Remembering Charlotte's Place

Charlotte's Place Closes
Photo by James Melchiorre

Winston Churchill reportedly said of the Balkan Peninsula: The Balkans produce more history than they can consume locally.

I thought of that sentence Wednesday night while photographing the final "house party" at Trinity Wall Street’s Charlotte’s Place.

Charlotte's Place spanned only 46 months but proves that a short life can also be a full life. In fact, it would be foolhardy to construct anything but a partial list of what happened there, including concerts, author talks, yoga, assistance with food stamps, Occupy Wall Street strategy sessions, bathroom murals, Bob Marley nights, flag making, traveling Shakespeare.

My most powerful personal memories number four. On a rainy night in October 2011, I sat next to a woman in her twenties, sneezing and shivering, her sleeping bag soaked, who told me she had been camping in Zuccotti Park since September 17 and really needed a night or two away but didn't want to desert her fellow Occupiers.

I recall a dinner in March 2013 to brainstorm about affordable housing which brought together representatives from housing advocacy groups all over the city, one of whom made a comment I’ll always remember: “Sometimes the only difference between a housed person and a homeless person is the fact that the housed person had a friend, uncle, or cousin with $200 to loan.”

In November 2012, after Super Storm Sandy, we met at Charlotte’s Place in teams, prepared to muck out flooded houses in Staten Island and to hand out blankets in high rises in Lower Manhattan, and quickly learned that the second-most most desired item was baby wipes because people couldn't take baths in buildings without electricity and water. In reality, most desired was conversation, a visit from a fellow human traveler.

On a Friday night every August, we cheered the children of mothers newly released from prison as the kids wrapped up a week of music camp with a concert featuring everything from sacred music to classical to the latest monster hit from Taio Cruz or John Legend.

When a group of us marched along Greenwich Street to the sound of New Orleans jazz, wearing Mardi Gras beads, to open Charlotte's Place on Shrove Tuesday 2011, nobody at Trinity had any idea what Charlotte's Place was supposed to be, or would become. I still struggle to provide a one-sentence description that provides anything approaching accuracy.

I know that 46 months is a puny comparison to the more than three centuries of Trinity Church history in Lower Manhattan. What I also know is that over its 46 months of life, Charlotte's Place just kept prolifically producing encounters, experiences, and hospitality—raw material for the zeitgeist.

And those of us lucky enough to participate in any of it will be consuming, processing, and digesting for a long time to come.