A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 17, 2008
Needle Park

"Needle Park” was originally located near the subway stop at Broadway and West 70th Street (Sherman Square), named in the 1960s by the narcotics addicts who used needles there. A February 26, 1965 story about “Needle Park” by James Mills (photos by Bill Eppridge) appeared in Life magazine, and Mills expanded this into the book, The Panic in Needle Park (1966). The book was made into a 1971 film of the same name, starring a young Al Pacino in the lead role.

The area around Sherman Square has gentrified and the “Needle Park” name is historical, but “needle park” is applied today to any park where narcotics addicts congregate (including Zurich’s Platzspitz and New York’s Union Square). A New York CIty Department of Parks & Recreation plaque placed in Sherman Square in 2001 does not mention “Needle Park.”


New York CIty Department of Parks & Recreation
SHERMAN SQUARE
.001 acre

One of the Civil War’s best-known generals, William Tecumseh Sherman (1820–1891) was born in Lancaster, Ohio. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840 and served in California as well as in the Mexican War. Appointed brigadier general of volunteers for the Union in 1861, Sherman fought at Bull Run and Shiloh. Promoted to major general the following year, he then distinguished himself in the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns of 1863.

Sherman blazed a trail of destruction as his troops seized Atlanta, marched to the sea, and headed north through the Carolinas. He received the surrender of Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston on April 26, 1865, 17 days after the surrender of General Robert E. Lee in Appomattox, Virginia. The saying “War is hell” is attributed to Sherman. His younger brother, Senator John Sherman (1823–1900) of Ohio, was the author of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.

The City of New York acquired Sherman Square, wedged between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets, by condemnation on March 31, 1849, as part of the widening of Bloomingdale Road (now Broadway). In 1869 the parcel was reduced in size when 70th Street was opened from Eighth Avenue to Tenth Avenue, cutting through the block and carving out this diminutive traffic triangle. In 1891, after Sherman’s death, the site was named by the Board of Aldermen (predecessor of the City Council) for Sherman, who had retired in New York and resided near the square.

(Library of Congress record)
Personal Name: Mills, James, 1932-
Main Title: The panic in Needle Park.
Published/Created: New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux [1966]
Description: 212 p. 21 cm.

Wikipedia: The Panic in Needle Park
The Panic in Needle Park is a 1971 American film directed by Jerry Schatzberg and starring Al Pacino in his second film appearance. The screenplay was written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, adapted from the book by James Mills.

The film is a stark portrayal of life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in “Needle Park” (Sherman Square) in New York City. To set the atmosphere, no music was used in the film.

Played against this setting is a low-key love story between Bobby (Al Pacino), a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen (Kitty Winn), a homeless girl who finds the stability she craves in her relationship with Bobby. She becomes an addict, and life goes downhill for them both as their addiction deepens, eventually leading to a series of betrayals. For her portrayal of Helen, Kitty won the Best Actress Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. 

Internet Movie Database
Plot summary for
The Panic in Needle Park (1971)

This movie is a stark portrayal of life among a group of heroin addicts who hang out in “Needle Park” in New York City. Played against this setting is a low-key love story between Bobby, a young addict and small-time hustler, and Helen, a homeless girl who finds in her relationship with Bobby the stability she craves. She becomes addicted too, and life goes downhill for them both as their addiction deepens, eventually leading to a series of betrayals. But, in spite of it all, the relationship between Bobby and Helen endures.
Written by E. Schofield {evescho@cafe.net}

(Historical Dictionary of American Slang)
needle park n. Journ. [pop. by James Mills’s 1966 The Panic in Needle Park, where “Needle Park” referred to a traffic island at Broadway and 74th Street in New York City]
a small public area with benches, bushes, etc., where drug addicts are known to gather.
1966 J. Mills The Panic in Needle Park [book title][ref. to 1964].
1974 Cull & Hardy Drug Abusers 197: Needle Park—To New York addicts, upper Broadway and Sherman Square.
1990 T. Thorne Dict. Contemp. Slang: Needle park...American a nickname given to a public place which narcotics user frequent in order to inject themselves.
1991 N.Y. Times (Aug. 11) 3: Drug addicts have turned the Platzspitz in Zurich, once elegant, into a needle park.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
needle park, n.
slang (orig. U.S.)
[< NEEDLE n. + PARK n., popularized by the novel The Panic in Needle Park (1966) by James Mills, in which Needle Park referred to a traffic island in New York at the junction of Broadway and 74th Street.]
A public area in a city, usually with trees, bushes, benches, etc., where drug addicts gather.
1965 J. MILLS in Life 26 Feb. 82/2 To subway riders who use the stop there, the intersection is Sherman Square. To the drug addicts it is ‘Needle Park’.
1966 J. MILLS (title) The panic in Needle Park.
1981 N.Y. Times (Nexis) 11 Oct. 29/1 Florence, he said, was not as safe as it was just a few years ago because drug traffic had made the Ponte Vecchio a ‘needle park’ at night.
1991 Time 19 Aug. 40/1 Needle Park nestles only a few minutes walk from the banking district where the city’s fabled gnomes control the levers of the national economy. 2001 Herald Sun (Melbourne) (Nexis) 24 Aug. 18 The Swiss learned..the hard way when they closed Zurich’s ‘needle park’ in 1993 because it was attracting addicts from outside Zurich, as well as criminals selling heroin.

Life magazine
Issue Date: February 26, 1965; Vol. 58, No. 8
IN THIS ISSUE (MOST below include many pages and pictures):
DRUG ADDICTION—PART 1: The nightmare world of the junkie. Photographed for LIFE by Bill Eppridge. New York’s “Needle Park,” an island of oblivion. By James Mills. [In-depth article, with multiple photos!]

28 August 1966, Lebanon (PA) Daily News, “New Books in the Lebanon Community Library,” pg. 6, col. 3:
THE PANIC IN NEEDLE PARK—By James Mills
This is an account of the crisis that affected drug addicts in New York City during the late fall of 1964, when the supply of heroin was drastically cut and the ordinary “fix” became extremely costly, if obtainable at all. Mr. Mills was doing research for a magazine series on drug addiction and spent most of his time for several months with two junkies—an ex-convict and his girlfriend—whom he had managed to befriend. Along with the narrative of the addicted couple’s lives during the “panic” he discusses various “solutions” to the narcotics problem.

The Villager (New York, NY)
Volume 73, Number 3 | May 19 - 25, 2004
A special Villager supplement
For a few young addicts, it’s still ‘Needle Park’
By David Epstein
The recurring image of hypodermic needles spiraling down a toilet bowl turns out to be the most apt metaphor for the lives of the seven 20-something, homeless heroin addicts featured in a new documentary named for their stomping ground: “Union Square.”

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityBuildings/Housing/Parks • (0) Comments • Monday, March 17, 2008 • Permalink