Lower Manhattan’s Local News
The Passing of a Patriarch
Battery Park City’s Founding Father Exits the Stage
Charles J. Urstadt, the founder and builder of Battery Park City, died on Tuesday, after a long illness. Mr. Urstadt, who was 91 years old, is survived by his wife, Elinor; along with their son Charles D. Urstadt and his husband David Bernard; their daughter Catherine Urstadt Biddle, her husband Willing L. Biddle, and their daughters Elinor and Dana; and his brother Jeffery Urstadt. He was surrounded by multiple generations of his family at the end.
Over a career that spanned seven decades, Mr. Urstadt was a longtime public servant, master builder, and business leader, who presided over both public housing and private development. But he will be best remembered for having melded a background in real estate with a love of politics by joining the administration of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, where he led efforts to build large-scale public housing.
The culmination of Mr. Urstadt’s career as a master builder was the creation of Battery Park City, widely regarded as one of the most successful developments of a planned community in American history. In 1968, Rockefeller named Mr. Urstadt as the first chairman and president of the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA), the state agency established to manage the formation of 92 acres of new land along Lower Manhattan’s Hudson River waterfront, using landfill. (Approximately one-fifth of this fill came from spoil excavated from the foundation of the original World Trade Center complex, then under construction.) Under Mr. Urstadt’s leadership, the Authority also produced the original master plan for Battery Park City, with its visionary requirement that fully one-third of the new land (including its entire waterfront) be set aside for parks and other public spaces. Battery Park City has since grown to a community of more than 15,000 residents in 8,000 apartment units, and millions of square feet of commercial space. Under a funding mechanism created by Mr. Urstadt, the acreage within the community is leased, through the year 2069, to the real estate developers whose buildings occupy the space, in exchange for annual payments of ground rent. This arrangement generates more than $300 million per year in revenue, the vast majority of which is conveyed to the City, in part to build affordable housing elsewhere. The land Mr. Urstadt created at a cost of pennies per square foot is now worth, in the aggregate, many tens of billions of dollars. That amounts to a rate of return on the public funds invested of more than four billion percent.
“It is with sadness and a profound sense of gratitude that we mark the passing of Charles Urstadt, whose leadership helped drive Battery Park City’s creation,” BPCA president and chief executive officer B.J. Jones said. “As BPCA’s first chairman, Charlie was a visionary and tireless advocate for what this new, 92-acre neighborhood could be, ably guiding development through the many starts and stops of its early years. He returned in the mid-1990s and served on the board for the next decade-plus, as Battery Park City completed its construction. A man of unrelentingly big ideas who never lost his eye for detail, his wisdom, drive, and candor helped bookend the building of one America’s great planned communities.”
Mr. Jones continued, “in his seminal work on the creation of Battery Park City, Charlie wrote: ‘People who participate in the making of history are acutely aware that they have no control over how the history of their time will be written.’ As we share our condolences with his loving family and friends, we also assure them that Charlie’s contributions to the making of modern Downtown were — and will always be — indispensable.”
Jessica Lappin, the president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, said, “there aren’t many people who have played a role in literally shaping Lower Manhattan. Charles Urstadt was a founding father of Battery Park City and his contributions to our shoreline and the neighborhood were profound.”
Among the other state-sponsored projects that Mr. Urstadt oversaw was Co-Op City (a Bronx waterfront development that eventually grew to more than 15,000 apartments, with a residential population greater than 50,000), Rochdale Village in Queens (25,000 residents), and Brooklyn’s Starrett City (14,000 residents). In 1968, Mr. Urstadt also created the state’s housing public-benefit arm, the Urban Development Corporation, which is now known as the Empire State Development Corporation. His signature innovation at this agency was to forge partnerships between government and private developers, with the former offering land, financing, and vision, while the latter provided expertise, implementation, and cost control. This was a radical departure from the orthodoxy of the day, under which government agencies building public housing would attempt to become de facto construction contractors and real estate developers, often with disappointing results.
