December 2, 2001

In Washington Heights, Residents Wake Up, Smell the Roses and

Save a Garden


  The 80-foot American elms soar in the Heather Garden in Fort Tryon Park, paths wind through
 flower beds that bloom into December, and the views of the Hudson River and the New Jersey
 Palisades are sublime. And now there is more money available to make the garden even better.

But that almost did not happen. With a month to go before a Nov. 30 deadline and still $60,000 short of
their goal, City parks officials worried that Fort Tryon Park would lose a $200,000 challenge grant to
establish an endowment for the three-acre garden. When a few large donations from rich people did not
meet the goal, a late fund-raising drive by community groups brought in a flurry of last-minute checks
from local residents to save the grant with a few days to go.

The rush of money, even as a lot of philanthropic giving has shifted to Sept. 11 relief funds, shows how
precious the terraced garden is to the community.

Fort Tryon Park was inaugurated in 1935, four years after John D. Rockefeller Jr. donated the 67 acres
to the city. But by the middle of the century, the Heather Garden, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted,
had fallen into disrepair. Since a restoration in the mid-1980's, it has steadily regained its former
glory, evoking a formal European garden.

"It has been getting more and more beautiful every time I turn around," said Marcella Calabi, an
organizer of the last-minute fund-raising drive.

A few weeks ago, parks officials mentioned the shortfall to local leaders, who were upset by the
possibility of losing the grant and irritated that they had not learned about the problem earlier. So, on
Nov. 16, members of neighborhood groups gathered at Capo Verde, a local coffee and burrito shop, to
prepare a mailing. By Friday, about $10,000 had come in.

That included $25 from Jody Parker, a South Carolina resident who had traveled north to visit her
sister and brother-in-law. After Rouben and Patricia Cholakian took Ms. Parker to the Heather Garden,
as they do with all their guests, Ms. Parker gave $25 to the fund.

"Being a garden lover, she was smitten to the quick," said Mr. Cholakian, a retired French professor.

Adrian Benepe, the Manhattan parks commissioner, added: "That's the most heartwarming part of the
whole thing. The neighbors went out and put us over the top. This is not Park Avenue or Fifth Avenue,
this is Washington Heights, and people are really digging into their pockets."


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