers.[9] The riot marked an unprecedented era of labor conflict and violence. The riot occurred in the midst of the Panic of 1873, a depression that began in 1873 and lasted for several years.[10] Workers movements throughout the United States had been making demands of the government to help ease the strain of the depression.[11] Organizations rejected offers of charity and instead had asked for public works programs that would provide jobs for the masses of unemployed.[12]

In 1877 5,000 people fought with the National Guard when they amassed to hear Communist revolutionary speeches.[8]

On April 7, 1897, a rabbi was arrested for not obtaining a permit for the performance of Birkat Hachama, a Jewish ritual done once every 28 years.[13]

20th century

Snow in February 2008

In the middle 19th century the "Square" included a large parade ground for drilling the New York National Guard. The modern layout of the park by Robert Moses in 1936 is said to be intended to divide and manage crowds that have gathered there in protest since the 1870s. That tradition was rekindled as the park became the nursery of demonstrations against the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

By the 1980s Tompkins Square Park had become for many New Yorkers synonymous with the city's increased social problems. The park at that time was a high-crime area that contained encampments of homeless people, and it was a center for illegal drug dealing and heroin use.

In August 1988, a riot erupted in the park when police attempted to clear the park of homeless people; 38 people were injured.[14] Bystanders as well as homeless people and political activists got caught up in the police action[15] that took place on the night of August 6 and the early morning of August 7, after a large number of police surrounded the park and charged at the hemmed-in crowd while other police ordered all pedestrians not to walk on streets neighboring the park.[16] Much of the violence was videotaped and clips were shown on local TV news reports (notably including one by a man who sat on his stoop across the street from the park and continued to film while a police officer beat him up),[17] but ultimately, although at least one case went to trial, no police officers were found culpable. A punk rock festival has been held in the park in the years since, in commemoration of the event.

The park had become a symbol of the problems in the city, including homelessness—which had prompted the 1988 riot.[17] Against that backdrop, Daniel Rakowitz shocked the neighborhood in 1989 when he murdered Monika Beerle, dismembered her, made a soup out of her body and served it to the homeless in the park.[18] Rakowitz, nicknamed "The Butcher of Tompkins Square", was found not guilty by reason of insanity and remains incarcerated at the Kirby Forensic Psychiatric Center on Wards Island.[19]

From June 3, 1991 to July 25, 1992, the park was closed to the public for restoration, but also to keep out the homeless and in attempt to calm tensions.[20]

21st century

People relaxing and sunbathing on the park's central knoll

Increasing gentrification in the East Village during the 1990s and 2000s, and enforcement of a park curfew and the eviction of homeless people have changed the character of Tompkins Square Park.[21] The park was closed and refurbished in 1991, reopening in 1992.[21] Today, with its playgrounds and basketball courts, dog run, ping pong table, handball courts, and built-in outdoor chess tables, the park attracts young families, students and seniors and tourists from all over the globe.[22]



The outdoor drag festival Wigstock, held in the park, is now part of the Howl Festival. The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival is a musical tribute to the famous former resident of Avenue B. In 2007, the New Village Music Festival was formed.[23] This is a community music festival dedicated to celebrating New York's diverse music scene. In addition, the event highlights the importance of music and cultural arts programs throughout the city.

There is also an annual event in early August commemorating the 1988 Police Riot that features neighborhood bands.[24]

The Food Not Bombs Manhattan chapter serves every Sunday in the park, rain or shine.[25]

Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation have a popular free outdoor French film festival which shows a critically acclaimed French films each Friday at sunset in city parks including Tompkins during June and July.[22][26]

Tompkins Square Dog Run

The newly renovated Big Dog Run

The Tompkins Square Dog Run[27] was the first[28] dog run in New York City. It opened in 1990 as part of a large-scale renovation of the dilapidated park.[29] It recently underwent a $450,000 renovation, much of which was funded by the New York City government and fund-raising by dog run patrons. It now includes a surface of crushed stone [sand], three swimming pools, a tree deck, and bath areas and hoses to spray off one's pet.[29]

One such fundraiser is the Annual Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade the run hosts to raise money to maintain the run. This is the biggest dog Halloween party in the United States, boasting an annual attendance of more than 400 dogs in costume and 2,000 spectators.[30]

Elm trees

One of Tompkins Square Park's most prominent features is its collection of venerable American Elm (Ulmus americana) trees. One elm in particular, located next to the semi-circular arrangement of benches in the park's center, is important to adherents of the Hare Krishna religion. It was beneath this tree, on October 9, 1966, that A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, held the first recorded outdoor chanting session of the Hare Krishna mantra outside of the Indian subcontinent; participants in the ceremony included Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. The event is seen as the founding of the Hare Krishna religion in the United States, and the tree is treated by Krishna adherents as a significant religious site.[33]

American elm trees are known for their towering canopies, which provide abundant shade throughout the spring, summer, and fall. It is rare today to find such a collection of American elms, since many of the mature elms planted across the country have been killed by Dutch Elm Disease. This incurable disease, a fungus carried by elm bark beetles (Coleoptera scolytidae) that colonize on the branches of the elm tree, swept across the United States in the 1930s and remain a threat to the park's collection of elms. Despite having lost at least 34 of the trees, Tompkins Square Park still hosts a large assemblage of elms, which continue to this day to enchant park patrons. The East Village Parks Conservancy, a volunteer group, raises significant private funds for the ongoing care and maintenance of the American elms and other historic trees in Tompkins Square Park.[34]


