Juniper Shay, HT student, NEHTN Social Media coordinator

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My name is Juniper June Shay, I am 22 years old and identify with non-binary umbrella (my pronouns are they/them/their and ze/zir/zirs). I am currently an HT student through the NYBG certificate program. Prior to quarantine, I was interning at the NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital with Lori Bloomberg while also working part time at Remedies Herb Shop in Carroll Gardens.

Recently, I have been spending hours in Miss Stefanie’s gated secret garden in front of St. Vartan Park (35th to 36th Street on 1st Ave). The park is located in Murray Hill, Manhattan a block away from the NYU Langone Tisch Hospital. United Nations personnel, locals, and essential workers passing by can enjoy the garden from afar. The garden is specifically cared for as part of Miss Stefanie’s unique parent-participatory preschool program affiliated with the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation (established in 1998). The private garden belongs to the preschool, serving as a safe haven for children to have their first learning experiences with nature. I feel extremely lucky to have the opportunity to prune the dried Sakura trees, carefully weed, and transplant lovely Irises (some of which were donated by local resident and retired HTR Laurie Sexton). The garden is cared for all year, and I hope in the future to be able to participate. Miss Stefanie attended Cornell University and graduated Cum Laude from Barnard College and speaks five different languages. It has been an absolute pleasure learning with her. I am looking forward to growing more by her side.

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St. Vartan has been a green space in Manhattan for a long time. Prior to St. Vartan there was a park in this same general area called St. Gabriel’s Park which first opened in 1904 and was named after one of the nearby churches which is no longer around. In 1936 the St. Gabriel’s park was upgraded thanks to the Works Progress Administration, one of the New Deal agencies. I didn’t actually know any of this until I did some research. This reconstruction program was a bit of a mystery because Robert Moses actually forbade the placement of New Deal signs, plaques, cornerstones or any kind of logos on New Deal constructions in NYC. This is a major reason why so few people are aware of the tremendous impact of New Deal projects had on the NYC landscape. This discovery is extremely relevant to me right now because in my opinion the U.S. is in a very similar position as we were during the Great Depression. Millions of people are out of work, and people are realizing that Wall Street and the big banks and corporations are the problem not the solution. The federal government (or freaking someone) is going to need to take the initiative and do what the private sector can’t do and put people to work even if only temporarily. During the Great Depression, the sites built by these workers provided lasting jobs for many people. The wages from all of these jobs flowed back into the depressed economy, especially into neighborhood small businesses, thus creating even more jobs; The schools, parks, playgrounds, swimming pools, hospitals, clinics, and other sites that were created played essential roles in the education, health, and well-being of the population.

From the 1930s through the 1960s Murray Hill was actually known as Little Armenia. Predominantly a neighborhood of immigrant rug merchants, grocers, and other small business owners. Few traces of the old neighborhood remain. In 1978 the park was further renovated and renamed St. Vartan Park, named for the nearby gold-domed St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral. Vartan Mamikonian was an Armenian who lived during the fourth century, remembered for his martyrdom at the Battle of Avarayr in 451 AD between Armenian and Iranian forces in present-day Albania. I feel especially humbled, to be of Iranian and Armenian descent through my father Farhad who immigrated here in the 1970s. Little Armenia represent!

Sources: The Living New Deal, researcher Frank da Cruz, and Ephemeral New York.