Many of you may remember the unusual, eclectic toy tower that once stood in the 6th & B Community Garden on Avenue B and East 6th Street. The East Village has a wealth of community gardens and 6th & B is definitely one of the most spirited in the neighborhood. The garden was started in 1982 when a committee of the 6th Street A-B Block Association asked the city’s Green Thumb program for a lease, though before they were able to receive the lease the group had to clear the 17,000 square-foot site of its rubble. In the spring of 1984 an official lease was granted and the garden established partnerships with both the Green Guerillas and the Trust for Public Land.
Now, back to that toy tower. Eddie Boros, artist, garden member, and lifelong resident of the East Village (he lived his entire life in an East 5th Street tenement that overlooked the garden), began this sculpture around 1988. 6th & B is what’s considered a “plot garden,” whereby each gardener receives his or her own individual plot, in this case a 4’x8′ area. Boros often carved wooden sculptures in the middle of the garden and would get wood chips and debris in others’ plots. Fellow gardeners told Eddie “keep it on your plot.” So, he did. With such a small space, what was he to do but build up? Eventually, the base of the tower would occupy eight plots.
As you can see, it was a makeshift tower, 65-feet in height, assembled out of wood planks. The suspended, hanging toys were an amalgamation of fanciful objects found on the street (Boros was a strong voice for reusing and recycling). The fantastical, childlike feeling of this installation was quite fitting considering that the garden boasts a children’s adventure playground and children’s garden. It was also a mirror of the “hands-on” mission of 6th & B, made literal in the garden’s fence which features cut-outs of garden members’ actual hands. The tower gained notoriety when it was featured in the opening credits of NYPD Blue (the crew would regularly go back to the garden to get updated shots of the tower as it was ever-changing) and as a stage prop in the Tony-winning Broadway musical Rent. It even became a stopping point for international tourists (one Japanese town tried to purchase the structure!).
For two decades, Boros maintained and added to his toy tower. In 2007, he passed away at the age of 74 after having undergone surgery at a Manhattan veteran’s hospital to have both of his legs amputated (his family says that he was not receiving proper medical care at the V.A. clinic he was recovering at in St. Alban’s, Queens). He was a beloved figure in the community and the tower had become an unofficial local landmark. He made toys for local children and helped them to decorate their bikes, noted the Villager. He was also known for walking the streets barefoot and shirtless and always wore a string of pearls, traits as lovably eccentric as his art work. Sometimes, Eddie would climb to the top of the tower and sit there, observing his neighborhood. Occasionally, while perched atop his tower, he would beat a drum or blow a horn. Many who knew him recalled his intense physical strength, claiming that he was able to rip a phone book in half the long way. Even at the age of 70 he was moving 100 pounds of stones in the garden, reported a lovely piece written about him in the Villager.
In May of 2008, the city decided that the tower must be taken town. It was installed without a permit, they said, and was rotting, causing the potential for it to perhaps fall on passersby. Before its removal, however, over 100 neighbors gathered at the tower to memorialize the structure and Eddie Boros.
Once dismantled, the toys were given out as mementos. The toy tower may be gone, but its legacy will live on forever in the spirit of the 6th & B Community Garden.