Paderewski Tree Back in Tompkins Square Park

A tree planted on the site where the Paderewski red oak was will be dedicated to the great Pole this year (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

A tree planted on the site where the Paderewski red oak was will be dedicated to the great Pole this year (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

Although the East Village, once a Polish neighborhood of Manhattan, is losing its Polish touch, there are still a couple of places there that remind New Yorkers of the past. One of the Polish symbols in the East Village is an oak in Tompkins Square Park commemorating the life of renowned Polish composer, pianist and politician Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who lived in New York City – on and off – until his death in 1941.

The original oak was planted there by then-New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia in November 1941, a couple of months after Paderewski’s death. It was a red oak and grew in the southwest corner of the park, the one closest to the Polish church of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr, and called “the Slavic Corner.” The oak remained there until the fall of 2014, when the New York City Department of Parks decided to cut it down due to its poor condition (the tree was sickly). And gone was a living symbol commemorating the life of the great composer and politician.

Krystyna Piórkowska, author of a book "English-speaking Witnesses to the Katyn Massacre", wants to preserve Polish places in New York (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

Krystyna Piorkowska, author of a book “English-speaking Witnesses to the Katyn Massacre,” wants to preserve Polish places in New York (Photo by Wojtek Maslanka via Nowy Dziennik)

It wasn’t replaced until Krystyna Piorkowska – a longtime resident of the East Village, whose mission is to preserve Polish symbols in New York – took matters into her own hands and managed to convince the authorities from the Art & Antiquities division of the New York City Parks Department to plant a new tree dedicated to Paderewski to preserve the memory of this great Pole. “It wasn’t easy. I had to prove that such a tree existed, by showing them maps and articles I managed to find in the English-language press,” Piorkowska says.

Her efforts paid off. The new tree replacing the original Paderewski oak was planted in Tompkins Square Park in November of last year. Now a dedication ceremony is planned for the  summer or fall. “The pastor of St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr, father Tadeusz Lizynczyk, is considering the ceremony in June – the month of Paderewski’s death, or November to commemorate the anniversary of his birthday,” says Piorkowska.

Although putting a plaque or a sign next to the tree does not seem possible according to new regulations, Piorkowska is working on marking the tree as the “Paderewski Oak” on the park’s map and on the Tompkins Square Park website.

The Paderewski Oak is one of the Polish symbols in Manhattan that Krystyna Piorkowska has had on her radar and been trying to save from liquidation and oblivion. She recently took interest in a tree which was in 1935 dedicated to another great Pole Maria Sklodowska-Curie – a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry. The tree adorned City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan and was accompanied by a granite tablet on plinth with information on Sklodowska-Curie. The original tree has been gone from the park for some time. What is left is only a granite tablet, which is standing between trees, not really belonging to anything.

Ms. Piorkowska is trying to have the tablet assigned to one of the new trees in the park. “We don’t want it removed entirely,” says Ms. Piorkowska, who points out that such symbols remind New Yorkers and tourists of the Polish immigrants who in great numbers used to live in this area.

“We want tourists and young Polish Americans who are growing up in New York to be able to learn that Poles were once part of this city and contributed to its history,” she says.

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