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Operation Rescue Flowerpot

Operation Rescue Flowerpot

Joseph Sciorra (May 10, 2013)
Joseph Sciorra
Decorated flowerpot at 1466 80th Street, Dyker Heights, Brooklyn.

Historic Preservation, Italian-American Style


On March 15th, I drove around southern Brooklyn with my friend and colleague Anthony Scotto photographing Italian-American yard shrines for my forthcoming book on vernacular religious spaces in New York City. 

At the end of this grand tour, Anthony showed me a decorated flowerpot in front of an abandoned house at 1466 80th Street in Dyker Heights. You can see the flowerpot in situ in the current Google map.) Back in September, Anthony drove me around the neighborhoods of Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst to document this little-known Italian-American folk art, which I subsequently blogged about here. 

There was nothing to be done. The flowerpot was on private property.  But Anthony promised to keep an eye on the situation.

On April 29th, Anthony texted me the following message:

Flower Pot Emergency! That house on the next block with planter in the walk has been demolished! It’s surrounded by a plywood wall.

Three hours later he wrote:

Just walked by work site. Planter is intact but partially buried under rubble. I need to intervene, but don’t know how. The site is secured with a padlock. I don’t sense much respect for these artifacts.

Planter is completely covered in rubble!

I’m confident that it’s still intact, but they’re taking the whole house down.

The workers have left for the day. I don't know if they’ll be responsive.

On May 6th, Anthony contacted me again via text:

Standing in front of demoed house–there are actually 2 planters!

They’re intact (appear to be) and one we saw has been lifted.


I’m waiting for the workers to appear. They just hauled some stuff to dumpster but now they’re in back somewhere.

Damn! They are not coming out. The dumpster is full; maybe they’re waiting for truck. I need to leave now...

I waited in my office. 


And then Anthony sent me this photo:

He told me that the workers had come out and when he asked about the decorated flowerpots, they said he could have them and offered him a wheelbarrow to transport them to his car. 

This decorated flowerpot’s style and execution is rather simple when compared to the works we photographed last year.


This rescue mission may seem frivolous to some. All this energy spent on two simple objects.  And now what?

In 2002, I organized a symposium for the Calandra Institute titled “Historic Preservation and the Italian American Presence in New York City” where we examined “current thinking about and practical issues concerning the official recognition and presentation of buildings and sites particular to the Italian-American community of New York City.”  By that point, I had worked on listing two buildings to the National and New York State Registries of Historic Places: the Staten Island Grotto in Rosebank, Staten Island, and the Lisanti Family Chapel in Williamsbridge, the Bronx.  Since then people have been active in preserving other sites associated with Italian-American history and culture, like the Our Lady of Loreto Church in East New York, Brooklyn. In addition, the Italian-American community in the New York City area lacks a reputable museum that has the vision to take in such humble works of folk art.


Flowerpots installed in their new home, Memorial Day weekend 2013.

Anthony’s modest but heroic act has preserved a small part of Italian-American expressive culture.  What happens next is up to us all.


Program for 2002 symposium "Historic Preservation and the Italian-American Presence in New York City." [open]
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Thanks to you both!

These "humble works of art" are essential parts of our history and culture, and worth preserving and understanding. Growing up charged with helping my grandfather and father with the annual limestoning of our South Brooklyn backyard's walls and (undecorated) flowerpots, I don't remember pebble work in our neighborhood, although clam and scungilli (conch) shells were often used in "making the garden nice." But then, almost everything in Dyker Beach and Bensonhurts was more richly articulated. I look forward to other chapters in this loving recover of the worlds we've made. Forza.

sciorra's picture

more to come


Thanks for this comment. Anthony and I have uncovered yet more Brooklyn homes with similar mosaic planters, that we'll be exploring. I have become a bit obsessed with these flowerpots and will be blogging more over the summer.


lruberto's picture

Not Frivolous in the Least

Evviva, Anthony Scotto! Yay! The flower pots have a second life/second home!

(Joe, have you considered sending your blogs and photos, at least, here: ? ) -Laura Ruberto

Smithsonian Project


You may be interested in this documentation of an IA garden in the Pittsburgh area for the Smithsonian Project:

The Smithsonian site has a section under "garden features" on urns, but no flowerpots. They're still in the dark on this one, Joe.

Best, Anthony

lruberto's picture

Smithsonian, part two

Thanks, Anthony! Yes, I'm familiar with that garden and project, that's why I thought you and Joe should submit these photos and story to them as well! It seems just the thing they should be interested in at least...._Laura

sciorra's picture

re-writing history


They'll find out soon enough! :)


sciorra's picture

Archives of American Gardens

Thanks. I don't easily see where to send info, but I'll look more closely. Joe

lruberto's picture

new home

Glad you posted a pic of where the flowerpots ended up--how nice to see them w/flowers blooming in them once again. -Laura