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West & East Yard
The West and East Yards of St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery have served a variety of purposes for the Church and surrounding community over the past three centuries. In addition to their initial function as graveyard for prominent New Yorkers and members of St. Mark’s congregation, the Yards also became a haven for the local artistic community fostered by Rector William Norman Guthrie in the 1920s. Forward thinking and somewhat radical, Rector Guthrie’s vision was to create a kind of artists' colony, to be known as The Garth. The Yards would serve as the connection between the Church and the artists' housing. The various sculptures that still stand around the property were placed there by Rector Guthrie, creating a contemplative and inspirational garden space for artists and church-goers alike.
The Yards suffered a period of decline in the 1960s and 1970s when rising tensions between the older and newer generations in the neighborhood resulted in the desecration of the graves and the defacing of the fence with graffiti. Several proposals were made to make the Church feel more welcoming, and although some changes that were made did bring more people into the congregation, the acts of vandalism against the graveyard and church property continued. In 1968 the Church founded the Preservation Youth Project and Work Training Program, which offered the young people of the neighborhood the opportunity to learn from and work with local artisans and craftsmen. One of the first of its kind, the Work Training Program continued in the summers for six years, during which time the Yards were transformed into the unique pathways that can be seen today. It served as a model for similar programs throughout the City and has since contributed to various Church preservation projects, including the restoration of the Rectory following a severe fire in the 1980s.
The distinctive design of ivy covered mounds, cobblestone pathways and swaying trees of the Yards has provided the community with a peaceful place for reflection and meditation since the 1960s. Lying just beyond the wrought and cast iron fence that encirlces the Church property. One of the oldest fences of its kind in New York City, it was erected in 1838 by Martin Euclid Thompson, who also completed the addition of the Church's Greek Revival steeple, with Ithiel Towne, in 1828. The fence consists of a central gate and two side entrances and continues from the edge of the Church property on East 10th Street to the opposite side on East 11th Street. It features rows of spires along the top and Greek key meander details along the bottom. It rests in a granite base (which was later painted black) that runs along the entire perimeter. The wrought and cast iron fence of St. Mark's also features an entrance surrounded by a brick archway. It is unclear exactly when this archway was added but it was most likely meant to be the gateway through which artists might enter The Garth and began to appear in a few photographs and sketches of the Church as early as 1920.