Raoul Wallenberg Forest

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    • #2030
      COGGINSS
      Participant

      <p style=”text-align: left;”>Does anyone remember why this park was named after Raoul Wallenberg, instead of U Thant?</p>
      This occurred in 1991.

       

      I’ve reached out to Tom Bird, but I was wondering if anyone else has a recollection of the park acquisition and the naming issue.

      U Thant died in 1974.

       

    • #2031
      Dorothy Dewitz
      Participant

      The final paragraph from NYC parks website about Raoul Wallenberg Forest–

      “The Douglas-U Thant site, bounded by Palisade and Douglas Avenues, between West 235th and 236th Streets, was purchased from a real estate developer by the City for $4.85 million on August 14, 1990. On November 28 of that year, Mayor David N. Dinkins signed a bill sponsored by Council Member June Eisland naming the property Raoul Wallenberg Park. After visiting the park’s dense shrubbery and thickly wooded areas in 1996, Commissioner Stern renamed the property Wallenberg Forest.”

      Perhaps some study of the council member will give information about her reason for sponsoring the naming bill.

    • #2032
      rockviv
      Participant

      “History in Asphalt,” by John McNamara, page 167, explains that Wallenberg risked his life many times to save Jews from the Nazis, distributing certificates of protection, commonly called “Wallenberg passports,” enabling them to migrate to Sweden and other countries around the world. It states that he mysteriously disappeared after the war ended. There is no explanation as to Wallenberg’s connection to the Bronx.

    • #2033
      COGGINSS
      Participant

      My question is not about Wallenberg, of whom I greatly Revere. It’s why not U Thant. The 1987 NYTimes article about the effort to create the park, refers to it as “U Thant” park.

      Before I Take time off from work to dig through the Riverdale Press archives (or Parks), I was hoping that someone might have memories. But the June Eisland idea is very good, thank you so much.

    • #2034
      Thomas Casey
      Participant

      When Raoul Wallenberg Park was recommended, interest in U Thant Park was left on the drawing boards until U Thant Island in Manhattan.  The State of New York and dedicated the island on September 16, 1977

    • #2035
      COGGINSS
      Participant

      Thomas Casey, do you remember why interest in U Thant Park was left on the drawing boards? It seems like U Thant Park was a much more obvious choice than Wallenberg. The question is why NOT U Thant Park? Thank you so muchm

    • #2036
      COGGINSS
      Participant

      Thomas Casey, do you remember why interest in U Thant Park was left on the drawing boards? It seems like U Thant Park was a much more obvious choice than Wallenberg. The question is why NOT U Thant Park? Thank you so much.

    • #2037
      Thomas Casey
      Participant

      Dear Cogginss,

      Things get done in NYC when a Councilman puts a bill on the desk of the Mayor.  Nobody I am aware of did the same for U Thant.  However, I wonder if there is a plaque on the building that he lived in in Riverdale.  If not, you should petition or fund raise to get it done.  I will give $50

       

       

    • #2038
      COGGINSS
      Participant

      Thomas Casey- U Thant and his family lived in a house on the property from 1964 to a short time before his death in 1974. The house (referred to as the Douglas- U Thant House) and property were bought by a developer, and the house burned down a few years later.

      I have been in touch with U Thant’s grandson who lived in the house and went to Riverdale Country Day. I hope to interview him, but I want to understand why Riverdale chose not to name this park after such a important historical figure such as I Thant. As I said I’m all for Raoul Wallenberg but it would seem more reasonable to have been U Thant, because he lived there.

       

    • #2039
      Thomas Casey
      Participant

      Sorry, I thought U Thant also lived in a house in Fieldston.

       

    • #2040
      Peter Ostrander
      Moderator

      For the definitive answer you need to speak to Tom Bird when you get a chance.  Tom was the driving force in getting the city and Park to purchase the U Thant estate and make it a park adjacent to Seton Park.  I  was on the Arms Around the Park committee and group that Tom started to save the strip of land from developers. My understanding is the U Thant house was located on this parcel of land. The entrance is noted by the two large stone columns you see on Palisades north of 232nd St.

