Sunset Park has its own Rock of Ages
Residents move boulder 25 blocks to mark historic road
That Tony Giordano, he can move mountains! Well, not quite. But he is quite adept at moving a boulder!
Giordano, the founder of Sunset Park Restoration, a group dedicated to preserving the community’s history and character, is responsible for a daring feat – moving a large boulder 25 blocks from one landmark on Fifth Avenue to another so that the big rock could serve as a marker for a forgotten Revolutionary War roadway.
Thanks to the efforts of Giordano and Sunset Park Restoration, the boulder now stands on the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue and 35th Street, outside the gate of Green-Wood Cemetery. It marks the site where Martense Lane, a roadway listed on Revolutionary War-era maps as the only east-west road in the area, once stood. Martense Lane connected the Town of Flatbush with the farmers in the Gowanus area, according to history buff Giordano.
The traveling boulder has become quite the tourist spot in Sunset Park. Kids like to climb on it and adults enjoy having their pictures taken while sitting on it. It’s a prime spot to take a selfie.
Members of Sunset Park Restoration first noticed the boulder sitting on the sidewalk outside the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on Fifth Avenue and 60th Street. The basilica is perhaps the most famous building in Sunset Park. “The large boulder was left behind on the sidewalk after a street repair to the corner sewer and was blocking the rear door exit of the Fifth Avenue buses,” Sunset Park Restoration board member Jovita Vergara-Sosa said. “As a board member of Sunset Park Restoration, I sent word to Tony to have it removed. But after a bit of conversation, he said we should claim the boulder and move it ourselves.”
Giordano knew just where to move the boulder. Giordano, who is also known as Sunset Parker on Facebook, turned to the 1,600 friends he has on the social networking site and asked for help in moving the boulder.
Sunset Park Restoration also sent an email to Green-Wood Cemetery officials detailing their plan to move the boulder to the sidewalk outside of the fence of Greenwood. In a follow-up email, they announced that they had changed the desired location from 36th Street, to 35th to be more in line with the actual Martense Lane. After some confusion, the issue was resolved and Green-Wood officials agreed to have the boulder outside their gate. Giordano credited Councilman Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) who stepped in to assist.
“I think we moved too quickly and understandably ruffled some feathers, but we had only one desire – to create a local, historically accurate landmark where school children could actually touch history,” Giordano said.
With help from volunteers, a crane, and a truck, the boulder was moved.
Sunset Park Restoration took special care with the project, Giordano said. “We were careful to not have the stone intrude on the paved sidewalk, nor touch the historic fence of Green-Wood. Volunteers built a strong, attractive flower box around it, added soil and compost and planted flowers. They have promised to return regularly to water the flowers during dry periods and to collect and dispose of trash that the wind blows to the location,” he said.
The New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) was contacted and Giordano was relieved to find out that the boulder would not be a problem unless someone filed a complaint. DOT officials generously offered to walk the community group through the process of filing paperwork for a “Revocable Request,” which would enable the boulder to stay put for a $2.00 annual permit fee.
Evelyn Ruiz-Reilly, a Sunset Park educator, praised the placement of the boulder, which she said is creating a teachable moment for neighborhood children. “When the children visit the rock, they will be transported” back to a time when the only road in the area was Martense Lane. And it will be an opportunity to explain to them that this rock, like many rocks in Sunset Park, was brought here 14,000 years ago during the last Ice Age,” she said.
“We believe that this rock will become a magical place, a place where all Sunset Parkers will feel united in a joint history and that tens of thousands of school children will have history come alive with their first touch of the rock,” Vergara-Sosa said.