The present structures for the island will probably stay the way they are for the present.
Oh no. *And how are we going to decide what to build there? *The same way we do for the WTC?
The present structures for the island will probably stay the way they are for the present.
February 23, 2003
Off Lower Manhattan, Island Hopes for Invasion ... by Tourists
By TERRY PRISTIN
When Governors Island was returned to New York State last month after two centuries under federal control, the most immediate beneficiary was not the state or the city. It was a federal agency that had waited seven years for the transfer: the National Park Service.
Most of the 172-acre island, a former military base that has been off limits to the public, is now in the custody of a new city-state agency with the cumbersome name Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, which will have to figure out just exactly what to do with its new prize.
The park service, though, has a clearer role. The changeover means that its officials will finally have a chance to introduce the public to the slice of history embodied by the 22 acres that have been designated a national monument. The monument encompasses seven buildings, including two forts from the early 19th century, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, which were once vital to the city's security.
Park service officials say they have a compelling story to tell that has become even more relevant in light of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. On a recent tour of the monument, Linda Neal, the project director, stood on a snow-covered road below the round red sandstone fort known as Castle Williams and gazed at the Lower Manhattan skyline.
"Sept. 11 raised a lot of people's awareness of the importance of the harbor and its defenses," she said. "The fortifications are obviously passé in terms of the technology, but the story is the same. We still need protection in New York City."
The strategic value of Governors Island — known originally as Nutten Island — apparently went unrecognized by the Dutch settlers who acquired it in 1637. But the island's potential was not lost on American colonists. When the Revolution broke out, they fortified the island and used it to prevent the British from landing at the southern tip of Manhattan.
In 1800, the island was transferred to the federal government from New York, and work began on the two permanent forts, including the star-shaped Fort Jay at the island's northern end. During the War of 1812, these forts helped deter a British attack on New York. During the Civil War, Castle Williams became a prison that housed as many as 1,000 Confederate soldiers. Prisoners awaiting execution were sent to a dungeon at Fort Jay.
Despite Governors Island's proximity to New York, few residents have ever visited it, and most will have to wait a little longer because of the absence of public amenities and adequate transportation. The island is accessible only by ferry. Eventually, officials say, visitors to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island will be able to stop at Governors Island as well.
But Ms. Neal said that by Memorial Day, the National Park Service hopes to be able to conduct some limited guided tours.
The park service, which manages nearly 27,000 acres in and around New York Harbor, has three years to work out a plan for rehabilitating, using and promoting its new national monument, but Ms. Neal said the work might be completed sooner.
The new monument was created by former President Bill Clinton just as he was leaving office in 2001. But Congress had determined that under the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, Governors Island had to be sold at fair market value. It was unclear if the monuments were supposed to be included in the sale, Ms. Neal said. In the end, though, New York got the island for a dollar, and President Bush reissued the monument proclamation on Feb. 7.
The acquisition will pose a challenge to the city-state agency, which needs to make the island self-sustaining. The agreement with the federal government bars large-scale commercial development and housing. City University is working on a plan to develop research and teacher-training centers with other universities, but no details have been offered. All that is certain so far is that 40 acres will be set aside as open space.
The park service is in a more enviable position. The current federal budget includes $1.1 million in operating expenses for the monument, and the park service has other financing sources to draw upon. Still, the agency is inviting revenue-generating ideas to help pay for renovations and upkeep.
Among the ideas floating around, Ms. Neal said, are a open-air theater within the walls of Castle Williams and an education center at Fort Jay.
Albert K. Butzel, the president of the Governors Island Alliance, a coalition of environmental, planning and business groups, said he had no problem with the park service's intention to make money from the forts.
"They ought to be able to use whatever's there," he said.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Castle Williams on Governors Island was used to hold Confederate enlisted men.
"Our men are now suffering very greatly from disease," wrote prisoner Andrew Norman, 7th Regiment, North Carolina Volunteers on September 30, 1861, while being held at Castle Williams on Governors Island. . . .
Dr. William J. Sloan, medical director of the Federal army, reported that the prisoners "are crowded into an ill-ventilated building which has always been an unhealthy one when occupied by large bodies of men.... There are now upwards of eighty cases of measles amongst them, a number of cases of typhoid fever, pneumonia, intermittent fever, etc. . . . Every building upon the island being crowded with troops, with a large number in tents, I know not how the condition of these prisoners can be improved except by a change of location.... If 100 are removed to Bedloe's Island as contemplated and including a large portion of the sick, there will be better facilities for improving the condition of those remaining [at Castle Williams]." Authorities took Doctor Sloan's advice and began transferring prisoners to Bedloe's Island in mid-October. Here they were confined at Fort Wood, a star-shaped rampart built in 1811 on the east side of the twelve-acre, eggshaped isle.