The main playground, closest to Avenue A, features jungle gyms, rock climbing features, and a water fountain flush with the ground. There is a large sandbox, swing sets, and benches. There are two smaller playgrounds in the section of the park near 7th Street and Avenue B. The main playground reopened in August 2009 after a year-long renovation.[35]


Children at play in the summer

The park contains three monuments. There is a monument in the north side of the park to the General Slocum boating disaster on June 15, 1904. This was the greatest single loss of life in New York City prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Over a thousand people, mainly German immigrant mothers and children, drowned in the East River that day. The area near the park, formerly known as Kleindeutschland, effectively dissolved in grief as shattered German families moved away.[36] This disaster is also memorialized in James Joyce's novel Ulysses.

Additionally, the park is also the place where Indian Sadhu A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came to sing and preach in 1966, beginning the worldwide Hare Krishna movement. An elm tree in the park's southern plaza that he chanted beneath is now considered sacred to the Hare Krishna faith, as noted by a New York City Department of Parks and Recreation plaque.[37]

The southeast corner of the park contains a statue of Samuel S. Cox (1824–1889), a New York City politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio and New York, and as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman Empire in 1885–86.[38]

See also



  1. Eric W. Sanderson, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City, 2009: map p. 127.
  2. Hassell, Malve Von Hassell (1996). Homesteading in New York City, 1978–1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida. Bergin & Garvey. p. 39.
  3. History of Tompkins Square; two years later another gift of Stuyvesant created Stuyvesant Square
  4. "Tompkins Square, opening—— $2264.60" still appears in The New-York Annual Register 1837:340.
  5. "Tompkins Square—opening (balance) —— $36,718.35, Tompkins Square—filling and fencing —— $3575" appear in The New-York Annual Register 1835:308.
  6. Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, 1999:579
  7. Carolyn Ratcliffe (Lower East Side Preservation Institute) "The thin green line: a timeline of the Lower East Side —Tompkins Square area"
  8. 1 2 3 Strausbaugh, John (September 14, 2007). "Paths of Resistance in the East Village". The New York Times. Retrieved August 25, 2008.
  9. Gordon, Michael Allen (1993). The Orange Riots: Irish Political Violence in New York City, 1870–1871. Cornell University Press. p. 203.
  10. Johnson, Marilynn S. (2003). Street Justice: A History of Political Violence in New York City. Beacon Press. pp. 30–31.
  11. Gutman, Herbert G. "The Tompkins square 'Riot' in New York City on January 13, 1874: A re-examination of its causes and its aftermath". Labor History6:1 (1965) p. 44
  12. Wallace, Michael; Burrows, Edwin G., Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford University Press USA, 1998) p.1024
  13. "Hebrew Festival Marred". The New York Times. April 8, 1897. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  14. "Park Curfew Protest Erupts Into a Battle And 38 Are Injured" by Robert McFadden, The New York Times, August 7, 1988, Section B; Page 3, Column 6; Metropolitan Desk
  15. Koch Suspends Park Curfew Following bloody clash in Tompkins Square, Manuel Perez-Rivas, Newsday, August 8, 1988, NEWS; Pg. 5.
  16. Smith, RJ (August 23, 1988). "Message in a Bottle: Homesteaders Rock the Lower East Side". The Village Voice. Retrieved June 4, 2007.
  17. 1 2 Purdum, Todd (August 14, 1988). "Melee in Tompkins Sq. Park: Violence and Its Provocation". The New York Times. p. A1.
  18. Psychiatrist: Rakowitz ‘excited’ recalling grisly stew, Tien-Shun Lee, The Villager, Volume 74, Number 8 | June 23–29, 2004
  19. ‘Butcher of Tompkins Sq.’ hopes to gain his release, Tien-Shun Lee, The Villager, Volume 73, Number 7 | June 16–22, 2004
  20. Hassell, Malve Von Hassell (1996). Homesteading in New York City, 1978–1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida. Bergin & Garvey. p. 44.
  21. 1 2 Park History
  22. 1 2 "Films on the Green: Claire's Knee". New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Retrieved July 12, 2009.
  23. "New Village Music Festival". Retrieved July 12, 2009.
  24. "Memo From Manhattan: The Tompkins Square Park Riot | OUPblog". August 6, 1988. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  25. Foods Not Bombs website
  26. "Films on the Green". Cultural Services of the French Embassy. New York, New York. Retrieved July 12, 2009.
  27. "Tompkins Square Dog Run". Tompkins Square Dog Run. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  28. McKinley,Jesse (October 15, 1995) "Dog Run Culture" The New York Times; accessed August 15, 2008.
  29. 1 2 Dog run history
  30. "Halloween Parade — Tompkins Square Dog Run". Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  31. New York City Parks Department, plaque
  32. "Hare Krishna Tree". on WikiMapia
  33. New York City Historical Sign Listings
  34. "East Village Parks - Tompkins Square Park - Programs". East Village Parks Conservancy. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  35. "New Tompkins Square playground is an overdue hit". The Villager. September 1, 2009. Retrieved June 9, 2014.
  36. New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. Slocum memorial.
  37. "Tompkins Square Park Hare Krishna Tree". New York City Department of Parks & Recreation.
  38. "Samuel Sullivan Cox". Biographical Directory of the US Congress.

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