      Our political leaders at the time waffled (what else) on whether to support the land becoming a park or letting the developer build on it. The Boro Pres. then  Freddy Ferrer, was for it before he was against it then was for it and it finally became part of our parks.  Why Wallenberg Forrest I don’t remember.  No one I know called it or calls it Wallenberg Forest.  That is just another stupid name Parks Comm. Henry Stern decided on.  Much like he gave silly names to NYC Park workers like they were horse or servants who had to wear the idiot name tag he made up.

      Why not U Thant?  He lived there and was Sec General of the U.N.  but had no real connection to Riverdale or the Bronx.

      Could have been worse if it Kurt Waldheim who lived here. Imagine having the park named for him.

      Why Raoul Wallenberg?  Again best to speak with Tom Bird.  What I remember that about this time there were news articles that Wallenberg might still be alive in Russia.  Russians stated he died soon after the war after he was imprisoned by Russia. Also some belongings were returned of his and there was articles of sightings of him in Russian prisons years after the Russians said he was dead.  Many places around the world were naming sites for him and believe this is how Raoul Wallenberg’s name was used for the park.

      Again all credit for saving the property as a  City park goes to the effort of Tom Bird who was able to get our politicians, and community rallying around the idea to save the land from developers.

       

    • #2041
      COGGINSS
      Participant

      <p style=”text-align: left;”>Peter-  U Thant and his family lived in that house for ten years. His beloved grandson Thant Myint U was born in NYC,  lived in that house since it’s early days, and was a student at Riverdale Country Day, right down the street. According to my brief email conversations with his grandson, U Thant conducted UN business in the house frequently, and he entertained foreign leaders there. I’ve seen photographs documenting this.</p>
      The house in Riverdale was beloved by the entire family, not the least of whom by U Thant. I disagree that his connection to Riverdale was peripheral and unimportant. Quite the contrary.

       

    • #2042
      ndembowski
      Keymaster

      Over July 4th weekend, I was lucky enough to spend some time at a family friend’s country house out in eastern Long Island.  The town we stayed in was described to me as having two main groups of people–the wealthy professionals from New York City that have country houses out there on the one hand and the “townies” on the other.

      Riverdale, for much of its history, seems to have had the same dynamic.  There have been many prominent individuals, from Mark Twain to JFK to Lou Gehrig to Ella Fitzgerald to U Thant, to live in Riverdale.  I could be wrong but it seems these folks were here to get away from people, not to be active members of the community.

      Even in colonial times, the Riverdale area was a place for prominent New Yorkers to have their “country seats.”  But if you look at the common folk of our area in those years, they were related by marriage to their neighbors.  It was actually a very tight knit community.  Whereas the wealthy Manhattanites married into other wealthy New York families and had little to do with their neighbors.  I have never read anything about tensions between these groups but they seemed to operate in different spheres.  That phenomenon might explain the neighborhood’s lack of connection to U Thant.

      U Thant lived here for about 10 years on a 5 acre estate and sent his kids to one of our elite private schools.  I sort of doubt he went to community board meetings and got involved in Riverdale politics/activism.  Plus Riverdale is home to a large Jewish community that would be sympathetic to Wallenburg, who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.  I am sure that has something to do with the naming.  Additionally the forest was named during the Cold War.  As Peter mentioned, Wallenburg was believed to be alive in Russia.  Remember, Riverdale is home to Natan Sharansky Square at Mosholu Ave and W. 255th Street.  I’m sure that street naming had similar roots–a way to honor a person who was working on behalf of Jewish people while at the same time sticking it to the Soviets.

      Still, I see your point Stephanie.  It is not like Wallenburg really had a connection to Riverdale.  It would be interesting to hear what Tom Bird has to say about the name.

      Here is a video of U Thant at his home in Riverdale: https://www.unmultimedia.org/avlibrary/asset/2602/2602271/

    • #2043
      COGGINSS
      Participant

      Nick, as I said, I have no issue with Rauol Wallenberg”s name as the recipient. I am just trying to figure out if there’s a back story. I have been trying to reach Tom, but he’s tough to track down. And yes, I hope to do something for the U Thant family I’m not a journalist (don’t ask), I’m not a historian, but I plan to do an oral history style piece on U Thant in Riverdale.

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