Indigo vs Purple: Controversy Between Adam Purple and Gerber Group’s ‘Mr. Purple’ Deepens

Posted on: December 9th, 2015 at 9:28 am by

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Adam Purple’s Garden of Eden, Photo: Harvey Wang

How do you try to course-correct a distorted history of the neighborhood? Many people on the Lower East Side are trying to do just that.

The recent opening of the Hotel Indigo bar on Ludlow Street, Mr. Purple, created quite the controversy last month thanks to its choice of inspiration. To recap, the new fifteenth-floor hangout is named for environmentalist and community garden activist Adam Purple, who created the “Garden of Eden” on Eldridge Street in the mid-70s; the garden was demolished by the city in the mid-80s.

Purple, who passed away back in September, lived off the grid and grew food for himself and his community. It’s fairly safe to say that he would never have frequented a place like Mr. Purple. Nor would he have been allowed through the front door of a luxury hotel that sells $15 drinks, including the namesake “Mr. Purple cocktail.”

Many who knew Adam Purple (and some who didn’t) are pretty upset over the Gerber Group, the hotel’s food and beverage operator, deciding to use his name and likeness for the bottom line. To that end, ongoing conversations are taking place about the issue, both on social media and in person. Combined with information from our own investigation, we have a lot to report.

Multiple sources tell us that there was actually a meeting earlier in the year between Adam Purple and the Gerber Group. While the hotel was still under wraps. Purple apparently never gave them permission to use his name or his likeness and did not sign any documents to that effect. “Adam Purple,” he felt, died when the garden died.

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Mural in the Hotel Indigo, with image of Adam Purple

Many concerned people have been sharing ideas, trying to figure out how to better honor Purple’s legacy. One way to succeed, of course, is to accurately reflect the history of the man and his pursuits. The hotel has been getting it all wrong, in various ways.

Some of our sources recently paid Mr. Purple a visit to gauge the effort to preserve his legacy (Gerber Group made a big deal about this). Staff on hand was asked if they knew who Adam Purple was. You can probably guess the outcome – quite ill-informed, in fact. Some guessed he was an artist. Not entirely true, though his garden was indeed an incredible work of art.

It’s easy to see how the staffers got that wrong, since the hotel flip-flopped with the initial messaging. First they told WWD that Mr. Purple was named for Adam Purple. After the negative reaction in the press and on social media, they went on record with Gothamist, saying that the bar was not named for Purple, but instead was named for a fictitious artist named “Mr. Purple” who grew up on the Lower East Side. (Never mind the fact that, aside from the “coincidence” in the name “Purple,” there is an image of Adam Purple in a mural at the hotel.) After they got into more hot water, Gerber Group again backpedaled, claiming that the bar was indeed inspired by and named for Adam Purple.

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The origin story of the Mr. Purple bar kept changing

Other employees told our sources that Adam Purple was a man who dipped his feet in purple paint and walked around the city. We’re getting pretty pissed off at all of the distortion of the facts, so we’d like to get the real story out in the open here.

You can find quite a lot about Adam Purple online or through the video below, but in short, Purple (real name David Wilkie) created the Garden of Eden during a time when the city was in crisis and the Lower East Side was in shambles. He was tired of seeing children playing in abandoned lots filled with broken glass. He wanted to create something beautiful for the community, and he achieved that.

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Purple footprints by George Bliss, leading to the garden, 1986. Photo: Gustavo Bonevardi

Before the garden was destroyed to make way for housing, George Bliss, an alternative transportation activist, created a rolling drum-like machine that laid 40 miles of painted purple footprints throughout the city, leading people to the garden. Follow the footprints, find the garden. (By the way, the footprint machine has been on display at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space/MoRUS.)

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Purple footprint machine created by George Bliss. Photo: The Villager

Other problems abound. Perhaps most insensitive, though, was that the menu includes an “Adam Purple hamburger” on the menu.

Purple was a vegetarian.

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