NEWS: Andrew H. Greene in the New York Times
From Michael Miscione, Manhattan Borough Historian,
Mention of the tribute ceremony for Andrew H. Green held in Central Park on Sunday 11/19 is prominently featured in today’s New York Times “Only in New York” audio podcast by metro reporter Sam Roberts.
A link to the podcast download page and a transcript of the script are below.
Link to New York Times Podcast Page
(Find “Only in New York” in the right column, midway down the page.)
“Only in New York” Audio Podcast
November 23, 2006
By Sam Roberts, New York Times metro reporter
A modest ceremony was held in Central Park last Sunday for the forgotten “Father of Greater New York,” Andrew Haswell Green.
New York has a lousy record of honoring most of the legendary figures who’ve made a difference in municipal government. Sure, there’s LaGuardia Airport, named for the mayor who was instrumental in bringing commercial aviation to the city after he bought a ticket that said New York but which delivered him to Newark, the closest commercial airport. Real municipal heroes may be few and far between, but even they have had to settle for a school building or an obscure street corner marked by signage that rarely offers a clue to what they contributed or why. And all that Andrew Green got was a bench.
Who was Andrew Green? Professor Ken Jackson of Columbia who edited the Encyclopedia of New York City dubbed him, “arguably the most important leader in Gotham’s long history.” He championed plans for Central Park. As the appointed city comptroller, he helped the New York Times shake loose the Tweed Ring’s implacable grip on the city treasury. As the executor of Samuel J. Tilden’s estate, he helped found the New York Public Library — also the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bronx Zoo, the American Museum of Natural History. He saved City Hall from demolition.
But Green’s greatest contribution was to tirelessly lobby for three decades for the consolidation of competing counties and municipalities into a single city: New York. That consolidation in 1898 spurred the construction of the subway and the almost uninterrupted growth of the five boroughs into a city that remains Americas largest and now boasts a population of over 8.2 million.
It’s uncertain what happened to all the ambitious plans to memorialize Green after he died a century ago. The most grandiose was a monumental gateway to Central Park at 110th Street, including a fountain, 40 foot-high columns topped with eagles and a bronze statue. That proposal generated some disgust on aesthetic grounds. It was less an entrance than an archway within the park, just the sort of encroachment Green himself would have rejected. I guess you could have called it a “limitation of statues.”
So all Green got besides a portrait that’s off limits to the public in City Hall was the bench and a couple of trees. Two decades after he died, five 55 foot-high elms were hauled down from Westchester and planted in his honor to symbolize the city’s five boroughs. But they were unmarked; also, they later died of Dutch elm disease. In 1929 the granite bench was added, designed by an architecture professor at Columbia. It was installed at around 105th Street, east of the East Drive, right near McGown’s Pass, where George Washington passed on his triumphal return to the city. The site was named Green Hill, but the symbolism was short-lived. The bench was subsequently evicted from its hilltop vista to accommodate a compost heap.
In 1948 a statue of Green was finally commissioned for the city’s Golden Jubilee, but it vanished. Michael Miscione, the Manhattan Borough Historian, recently discovered two copies in a garage in Maine belonging to the sculptor’s daughter. It wasn’t the first time history had been misplaced. A statue of Christopher Columbus, presented to Green himself in 1876, also disappeared. It was later rediscovered, coincidentally, in the basement of McGown’s Pass Tavern, right near where Green’s bench would eventually go.
So far Michael Miscione, the borough historian, has led a lonely crusade to get Green more appropriate recognition. Last Sunday a few dozen people showed up for the ceremony in Central Park, including Green’s great, great nephew. And the city has apparently promised that some other park — somewhere — will be named for green — someday.
Green, by the way, died in 1903 at the age of 83. He was shot and killed as he entered his brownstone on Park Avenue. You could say that even then, after devoting his lifetime to the city, he was unrecognized. It was a case of mistaken identity.
I’m Sam Roberts.