As everyone who’s ever found themselves in Manhattan on a dreary February day can attest, winter is not New York’s friend. There’s an undeniable bleakness that, save for the twinkly lights and holiday-themed beverages, tends to make visitors and locals alike hesitant to venture outside. After all, for seemingly three straight months, the sky transforms into a cold gray shroud, the streets are blanketed in a thick layer of slush, and the unforgiving wind will ruin a fresh blowout. Enter Citrovia, a whimsical 30,000-square-foot art installation comprising more than 700 handcrafted, exceptionally detailed plaster lemons (and 3,800 handcrafted steel and foam painted leaves). The playful and slightly surreal lemon grove in Manhattan West is perhaps the only place in the city where it’s never dark, rainy, nor dismal, courtesy of the overhead lighting displays creating colorful moods behind two layers of pillowy white fabric (designed to mimic clouds). “It’s always blue skies here,” jokes Brookfield Properties’ Sara Fay, who commissioned the project.
Though One Manhattan West, a nearly 70-story skyscraper is completed and occupied, Two Manhattan West, its slightly shorter neighbor, is under construction until 2023. The enormous project requires a massive construction shed that presented Fay with two options: installing standard-issue scaffolding or go for something totally unexpected. She opted for the latter and took a uniquely creative approach to the inevitable eyesore: Bring on The Cuttlefish, Inc.’s co-founders Evan Schechtman and Warren Adcock who would transform the space into a surreal 40-foot-tall lemon grove designed and executed completely by hand from Upstate New York’s Adirondack Studios, the same group responsible for the attractions at Disney.
Complete with 18-foot-tall blue, violet, and turquoise-painted citrus trees, vintage-looking wooden crates overflowing with lemons, and giant lemon slices strewn across the vibrant turf, Citrovia is the eccentric lemon grove New York didn’t realize it needed. There’s even a soft lemony scent wafting through the space that was custom-made by perfumerie 12.29. “We went to the far extremes of a creative idea then pulled it back a bit. We wanted to build something that was whimsical and elegant, but never gaudy,” Schechtman adds. It’s also somewhat of an urban playground with interactive augmented-reality games and an educational program dubbed Little Lemons in the Big Apple, a collaboration between Brookfield Properties and the Salvadori Center.
Until recently, the area surrounding Penn Station wasn’t exactly a destination for family picnics, Instagram opportunities, or romantic dates, but with Moynihan Train Hall and the impressive collection of tenants (think Whole Foods, Peloton, and two Danny Meyer dining concepts, among others) filling Manhattan West’s sweeping spaces, it’s quickly becoming the place to be. “We wanted to create a beautiful space where people could sit and take a breath,” Adcock explains. Though Citrovia boasts plenty of seating, it’s worth taking a stroll up and down the dreamy lemon groves, starting with the six-foot-tall, 1,000-pound lemon at the installation’s entrance on Ninth Avenue.
“In many cultures, lemons (and yellow) are symbols of optimism, so doing this specific installation, which places so much emphasis on size, scale, and proportion, felt right,” Schechtman notes. Not to mention: Citrovia is the brainchild of people who wanted to deliver a dream-like riff on something that actually exists in the world but not specifically in Manhattan, which is how the team landed on 700 lemons, none of which are the same. When you first see the installation, it almost looks real, but as you walk through the groves—under the canopy of fluffy clouds that slowly change color, you realize it’s not real at all. It’s like a fantasy land of magical realism, and that was the goal. Fay notes, “We don’t know of another experience in the city of this size and scale that is completely free and unticketed. Both Citrovia and Manhattan West reflect our broader mission to create inviting spaces and experiences for New Yorkers and visitors alike.”
Plus, Citrovia just offered this neighborhood on the western side of Midtown a a nifty newl meeting spot. You heard it here first: “Meet me at the giant lemon” is about to become everyone’s favorite phrase.