When Hurricane Sandy swept through New York City's Stuyvesant Cove Park last week, one of the many buildings she attacked was an arts and education center called Solar One on East 23rd St by the East River. She flooded the headquarters of the environmental organization (which promotes urban sustainability) with two feet of water, then tore off its deck, shattered its stairs, and obliterated its 24-foot stage -- which was originally Tommy Hilfiger's Fashion Week runway.
The stage had been home to Solar One's Arts & Event series, which included a dance program that showcased 60 emerging choreographers, The Sun To Stars Festival of South Asian Dance and Music and a wide range of musical events -- from a performance by the hip-hop duo Dead Prez to family-friendly sing-a-longs. The destruction of the stage was a great loss. But in the days following the storm, something amazing happened.
As Solar One's volunteers sorted through the debris scattered throughout the park, they discovered a small miracle: undamaged, construction-grade wood planks—the very kind needed to begin reconstruction. They were somehow clean, and just the right length needed to rebuild their decks, stairs and stage.
"They must have washed onto the shore," said Dina Elkan, Solar One's Director of Arts and Events, who has been organizing volunteers to clean up the park and rebuild what Sandy destroyed. "Maybe it was dumped from a factory along the river. Maybe it came from a construction site. We don't know where it came from."
Even before the wood appeared, the process of rebuilding Solar One (and Stuyvesent Cove Park, a public space which the organization manages), felt charmed. Sandy downed power lines and shut down all city trains and buses, stranding millions of New Yorkers. Undaunted, a group of volunteers walked to East 23rd Street all the way from Astoria, Queens, trotting over the Queens Borough Bridge, trekking down the heavily damaged east side and joining Solar One employees. Additional volunteers, including a local architect, were ready to get to work. With the discovery of the mystery lumber, the scene transformed into one from a feel-good movie.
One day later, using the miracle wood, Solar One had a new deck, new stairs and the start of a brand new stage.
Elkan explained that there is still a lot of work to be done to save Solar One, as well as the people, businesses and neighborhoods affected by Sandy. But with its small miracle, and the kindness of strangers, Solar One is much closer to a happy ending.
Solar One will rebuild and regrow Stuyvesant Cove Park so that it can continue to serve as a beautiful public space. If you would like to help, you can make a donation here.