There was a time in New York City when the purple footsteps were everywhere, leading to the City’s wreck of a beautiful garden of Eden (thank you Ed Koch). Adam Purple had been building his zen masterpiece garden a little bit every day for a decade, while living in the adjoining tenement building (where he once had been the super), which the landlord abandoned and Con Ed had turned off the electricity and water, in the rubble of the then “not quite trendy” Lower East Side.

Adam Purple died on Sept. 14th, 2015 at age 84 while biking from Brooklyn across the Williamsburg Bridge.

by Mitchel Cohen

Adam Purple on the rooftop of his building on Forsyth St., overlooking his Garden of Eden. Photo by Harvey Wang

Adam Purple on the rooftop of his building on Forsyth St. in the 1980s, overlooking his Garden of Eden. Photo by Harvey Wang

Chris Flash, the editor of the underground paper The Shadow, remembers Adam:

He was living with the Time’s Up crew in Brooklyn — a very appropriate place in NYC for a guy who survived in a building alone at 184 Forsythe Street without any utilities since his landlord and his neighbors abandoned it in the 1970s. (The site of the building was later taken by the NY Society for the Deaf in order to expand its existing building on Forsythe Street.)


While living there, Adam gathered his own water for drinking + cooking, he kept warm with a wood stove and he even made his own garden soil with a combination of manure and sawdust!


Seen for the past 4 decades on the LES in his purple tie-dyed clothes and long white beard, riding his bike and jiggling his bells to greet those he knew, Adam Purple was best known for his amazing “Garden of Eden” community garden that he created in a vacant, rubble-strewn lot behind his building along the adjacent street. Though there were plenty of other vacant city-owned lots in the area, in 1986, the city decided it had to bulldoze Adam’s garden, under the excuse of building low-rise apartment buildings on the site. [Adam’s story and more info on the Garden of Eden can be found on-line and in previous issues of The SHADOW.]


I always enjoyed our long conversations whenever we ran into each other and wished I could have recorded his words, his recollections and his history. He was fun, witty and extremely intelligent, always up on the latest world events.

Back in the day — the late 1970s and early 1980s — George Bliss was inspired by Adam Purple’s efforts and so he glued sneakers to a cylinder-drum filled with purple paint, and assembled the contraption on an axle concealed in a shopping cart. Everywhere he went, every day, George would secretly mark up the City’s sidewalks with those prints.

One day I followed the footprints to Forsyth Street, and found a garden blooming in the middle of squalor. I met a rather ornery Adam Purple, who was going about his daily construction.

But Adam didn’t want to know from radical politics. Nor did he like my suggestion of using the garden as a meeting space. And yet he somewhat ironically served as inspiration to radicals and ecology activists throughout the City, and to “meet ups” before that term was trademarked by

Building that garden was his labor of love, his mission later in his life. And a few progressive local politicians, whom I’d otherwise admired, decided that this was the place to wreck and to build a much-needed affordable housing project, there apparently being no other suitable empty spaces they could find anywhere in an area that at the time was filled with empty and garbage-strewn lots.

Lincoln Anderson, the editor of The Villager, writes:

The Garden of Eden covered 15,000 square feet between Forsyth and Eldridge Sts. near Stanton St. With planting beds in Zen-like concentric circles, it featured corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, asparagus, raspberries and 45 trees.

“It was a work of art — an earthwork, a work of art that was also ecologically based,” Purple said in a 2006 interview.

Adam and Eve would bike up to Central Park to collect horse manure and bring it back to fertilize the garden’s soil.

And so the City’s gentrification of the Lower East Side moved into full throttle, and unnecessarily broke an artist’s heart.

It was an age-old trap: pit artists and environmentalists against housing (some would call it “warehousing”) the poor. People who should and who often do fight alongside each other — hell, we often are each other — are now embodying robber baron speculator Jay Gould’s maxim in the 1880s: “I can buy half the working class to kill the other half.”

And so it was. The City destroyed the oasis. The “developers” swore that they’d incorporate a “similar” garden into their plans for the project. (Hmmmm.) Dozens of “street people” as well as radicals and defenders of gardens set up camp to block the bulldozers. And — like the recent destruction of a Coney Island community garden — the bulldozers came in the wee morning hours and life in this City was suddenly diminished. And it was the liberal politicians who allowed it to happen.

And each time we swear “Never Again”. Until the next time.

But this is about Adam Purple, the unlikely hero (aren’t our heros always “unlikely”?). Yippie Pie-Man Aron Kay remembers Adam Purple:

adam purple was an icon in a pre gentrified east village…..i used to see him all over nyc on his bike seeking horse manure for his garden of eden which was trashed by the koch administration…..

he did undergo persecution in the name of regress…lets remember him as one who was into saving the earth…

i used to take my daughter rachel there when she was small…. its unfortunate my grandkids wont get to know him

I write this in homage to that cranky old man (hey, I’m older than he was when his Eden was bulldozed! How did that happen?), who used his everyday materials to put his vision into practice, beautifying our little corner of the universe, and connecting our lives via his Zen garden to the cosmos.

And in so doing, he kickstarted (again, before that word was appropriated to sell us our own projects, for only a slight fee!) the Community Gardens movement in New York City and challenged the “How am I doing?” glad-handing pro-“development” Mayor, and NYC’s retinue of liberal politicians, including some who should have known better.

You can read more about Adam Purple in the NY Times and in The Villager.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *