Saturday, December 4, 2010

Clean Up Day


My birthday...The first day back with no gates. Get the approval of Popovers as well as Barney Greengrass for the use of their bathroom during our clean up day. Amazing how open the church looks. An older African-American woman comes by and says she was a member years ago. A woman from Buffalo comes in to look around. We’ve begun a “guest book” for those who just “drop in.” Amazing the difference having my office near the front door. As we clean, we reheat some mulled wine from last night. It warms all through in the cold. I go across the street to see Francois and meet his colleague Fernando. There’s a story here I have to get. I give Francois a cup of hot mulled wine. Better than coffee....


A very long day begins with coffee with Amanda at Joe’s.On the way to the church, we catch up with Gary Greengrass on his way to open for the day’s business. Today’s steps have evidence of someone having spent the night but not here this morning. Today is “clean up day.” The Columbia University Preservation Alumni, Friends of West-Park and Landmarks West! coming together to clean our sanctuary.

Cristiana Pena is the first to arrive to work with us to plan the day. Then team leaders. Jim Nedelka arrives directly from an all night shift at ABC Radio. Coffee and donuts arrive to warm the volunteers soon to come. At 10 o’ clock I give a welcome and we’re ready to roll.

What an amazing array of volunteers from West-Park members to working architects to neighbors. The oldest volunteer is 93 year old Marie from a neighboring building and the youngest my son Dan, a senior at La Guardia High School. He remembers being a two year old and getting his head stuck in the railing of the steps going upstairs. Still not sure how we got him out. Walking through the ruins, he re-experiences years of his life spent here in the sanctuary, the gym..

Hope is staffing the check in table in my office. Sign in and release forms for every volunteer. There are restroom passes for Barney Greengrass, Popovers and SPSA, just in case. My cousin Nancy who works in the city Comptroller’s office arrives. And later my wife Andrea. Marsha is in for the duration of the day.

There ‘s a photographer from Landmarks West! And a reporter and photographer from the Daily News. And Megan Finnegan, the independent journalist who has been tracking this story since summer also arrives to follow me around. The Daily News photographer taking countless photos of everything.

We’re happy to see our City Council member Gale Brewer for the second time this week. Amanda encourages the Daily News reporter to ask Gale about her promised millions that won the landmarks struggle. Just trying to keep things in perspective.

They’re sweeping every floor, cleaning every window and sill, dusting, mopping, cleaning every cushion in the pews and polishing the woodwork. Dan and I go under the stage of the theatre and pull out old advertisements for productions, pieces of an art exhibit by the La Guardia High School Junior studio years ago, including a disturbing collection of small stuffed human figures with no heads, mattresses,chairs, carpets....So we’ll need more than one dumpster and a lot of what needs to go won’t even be touched.

After the lunch break, I lead everyone from the Columbia PA group and the press for a “behind the scenes” tour of the church...I fill them in on the social history of West-Park as well as the struggle. And our commitment to change, to restoration. Ted shares our vision for the Centre...

By the end of the day the sanctuary is absolutely shining,gleaming..we are cold, tired and feeling good. Bottom lines...this is the process we should have started seven years ago, seeking to develop community support, believing that each hour spent by a volunteer translates into a growing sense of investment, of ownership, in the building and the mission carried out there. But you only know what you don’t know when you know it. I suppose we had to go through what we went through to get here. And then as I told the Daily News reporter, all this love is great, but it will take of it and fast ...this congregation must continue to be here for anything else to happen...

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