A colleague and friend of Robert Moses, Mr. Urstadt was guided in all of these projects by the axiom that to design and develop a project comprised of a few dozen apartments takes nearly as much political will as one containing many thousands of units. In this context, he prioritized large, transformational developments, aiming to make the biggest possible impact in the greatest number of lives.
Mr. Urstadt is additionally remembered through the eponymous Urstadt Law, a 1971 state measure that prevents any municipality from enacting local rent laws more stringent than those passed by Albany. While the law has garnered decades of criticism from tenant activists, it has never been repealed, and Mr. Urstadt often shared anecdotes about elected officials from both parties who privately thanked him both for preventing a reprise of the wave of building abandonments by landlords in marginal neighborhoods that created new ghettos in the 1960s, as well as for giving them political cover by lending his name to the measure.
Mr. Urstadt left government in 1978, after a change in administrations, returning to the private sector to buy control of a real estate investment trust that he transformed into Urstadt Biddle Properties, a thriving, publicly traded company that operates 82 properties in the suburbs surrounding New York City. But he returned to public service, part time, in 1995, when newly elected Governor George Pataki asked him to rejoin the board of the Battery Park City Authority. Mr. Pataki, who designated Mr. Urstadt to oversee his housing transition team, originally offered him the chairmanship of the Authority, which he declined, preferring to remain primarily focused on running his business. Instead, Mr. Urstadt came aboard as vice chairman, from which post he helped oversee the final stages of the build-out in the community he had founded three decades earlier.
Mr. Urstadt was born in 1928 into a real estate family: Both his father and his grandfather owned residential buildings in the Bronx, where the family lived. As a child, he would help his father collect rents and manage apartment buildings. After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science at age 16, he was accepted by Dartmouth College, and then went on to Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business and Cornell Law School. His graduate career took a two-year hiatus in the mid-1950s, during which Mr. Urstadt served as a lieutenant in the United States Navy, aboard the carrier U.S.S. Bennington. As his naval career drew to a close, he married the former Elinor McClure Funk, a graduate of Smith College.
Following law school, Mr. Urstadt joined the firm of Nevius Brett & Kellogg in the mid-1950s, and then jumped to one of its legal clients, the legendary developer William Zeckendorf, at whose side he played a leading role in the development of contemporary Manhattan landmarks like Kips Bay Plaza, Park West Village, Lincoln Towers, and the old Commodore Hotel (now the Grand Hyatt New York). Outside of New York, he helped Zeckendorf launch the Mile High Center in Denver, Century City in Los Angeles, and the Place Ville Marie complex in Montreal.
In the early 1960s, when much of Zeckendorf’s property empire was purchased by the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa), in the midst of a vogue for diversification, Mr. Urstadt moved there. From this perch, he further collaborated on reshaping New York’s skyline with the development of United Nations Plaza. But, accustomed to the vertiginous entrepreneurial vigor and improvisational chaos that came from working for the peripatetic Zeckendorf, Mr. Urstadt soon wearied of life as a corporate executive. He once told the Broadsheet that he knew he had to get out when a mentor in the Alcoa ranks promised that, if he was very lucky, he might one day be transferred to Pittsburgh.
Around this time, Robert R. Douglass, a close friend of Mr. Urstadt’s from Dartmouth and Cornell, introduced him to Nelson Rockefeller, for whom Mr. Douglass worked as a senior aide. This introduction became the genesis of Mr. Urstadt’s career in public service. One of his first projects in the Rockefeller Administration was to oversee the completion of Co-Op City, which was already under construction. The project was an unalloyed success, and whetted Rockefeller’s appetite for more like it. Mr. Urstadt obliged, planning and breaking ground on dozens of similar mixed-income public housing efforts around the five boroughs of New York City, and throughout the state, as far away as Buffalo and Rochester. He recalled to the Broadsheet once asking Rockefeller whether a single resident from any of these developments had taken the trouble to call and thank the Governor for providing a clean, safe, affordable home that otherwise would have been out of reach. He remembered Rockefeller’s succinct reply as, “Charlie, anybody in politics who is expecting gratitude should get a dog.”
