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Mystery of the E. 64th Street Puddle

It’s there through rainy season but also during drought.  A puddle has made elegant E. 64th Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues, its permanent home.

Locals keep asking why it persists on that block of exemplary townhouses, not to mention the venerable Russell Sage Foundation.

An underground stream creates the E. 64th Street puddle.

The mysterious puddle on E. 64th Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues


“A woman who was walking by, who works on the block, alerted us to the persistent nature of the puddle,” Matt Malina, founder of NYC H2O, told us. “I also overheard a mother say to her daughter as they walked by, ‘That’s why this is the mosquito block!'”
NYC H2O is an environmental group that studies and educates the public on the waters of New York City.

Quiz question: The E. 64th Street puddle is caused by . . .

a. A broken fire hydrant.

b. A leaky underground pipe.

c.  A washing machine dumping the rinse cycle onto the street.

d.  None of the above

And the answer is …

d.  None of the above.

The building of Manhattan paved over many primeval brooks and streams.  But some, like the De Voor Mills Stream under 64th Street, just want to be free. The puddle is a spring that feeds the stream. During heavy rains, it fills nearby basements with water.  (A superintendent at one of the nearby buildings told Malina that he keeps a sump pump in the basement for such occasions.)

I overheard a mother say to her daughter as they walked by, ‘That’s why this is the mosquito block!’

The historic Viele map of 1865 identifies bodies of water still coursing under the grid.   Check out this section of the map:

A stream is the cause of the mysterious E. 64th Street puddle.

Viele’s map of 1865 shows the path of the De Voor Mills Stream under E. 64th Street.

Stacy Levy is an environmental artist whose works make natural patterns and processes more visible. She recently took a group of volunteers to the site of the puddles (actually, there are two) and supervised their drawing of swirls representing the turbulent water under the sidewalks.

A man and his two “tween” daughters walked by and joined in.

Finding the cause of the mysterious E. 64th Street puddle.

Volunteers working with artist Stacy Levy chalk water-like swirls over the actual location of the stream.

Neighbors call the police

Some neighbors called the police, understandably concerned that the group was defacing the sidewalk.  Their worries were dispelled upon learning that the medium was chalk.  As it happened, the weekend rains washed away most of the drawings.

So the E. 64th Street puddle is actually a spring feeding the De Voor Mills Stream.  Henceforth, let’s call the puddle a “spring.”  A lot more elegant, don’t you think?