By Larry Tung
To Guy Yee, Columbus Park is the place to reminisce about the past
and ponder the future.
A longtime resident on Chinatowns Mott Street, Yee has been
coming to the park for more than 20 years. Now at 76 and in perfect
health, he starts his day with some exercise at the park and usually
spends most of his mornings here. He comes back later in the afternoon
for more exercise to catch up with friends.
"I am an old man," Yee sighed. "Many of my friends
who used to come here are gone. But I still come here every day."
Just like Yee, the park has a weathered face but is still standing
strong. It was built in 1897. Having served countless tai chi practitioners,
fortune-tellers, Chinese chess players and basketball lovers, the
park is finally getting the support it needs for an overdue facelift.
At a press conference last month, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and City
Council Speaker Gifford Miller announced that 1.37 million dollars
would be used to renovate the 2.7-acre park.
The money comes from a donation to the city from Joseph Temeczko,
a Polish immigrant who died of a heart attack on October 14, 2001
at age 86. Temeczko came to the United States via Ellis Island and
worked at the Statue of Liberty before moving to Minnesota.
After September 11th, the millionaire handyman re-wrote his will,
giving his lifes savings to New York City, indicating that
he wanted to honor the victims of September 11th . He asked that
his fortune be spent "as its mayor and City Council shall best
determine in their discretion." Most of the money was dedicated
to installing synthetic turf on an asphalt sports field in Columbus
Park. A plaque will be placed there to honor Temeczko.
The remaining $300,000 of Temeczkos $1.4 million donation
was given to continue the Daffodil Project. The project plants bulbs
in all five boroughs to symbolize renewal.
"The renovation of Columbus Park is one of countless ways
we plan to revitalize Lower Manhattan, and it will serve the community
for years to come," said Bloomberg.
But there is still more to be done at Columbus Park. On the parks
northern end stands the Columbus Park Pavilion. With paintings of
golden dragons on each side of its entrance, the two-story pavilion
has been closed for more than a decade because of its deteriorating
condition. It has been inducted into the Hall of Shame by the Project
for Public Places, an advocacy group for better city parks and public
Now local residents are looking forward to the reopening of the
pavilion, after the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation and
the National Parks Service gave $1.4 million for its refurbishment.
"There used to be cultural performances here every summer,"
said Yee. "But they were all moved to Lincoln Center since
the pavilion was closed." Yee said he would like to see cultural
performances back in the park and private money brought to maintain
the pavilion with operations of small gift shops or a market for
Paul Gong, president of Friends of Columbus Park, a 13-member umbrella
group that includes the Chinatown YMCA and Chinese American Planning
Council, welcomed the news but said a renovation is long overdue.
"The park has been neglected for so long," Gong said.
"It's a shame. For the past 15 years, the pavilion has only
been home to the pigeons and the condition in the park is hazardous
to the groups that use [it]."
Gong, who also heads the Asian American Youth Center, proposed
that a recreational center be established in the Pavilion to provide
space for public town meetings, leisure activities, and to serve
as a centralized place to disperse community and public information.
Meanwhile, to many Columbus Park regulars, the park is not only
the best place to hang out in the city but it also offers special
comfort. It is known as "Old Man Park" in the Chinatown
community because the regular visitors are mostly senior citizens.
Peter Chan, a Chinese chess enthusiast, enjoys his retirement by
traveling from Bensonhurst to Chinatown a few days a week to play
chess and chat with his friends.
"We speak the same language," Chan said. "I feel
more comfortable here. This is where almost everybody knows everybody's
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