But conditions for the prisoners confined in all of New York's harbor facilities continued to worsen as illness and deaths increased. Finally, on October 30, all prisoners confined at Fort Lafayette, Governors Island, and Fort Wood were evacuated and transferred by steamer to newly-converted Fort Warren in Boston Harbor. Within a few months, though, as additional captives continued to be brought into the city, authorities ignored the previous recommendations, and again began filling the harbor facilities beyond capacity.
Fort Wood and Governors Island, consisting of Castle Williams and Fort Columbus, were situated in the Upper Bay area. Governors Island, 170 acres and 500 yards off the southern tip of Manhattan where the East and Hudson Rivers converge into the bay, was originally called Nutten, or Nut Island because of the massive grove of nut trees growing there. Wouter van Twiller, second governor of then New Netherland, purchased the island in 1637, and in 1698, the New York Assembly set the land aside for the "benefit and accommodation of His Majesty's governors," hence its present name. Castle Williams on the southern side of the island and Fort Columbus on the northern end of the isle were built originally as a defense against the British.
Fort Columbus dominated the island from a knoll. It was a red-brick, star-shaped structure built in 1794 with the name Fort Jay, in honor of John Jay, diplomat and the first Chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. . . . During the Civil War, a quadrangle of officers' dwellings within the fort served to confine captured Confederate officers. Although the combined capacity of Fort Columbus and Castle Williams was estimated at five hundred, more than that number were incarcerated there most of the time . . .
Castle Williams was a circular fort, and because of its shape, was often referred to as "the cheese box." It was named in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Williams, who designed the structure. The fort was two hundred feet in diameter with walls of red sandstone forty feet high and eight feet thick. Construction had begun in 1807 but wasn't completed until 1811.
Castle Williams was used to hold Confederate enlisted men. These men were confined to their quarters at all times, while the officers at Fort Columbus were given the privilege of roaming about the west and south sides of the island. At times, the prisoner population of Castle Williams included deserters from the U.S. army, but generally it served as a POW facility.
Oh Wow! *A Fort Jay message board! *I was stationed at Fort Jay in the early 60s. *I was so sad to find out that I can't take the ferry there anymore. *I return to NYC at least once a year and hope each time that Ft Jay can again be accessed. *Anyone who was stationed there from 1961-63 on this board? *If so, let's get some memories going.
Some geography about Gov Island. *Ft Jay itself is surrounded by a moat and located in a quadrangle. *There's a golf course, a huge parade ground where planes can land, and lovely old red brick buldings. The sidewalks in the main enlisted barracks area are paved with red cobblestones. *At one time, Gov Island was the home of an "army air corps" unit. *That explains the parade ground, which doubles as an air strip.
Lovely island. *Greatest place in the world to be stationed as a draftee back in the early 60's in the Greatest City in the World.
July 25, 2003
An Island That Took 203 Years to Welcome Tourists
By ANDREA ELLIOTT
It was always just out of reach.
Five minutes by ferry from the bustling concrete depths of Wall Street sits what could be a quaint New England town: stately, collegiate buildings framed by tree-lined walkways where the wind rustles through aging oak trees.
For 203 years, the oasis known as Governors Island was closed to the public, but that changed yesterday when more than 80 people took the first formal, public tour of what has become the city's newest national park.
"This is the unknown New York," said Barry Day, 69, a British playwright and author who lives in Manhattan for part of the year and took the tour. "You're so close to downtown this could be a haven."
The 172-acre island, which New York State sold to the federal government for $1 in 1800, was used by the United States Army until 1966, and then by the United States Coast Guard until 1997. The island was officially handed back to New York last January and is maintained by a public corporation governed by the city, the state and the National Park Service.
The public can now take a free walking tour of the island three days a week until Sept. 27, when the touring season for the island ends. Public tours will resume in the spring.
The sightseers yesterday, which included elementary school students, civic group leaders and park advocates, walked 1.5 miles around the northern area of the island, which features two 19th-century forts and a view of New York Harbor and Manhattan's jagged skyline.
The island has played host to several events of historical note. In the War of 1812, the forts on the island deterred a British attack on New York. In 1909, Wilbur Wright made his first over-water flight from the island. And in 1988, it was the site of the summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The tour includes the 22-acre area now known as the Governors Island National Monument, which has as its central attraction the earthen-walled, star-shaped Fort Jay, one of the best-preserved forts in the nation.
"If the English had taken Governors Island, the course of the war could have dramatically changed," said Ken Bausch, the park ranger who guided the tour, as he stood in the middle of the Fort Jay's open courtyard.
The group gasped with surprise at the long, quiet stretches of shaded walkways, Victorian-era houses and tall, collegiate buildings where some 4,000 people lived when the Coast Guard used the island, Mr. Bausch said.
