Was park’s fireplace an historic artifact or public nuisance?

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The Department of Parks and Recration has destroyed a rustic fireplace long located in Riverdale Park. Commmunity Board 8 Parks and Recreation Committee Chairman Bob Bender said the move came after he relayed a number of complaints about people using the fireplace, in spite of restrictions against doing so throughout May.

The chairman explained that complaints about people illegally starting fires in Riverdale Park were nothing new, but that they had “reached a particular intensity” in recent weeks.

“I received many e-mails from many people in a small span of time saying the problem seems to have gotten worse,” Mr. Bender said. “We had frequent problems with this particular fireplace.” 

Mr. Bender invited a representative from the Parks Department, as well as people who opposed the destruction of the fireplace, to the CB 8 meeting on May 28.  

However, the fireplace, which was located about 100 feet south of the West 254th street entrance to the park, had already been bulldozed prior to the meeting. 

“There are people who said this is an historic artifact, it never should have been removed and there should have been discussion beforehand,” Mr. Bender said.  

Critics at the meeting included Deirdre Burke, who produced a 1985 archeological survey of the park written by Wave Hill archeologist Valerie DeCarlo. The document mentions the fireplace in addition to many other archeological sites in the park and calls for further study to determine the complete historic value of the park.

“This thing has been there as long as I’ve lived in Riverdale,” Ms. Burke said.  “Will destroying this oven change the bad habits of adolescents?”

Both Ms. Burke and the survey referred to the object in question as an “oven” to reflect its original purpose. She and others opposed to destroying the artifact tried to illustrate the historic value of the oven, which Ms. Burke said is over 100 years old. People in favor of removing it pointed to the danger the recent series of fires posed. 

However, Mr. Bender was skeptical that the fireplace was an historic artifact because there are no signs or labeling of any kind to indicate its supposed status.  

“If this fireplace was important, it baffles me why nobody tried to secure it someway,” he said. 

However, he admitted that the removal of the fireplace would be a “terrible oversight, if it was in fact an historic structure.” 

Mr. Bender has asked the Parks Department to investigate whether the fireplace or any other artifacts in Riverdale Park should be considered historic and thus preserved.

“The issue here is public safety,” Mr. Bender stated. “Graffiti is one thing; an open fire is something else. When we’re talking about fires, there’s an enormous risk involved.”

Ms. Burke seemed most upset that the artifact was destroyed so hastily, when she feels it could have simply been relocated.  

“If it had been dealt with publicly, we would have been able to come up with alternatives and have an open discussion about it,” she said.

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