Hell’s Kitchen Groups Gather to Snack and Strategize
BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | The wind whipped and wreaked cold havoc upon Hell’s Kitchen throughout Monday evening, but it did not deter neighbors from coming together for their annual winter gathering.
On Feb. 13, members of the Hell’s Kitchen Commons — a loose alliance of area park and block associations — met at the Landmark Tavern (626 11th Ave., at W. 46th St.) to celebrate, connect with their neighbors, and warm themselves by imbibing spirits and snacking on appetizers.
The gathering attracted longtime members of the individual community groups as well as people looking to get involved.
Christine Mower has lived on W. 45th St. for 23 years, and was prevented from participating in community work due to working nights, she said. Now that she is retired, she is eager to take part and meet more neighbors.
“I’ve always wanted to come here [for the gathering],” she said. “I’m anxious for meetings to begin.”
Mower told Chelsea Now that when she sees graffiti in the area, she paints over it. She would also like to see work begin on the Mathews-Palmer Playground (W. 45th & W. 46th Sts., btw. Ninth & 10th Aves.), which she said “looks toxic for children.”
Another newcomer was Kyle Struck, who has been living for seven years on W. 45th St. Struck said a good friend in her building told her about the gathering. “It seemed like a good opportunity to check it out,” she said. “It’s a natural step to become more involved.”
Mower and Struck were welcomed by longtime members like Janet Restino, an artist who has lived in the neighborhood at W. 45th St. and Eighth Ave. since 1992, and has been working on local issues for more than 15 years.
“I really like my neighbors,” Restino said. “It’s a great way to feel connected.”
Restino, a spoken word artist and singer who also writes, has performed at Mathews-Palmer Playground, and at various street festivals.
For Restino, the main issue the community faces moving forward is the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s controversial plan to replace their aging bus terminal at 625 Eighth Ave. (btw. W. 40th & 42nd Sts.).
“What they are going to do? Who are they going to displace?” Restino asked.
Restino is also concerned that the “overwhelming number of high-rises [is] choking us.”
Timothy Tanner, co-chair of the West 45th Block Association (which covers the area between Eighth and Ninth Aves.) agreed, saying, “It’s luxury towers coming in and dominating the neighborhood.”
Tanner moved to the neighborhood in 1998, and remembers a different landscape of local businesses that included a shoe repair shop, and stores that specialized in cheese and ravioli.
Now, “every new business that comes in is a bar. We need the political will to oppose liquor licenses,” said Tanner, calling the State Liquor Authority a rubber stamp.
Tanner said Hell’s Kitchen is becoming less of a family neighborhood, a concern for him as he has four- and two-year-old kids, and another child on the way.
Tanner’s co-chair, David Stuart, told Chelsea Now that he has been a part of the block association for about six years, and making sure that the tree beds on his block are maintained is a goal of theirs.
“We’ve expanded all the tree beds,” Stuart said. “Every year we plant flowers in the spring — just a way to keep the block looking nice.”
Stuart said it is great to work with the surrounding block associations, and that he pitched in on the effort to redesign the park to make it modern and safer.
NYC Parks Department Manhattan Borough Commissioner William T. Castro cited in an email statement to Chelsea Now the work and advocacy of former Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Councilmember Corey Johnson, Community Board 4, and the W. 45th/W. 46th block associations for the groundbreaking that is expected to start in April. The project received $1.8 million from Quinn and $760,000 from Johnson.
Hell’s Kitchen Commons, via its associated groups, organizes events and programming at the park that has included screening of films and documentaries, exercise classes, and play readings with the Irish Arts Center.
Chana Widawski of Hell’s Kitchen Commons said she looks forward to the programming in the park starting again when the weather warms up. Widawski said a new website is in the works that she hopes will encourage the community to come up with ideas about public spaces.
“The idea is to activate all our parks and public space,” she said. “This neighborhood is so rich in characters and talent and good ideas.”
Amanda Talarico, who does marketing for the Irish Arts Center, said she came to the event to get to know the community better.
“Sometimes I feel like in Hell’s Kitchen we don’t talk to one another,” Talarico said.
Allison Tupper, a longtime Hell’s Kitchen resident, found the packed Landmark Tavern — people were watching the Westminster Dog Show — an impediment to talking to her neighbors.
“I like to see my neighbors, but the place is so crowded. Everyone is crashing our party,” she said with a laugh.
Tupper, of the West 46th Street Block Association, has been working with many others to restore Arnold Belkin’s mural called “Against Domestic Colonialism” at the playground. The mural is “an important part of the neighborhood’s history,” she said.
The building needs to repair the wall, she said, and then the restoration can take place. The restoration will take about two or three weeks, and work will either happen before or after the summer so that kids can enjoy the space, Tupper said. Fundraising efforts are ongoing. According to Tupper, about $40,000 has been raised of the estimated $80,000 necessary to complete the project.
For the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association, visit hknanyc.org. Also visit mathews-palmer-playground-mural-arts-program.com. Visit crowdrise.com/mathewspalmerplaygro1/fundraiser/allisontupper to help with the mural project. Email Hell’s Kitchen Commons at firstname.lastname@example.org.