Cornell Edwards Way is wending its way to approval
BY BONNIE ROSENSTOCK | The street co-naming for Cornell Edwards, whose life was intertwined with the East Village for 43 years, has come two steps closer to becoming a reality. The third and final step is City Council approval, which, hopefully, will take place within half a year’s time.
Cornell Edwards Way would be located on E. 13th St. between Third and Fourth Aves., on the block where Edwards owned The Flower Stall, specializing in houseplants, at No. 143.
“It was not a shut-in kind of business,” recalled Bill Curry, Edwards’s domestic partner since 1965. “He kept his doors open. People remember him from sitting or standing in the doorway. He loved to talk with people about all subjects, especially politics.”
Curry spearheaded the eight-month-long petition drive and submitted more than 500 signatures to Community Board 3’s Transportation Committee. “When the committee looked at the actual submission, they were so impressed,” he said. “They said it was not the typical co-naming application. It was so personal and included essays, photographs, awards, letters and comments that they wanted me to have it.”
The committee voted a unanimous two thumbs up in January, followed by full board approval shortly after. But the November deadline had already passed for the co-naming to be considered for this session of the City Council’s Parks Committee, after which it would need to go to the full Council for approval.
“The committee will vote on it the next time it comes up, which typically takes place only twice a year,” explained Jessica Nepomiachi, an aide to Councilmember Rosie Mendez.
Mendez, who spoke in support of the co-naming before the C.B. 3 committee, said afterward that Edwards was very active in issues in the neighborhood and had worked very closely with her office on some development projects.
“He had a small business that contributed to the lively spirit of the community,” she said. “Our office will coordinate with the Department of Transportation to get the street sign up and then see if the community wants to do a celebration and unveiling,” she added, anticipating the co-naming’s approval.
Edwards started the block association and was involved in many issues, from fighting the encroachment of New York University to tree plantings. He was chairperson of C.B. 3’s Land Use/Housing Committee in the 1970s and was active in thwarting the upzoning of the stretch of Third Ave. from 14th St. to St. Mark’s Place. He was also involved with the Cooper Square Committee.
Edwards had a featured role in “Twilight Becomes Night,” Virginie-Alvine Perrette’s 2008 documentary about the loss of neighborhood stores in New York City.
“Cornell and The Flower Stall were neighborhood institutions,” said Andrew Berman, G.V.S.H.P. executive director. “It was everything you wanted in the neighborhood — a generous and civic-minded small business owner who not only maintained a unique shop but a beautiful historic building. Whether it was helping to keep an ‘eye on the street’ on E. 13th St. or speaking out against N.Y.U.’s insensitivity to its neighbors, Cornell was always there to participate in, and contribute to, the life of the East Village.”
Curry added that Edwards was interested in not just their block, but also the whole Lower East Side, “although his focus was here because he was so visible. He was the number one citizen on the block for the entire time.”
Curry owns the four-story building that housed The Flower Stall on the street level.
“We are both interested in historic buildings, and this is one of them,” said Curry of the 1863 building, which he purchased in 1975. “So much of it is intact. I have not done any harm to it.”
Stock Vintage, the only other commercial tenant since 2006, is separated from The Flower Stall by the building’s entrance. Owner Melissa Howard got to know Cornell well, and the petition was placed in her shop to gather signatures.
“He was my friend, a great neighbor and a fabulous person,” she said. “Not only did he look out for the block but also for my store. People looked forward to seeing him every day. When we see the street name, it will be a reminder of what he did for the block and continue to remind us to help each other.”
Edwards’s interests also lay outside the community. He was an adviser to the Seneca Village Project, which is dedicated to the study of a 19th-century African-American and Irish immigrant community that was located in today’s Central Park. Edwards was a trustee at Mother A.M.E. Zion Church on W. 137th St., the oldest black church in New York State, which was situated in that village on its migration from Lower Manhattan to Harlem. He was also the recipient of an award by the Boy Scouts of America for reviving a chapter in Harlem.
Edwards died last March 29 from a massive stroke while Curry was driving him back to New York from a greenhouse in southern New Jersey. He was 79.
“The car was filled with plants, and I couldn’t take care of them. We gave them away to people who would contribute to Seneca Village and raised about $7,500,” said Curry.
Local street co-namings approved by the City Council on Feb. 29 included one for beloved former Councilmember Miriam Friedlander, who represented the East Village and the Lower East Side from 1974 to 1991. Friedlander died in October 2009. The sign will be installed on the block where she lived, on E. Sixth St. between First and Second Aves. A ceremony will mostly likely be held in the spring or summer.
Mendez also supported the renaming of a ball field at Sol Lain Park at East Broadway and Henry and Gouverneur Sts. in honor of community activist and former C.B. 3 member Eddie Garcia. Renaming approval involving parks is the domain of the Parks Department.
“The Parks commissioner, who knew Eddie, said if the community wanted a plaque to honor Garcia’s work on the Lower East Side, it would be a very fitting tribute to name a ball field after him,” Mendez said. “Then we’ll work on having a ceremony.”