Our beloved park was featured in a NYT’s article on Wednesday. Details and the article below.
A Movie on Monday Outdoors, With Room
Published: August 4, 2009
It was a warm Monday night. The sky had darkened to a sufficient shade of gray. The blankets were out and people had taken their seats. Then the screen lighted up with a familiar movie from three decades ago. Only this wasn’t Bryant Park, and it wasn’t “Kramer vs. Kramer.” This was St. Nicholas Park in Harlem, and “Fame” was about to begin.
While almost 8,000 people crammed Bryant Park the same night, with blankets covering nearly every blade of grass on the main lawn, in St. Nicholas Park, 93 blocks north, just 120 viewers were on hand, and wide swaths of thick lawn surrounded every cooler.
And that wasn’t the only difference. Since the Harlem park projects its movies from a 135th Street terrace flanked by a steep hill shaped like an amphitheater, every seat, it seemed, was a good one. Also, ambient light is minimal uptown, where the illuminated high-rises of Midtown are noticeably absent.
Perhaps most significant, St. Nicholas is hushed. On Monday, traffic on the streets bordering the park was light, allowing Irene Cara to sing “Out Here on My Own” with poignant clarity.
“I don’t go to Bryant Park anymore because it’s gotten too crazy,” said Vernon Daley, 44, a fashion industry worker who lives in the neighborhood. As he waited for the movie to begin he balanced a plate of homemade fried whiting in one hand, using the other to grapple with Quincy, a rambunctious shih tzu.
“And nobody actually watches the movies,” he added.
While Bryant Park may be almost too popular, St. Nicholas Park has had the opposite problem, struggling to convince people they should come to a place that for decades was marred by drug dealing, stabbings and a grassless dust bowl, according to neighborhood residents.
Karen Hunter, a first-time filmgoer at St. Nicholas who shared a blanket with Mr. Daley, had a longstanding unfavorable impression.
“Way back when, it was really bad,” said Ms. Hunter, a 23-year Harlem resident.
But just as the brick facades of the Beaux-Arts buildings facing the park have been scrubbed clean in the last few years, St. Nicholas, whose 23 acres feature steep staircases that zigzag under oaks, seems to have bounced back, said Paco Brown, a poet with a mohawk.
In fact, Mr. Brown, 43, said he recently moved to the area after 26 years in the East Village because of the neighborhood’s improved safety. And compared with Bryant Park’s film series, which is in its 16th year, “this is cozier,” he said, as low-flying fireflies winked behind him. “Theirs has more of a sense of event.”
The low-key approach might be a result of limited marketing. Like Mr. Brown, Dana Nichols, 17, a student walking home from class, stumbled upon Monday’s screening accidentally.
That the selection was “Fame,” about students at a performing arts school, played a part in her choosing to stay; Ms. Nichols studies dance and wore the tights to prove it. Yet the al fresco presentation also stirred up nostalgia for an era she never knew.
“It’s kind of reminiscent of a drive-in movie, which they don’t really have anymore,” she said.
While viewers in their 20s and 30s seem to make up the bulk of the crowds at Bryant Park, the people at St. Nicholas appeared to be older, though some came with young children, like the girl who ran circles around her mother during the movie’s “Red Light” dance sequence.
Moikgantsi Kgama, the executive director of ImageNation, an arts group that organized the showing, hopes to attract more families to the screenings. ImageNation has projected films in Harlem since 2002, at sites including Marcus Garvey and Jackie Robinson Parks.
But even if St. Nicholas’s movie nights may for now seem somewhat anti-Bryant, the park should still honor its predecessor, says John Reddick, who has lived nearby since 1980 and helped early on with the cleanup effort.
“Movies are a tactic to get people using the park at night,” Mr. Reddick said. “It’s a test model that started with Bryant.”
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