"Everything is in a lot better shape than I expected," said Susannah Sard, the executive director of the Women's City Club of New York. "It's surprisingly like a college campus. It has the ivory tower feeling."
Some of the younger members of the tour said they wanted more by way of adventure.
"It's interesting learning about historical facts," said Phuoc Huynh, 13, who lives in Brooklyn. He said he thought the experience would be more one of "chilling in the park, looking for artifacts."
One purpose of the tour is to introduce the public to the island in the hope that people will help determine how the space is used, said Robert Pirani, director of the Governors Island Alliance, a coalition of environmental, planning and business groups.
"We're hoping the public will take an active role in determining the future of this island," said Mr. Pirani said. "We want to make sure the people have a voice as it's being reinvented."
More information on the tours is available at governorsislandnationalmonument.org.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
wow, the forts and historic area look very nice. * From that one pic, it looks like Castle Williams's interior needs to be restored, though. (what is that, glass on the inside?)
A Dollar and a Dream
Jim Lima plans to make Governors Island New York's next great public place.
By Karen E. Steen
The Metropolis Observed
The story was legend, bordering on myth: in a helicopter over the New York harbor, Senator Patrick Moynihan and President Bill Clinton shook hands on a deal that would transfer Governors Island--a decommissioned military base that predates the War of 1812--to the city and state of New York for a dollar. Years passed, both men left office, and New Yorkers waited, their hopes waning that an almost magically empty 172-acre island just a half mile from downtown Manhattan could someday become a public place.
Finally in January 2003 the federal General Services Administration made good. Twenty-two acres of the island were handed over to the National Park Service for a historic monument, with the remaining 150 acres going to the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC), a state and city partnership. Indeed negotiated for a dollar, the transfer to GIPEC stipulates that the land be developed primarily for civic, educational, and cultural uses, including 40 acres of parkland and a possible City University of New York campus. Complicating the program is one caveat: the island must generate enough income to pay for its substantial upkeep.
Spearheading this thrilling if overwhelming challenge is newly appointed GIPEC president James Lima. A veteran of the New York City Economic Development Commission and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, he negotiated acquisition of the island and has led large-scale economic revitalization projects in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan. Metropolis senior editor Karen E. Steen spoke with him in early September, just as he was preparing to move into his new post.
Let's start with the basic mandate for the island. What are the key elements stipulated by the transfer?
Deed restrictions ensure that Governors Island be a public place for the foreseeable future, that it be a major new public park, that it have educational uses, and that it host cultural arts--opportunities that bring the broadest spectrum of visitors, residents, and workers from the local area and region (and really everywhere) to the island. Specifically we've committed to not developing casinos on the island, which was a proposal that gained some momentum in the past. There's also a fair degree of consensus that it not be utilized for permanent housing. There will be a lot of opportunity for hotels and extended-stay accommodations, dormitories related to the academic uses on the island, but the thought was that permanent housing is not the most public use for the place.
How do you integrate a new campus, hotels, a conference center, and so on, with the island's historic character? Do you try to be contextual, or do you draw a line and say, "That's historic over there, and over here we're doing something else"?
The island can be thought of in two parts. The northern 90 or so acres are largely part of the original configuration, before the landfill addition. That's the designated historic district [which includes the military fortifications Fort Jay and Castle Williams, erected prior to the War of 1812]. There are a couple of buildings that are considered intrusions into the historic district, which in the past preservation groups have called to be demolished, but are really exciting opportunities for contemporary buildings that are completely compatible with that unique historic district. South of Division Road are the 80-plus additional acres that the army created from the excavation of the east-side subway in the early 1900s: largely barrack housing, industrial-service buildings, and playing fields. There it's a very different context, and as you move away from the historic district, the configuration of buildings, their size and scale, presents a different opportunity.
Is there a chance for international design competitions on Governor's Island? Can we look forward to the possibility of a signature building?
I sure hope so. We'll have a coordinated master-planning effort, in which GIPEC and the National Parks Service will come up with the site plan and program for the two parts of the island that complement each other. Individual projects that will come out of that master plan present really exciting opportunities for international calls for both landscape architecture and individual building design. It's an extraordinary landscape-architecture assignment, an amazing opportunity to bring new buildings that relate to this incredibly rich existing landscape, and respond to the context, vistas, and history of the place.
The island is somewhat undefended geographically. Does the weather affect what can be done out there? Are there challenges, like how cold it gets, but also opportunities, like wind or wave power?
I can confirm it's an extremely windy place, so we should look at the options for capturing some of these alternative energy sources. It's going to be a factor: How do you create a harbor-front park that is enjoyable to use in the off-season, when it gets kind of cold and windy? That is part of the design challenge, in terms of building placement, site planning, and landscape planning.
