In the 1970s a few reckless souls dared to try to put back together their bombed out neighborhoods in the Lower East Side. One free-spirited hippie named Adam Purple sprang into action as the buildings around him crumbled into smoking heaps and bodies piled up. He was haunted by the face of a mother looking through a screen window down at her kids playing in the rubble.
In 1975 this unlikely builder, who also went by names like John Peter Zenger II, Les Ego, and General Zen of the Headquarters of the Intergalactic of Psychic Police of Uranus, set out to recoup the rubble of five lots by building an oasis for the kids play and a community for the adults. He named it The Garden of Eden, combining Biblical, astrological, Zen, New Age and other bits and pieces of religion. At least seven other faith-themed gardens grew up on the Lower East Side at this time, including the Holy Mary Mother of God Garden on 9th Street between C and D Avenues, the Zodiac Medicinal Herb Garden also on 9th Street, Bello Amanecer Borincana with a central bed in the form of a cross, El Jardin de la Garden on 10th Street, and Brisas del Caribe. Each year, counter-cultural locals enacted “The Rites of Spring” as a parade honoring Gaia, the living spirit of the Earth.
Surprisingly, the garden grew into magnificent proportions. With the help of his neighbors he created one of the largest art works in the city. By 1986 Eden had 100 rose bushes, 45 nut and fruit trees and many vegetable crops. However, the city government, which had desperately let community groups build gardens in the rubble, now started to covet the land as its price went up. Poverty groups clamored for favors from city hall, including a transfer of the land to them. Purple and his garden were relics of the hippie commune age.
Purple’s vision was eccentric and his persona outlandish. An extreme environmentalist, he renounced the use of flush toilets and the internal combustion engine as environmental hazards. He scavenged the streets as a believer in recycling, cooked over a woodstove, and dressed in purple with a green cap. He looked like a Santa Claus on skid row. He never had a chance.
The Garden of Eden at 213-215 Eldridge Street was razed on January 8, 1986.
Also read The Medieval Gardens of NYC, The Biblical Gardens of NYC, Gardens of Vishnu & Shiva,Central Park: the largest religious art work in New York City, and The Garden of Gethsemane in Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Brooklyn.
See our video recap of the 285 religious sites on the Lower East Side :