Imagining the Future of a Vacant Lot

Community GardensDesign by Andrew and Nicholas Hunt The Local asked neighborhood designers for their vision of how a vacant lot of East 13th Street (below) might be transformed. Above is the design by architects Andrew and Nicholas Hunt, whose plan includes a farmers market, community garden space, a restaurant and residential units.
lot 3Rachel Trobman

Over the past 40 years, the lot on 13th Street east of Third Avenue has been many things: a home for stray animals, a showcase for street artists, a resting place for the homeless, a dumping ground for clothes.

But one thing it has never been is developed.

And, according to land owner Builtgross Associates, a subsidiary of Milstein Properties, that’s not going to change in the near future as no solid plans are in the works.

“We’re examining several alternatives but haven’t formalized anything yet,” said Anthony Bergamo, vice chairman of executive planning for Milstein Properties. “We’re looking for something that would be good for the community and area businesses.”

For many years, the massive, 23,000-square-foot site, which stretches to 14th Street and is formally known to the city as Lot 15 on Block 469, did serve the community. It was once B.F. Keith’s vaudeville theater and then, later, a single-screen movie called the RKO Jefferson. While it closed in the 1970s, the building’s shell was not demolished until late 1999. It has remained vacant ever since.

In 2004, the property became the infamous site of a gruesome discovery – a homeless woman’s body was found stuffed inside a trunk dumped on the lot. A 54-year-old man who lived at 245 East 13th Street turned himself in to authorities three years later to face murder charges.

In recent years, the site was briefly transformed by the community into a makeshift park with a basketball hoop.

That’s something Daniel Moreno, a superintendent at a 13th Street apartment building, would like to see become more permanent.

“A park would be nice. With some benches and a place for the dogs,” said Moreno.

Chef David Chang, whose culinary empire started on the same block as the lot, explored the space in the past, envisioning it as a garden for the restaurants. He says it would also be an ideal spot for an edible schoolyard, where children could learn about the connection between food and health.

Site DiagramDesign by Andrew and Nicholas Hunt The Hunt Brothers said that their design was inspired by the East Village’s “treasures of quirky open public gardens and a wide range of culinary options and experiments.”

Chang’s colleague, Wylie Dufresne, chef of WD~50, had a view of the lot from his home for 15 years.

“My roommate and I spent hours wandering around that old abandoned theater. I still have reels of film I found,” said Mr. Dufresne. “I had a dream of opening a B&B with a 40-seat restaurant in the lot. Part of the fantasy included an urban farm with vegetables growing in a garden and chickens running around. A rustic inn on 14th Street!”

But it’s brothers Andrew and Nicholas Hunt, both architects who live in the East Village, who have one of the grandest ideas for the space.

Their plan includes a farmers market, community garden space, a restaurant and some residential units.

“The East Village embodies a sense of community, contains treasures of quirky open public gardens and a wide range of culinary options and experiments,” said the brothers in a joint e-mail message. “With all this in mind, we wanted to bring together much of what we love about the East Village to create a place where residents and visitors could come to shop for local foods, sample cuisines inspired by local ingredients, and if interested, grow their own all within a unique space.”

Join the conversation: Do you have ideas for this space? Share them with us.

13th street viewDesign by Andrew and Nicholas Hunt An overview of the 13th Street perspective of the proposal by the Hunt Brothers.