We're committed to making the entire island sustainable, so we're overlaying that as one of the values on the island: converting the fuel we use for our ferries to cleaner alternatives; using the latest technologies including electric cars; the orientation of buildings; lowering energy needs; recycling water; exploring the possibilities of alternative energy sources and green roofs. We're really excited about the idea of creating possibly the first entirely green environment on a considerable scale.
I'm an avid sailor, and living on a boat makes you very aware of how much water you use, the waste you create, and the energy you use from batteries and things. So it's interesting to think of the island as a contained environment that ought to not only take care of itself but also not create excess waste.
How much of a role is there for the public in shaping the island's development?
A whole range of civic groups have met under the umbrella of the Governors Island Alliance and Community Board 1 and thought about, What does New York City need?
That formed the basis for our deed restrictions.There were some pretty strong voices, a lot of public discussion that happened once the Coast Guard announced that they were leaving, in the mid-1990s. There was concern that the island could even get auctioned to a private developer. So the advocacy that came out of that fear led to some positive and focused ideas about it being a financially self-sustaining but still public place. The challenge now is to find ways to strike the right balance of commercially viable uses that actually generate revenue to pay the bills for what are very significant fixed costs for us: operating something that's an island, has ferry-only access, has a sea wall of two and a half miles, and has 65 amazing historic properties that need constant maintenance and care. And then, prospectively, operating and maintaining a significant new park and supporting educational uses. We need some economic drivers here, and we need them early to really succeed. The hotel/conference idea we think can be a really good complement to the other uses on the island and a great fit with the specific buildings that are there now--and it would really benefit from the island's character as a retreat and a sanctuary only five minutes from Wall Street.
Has the World Trade Center site-planning process brought more attention to city redevelopment projects, or does it end up stealing the spotlight?
I see this as being part of Lower Manhattan's revitalization. We're going to have some early positive new projects come on line that will, I think, be part of that healing process. We'll be making recreational facilities on the island available quickly to community residents and coming up with a range of really interesting interim uses, such as art installations, performance art, and concerts. The public tours we started this summer sold out immediately. That was a first effort, even though we have only had the island for a few months, just to let the public get out there and see it. And it's only reaffirmed what we suspected, which is that there is going to be tremendous excitement at discovering what's just half a mile away.
Housing is not an option under the deed restrictions, so how do you create a neighborhood without neighbors? What can you do to build in personality that doesn't feel like a theme park?
First you focus on establishing some key anchors that are going to help on the economic side--educational, entertainment, cultural, and historical destination uses. Then once you have a strong economic base to build from, you can start to pull in a whole range of other locally based uses and to adaptively reuse some of these historic buildings and encourage the island to be a place that's about ideas, promoting the arts, and building upon the beauty that exists there in terms of both the landscape and the extraordinary architecture. This is going to be all about partnerships with private organizations, private investors, and philanthropists--people who see it as we see it, which is really as a legacy project. If somebody wants to shape a project at a location like no other, this is the place to do it. The Institute for the Study of...something. The Center for...blank.
I think it's going to have a lot of personality. It has a well-defined personality now as a completely unique intact historic district, which comes as a surprise to everyone who goes there. You see the care that was taken to preserve these historic buildings--plus we've got a bowling alley, a golf course, swimming pools, tennis courts, major piers, and an extraordinary esplanade overlooking Ellis and Liberty islands and the Lower Manhattan skyline. It will become a great public place.
I've been involved in a lot of these large-scale plans, and this is one that everyone you talk to, no matter who they are, has such a great feeling about. It gives people a sense of hope and optimism about the potential we have to do great things that are very public and create a great quality of life experience in New York.
I think that the golf course could be a tremendous cash cow. Given that there are no golf courses in NYC, and the closest alternative is the driving range at Chelsea Piers, they could have themselves an economic base just by opening up the golf course to Wall Street executives for a nominal greens fee of several hundred dollars a pop.
Would there be enough space for a major golf course?
Probably not. A decent course usually is at least in the 150 acre range, so the entire island would be the course.
I wouldn't mind a golf course complex of 4 courses - different costs to play, etc, carved out of Fresh Kills, though.
Can one tour Governor's Island? How do you get there? anyone know?
It seems like there's an awful lot of trees for a golf course. You'd have to chop a lot down, angering enviromentalists.Originally Posted by billyblancoNYC
And while I do think a golf course there would be a cool idea, and I think it probably could be a gold mine. But I also think it would end up being a political hot potato. Could anyone argue with the assertion that it would primarily benefit older, rich, white men? Hooray, they can leave their overpaid jobs on Wall street and take a half day off on the green and still collect full pay! What a great day for the City's elite!
the teacher's training campus is a great idea, benefiting everyone. Plus conversion of the fort and other structures to museums, and landscaping some parks, and maybe maritime uses, a great benefit to everyone.