And yet, decades later, Mr. Urstadt observed that once every few years, a resident of Battery Park City would take the time to research who had created the community, find his telephone number or email address, and unexpectedly reach out with a few words of appreciation. “So I guess Rockefeller was wrong,” he mused.
Near the end of his life, Mr. Urstadt would sometimes ask to be driven to Battery Park City, where he would idle quietly on a side street at twilight, watching dozens of children frolic in local parks, while parents picnicked nearby.
In his spare time, Mr. Urstadt was an accomplished amateur athlete. Swimming for the Bronx High School of Science, he was the New York City breast stroke champion for three consecutive years, and set a record for 100-yard breast stroke event. As the captain of the Dartmouth swim team, he set multiple state and national records. After beginning his career in public service and business, Mr. Urstadt took a 40-year break from competitive swimming, but returned to the sport in 1999, winning multiple local meets in New York and Connecticut, before taking the New England and National championships in the breast stroke for men aged 70 or above. He followed these victories with the world title in the 50-meter breast stroke in Munich (in 2000) and the world title for the same event in Perth (in 2008), setting a world record that stands to this day.
Mr. Urstadt also remained passionately engaged in policy and politics until the end of his life. In recent years, he seeded public discussion by publishing op-ed pieces about ideas that were provocative and transformative in equal measure, ranging from a proposed northward expansion of Battery Park City to Canal Street, to the possibility of luring Amazon to New York with a 100 acres of new landfill in the East River, to enlarging LaGuardia Airport by linking it with nearby Rikers Island, once the prison there is closed.
His last direct intervention in public affairs occurred largely behind the scenes. Beginning in 2014, he waged a quiet, three-year campaign to convince decision-makers that the new West Thames Pedestrian Bridge (which was paid for, in part, by the Authority he founded) should be named in honor of his friend, Robert Douglass, who died in 2016. This was based on Mr. Douglass’s long career as a civic booster of Lower Manhattan (among other accomplishments, he founded the Downtown Alliance), but faced formidable obstacles. Both Mr. Douglass and Mr. Urstadt were lifelong Republicans, and he was arguing this case when both the Mayor and the Governor were Democrats. Nonetheless, in 2017, he prevailed, as multiple stakeholders (including the BPCA and the de Blasio Administration) announced their support for naming the span in honor of Mr. Douglass.
In his later years, Mr. Urstadt was sometimes called upon to eulogize friends. Two passages that he occasionally invoked might well be his own epitaph. The first was by Mark Twain, who wrote of a character in, “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” that, “he liked to like people. Therefore, people liked him.” And the second came from Hamlet, where the prince says of his departed father, “He was a man. Take him for all in all. I shall not look upon his like again.”
Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House Tour
National Museum of the American Indian
Join a Museum Ambassador for a tour of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, home of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. Tour highlights include a discussion of the history of the site, architect Cass Gilbert, viewing the Collectors office with Tiffany woodwork; Reginald Marsh murals; and the 140 ton Rotunda Dome by Raphael Gustavino. One Bowling Green. Today and tomorrow https://americanindian.si.edu/calendar#/?
Stretching the Canvas Exhibition Tour
National Museum of the American Indian
A 45-minute tour of Stretching the Canvas: Eight Decades of Native Painting. Drawing from the National Museum of the American Indian’s rich permanent collection, the exhibition presents nearly 40 paintings that transcend, represent or subvert conventional ideas of authenticity. Repeated at 3pm. One Bowling Green. https://americanindian.si.edu/calendar#/?
Church Street School for Music & Art
Tonight, head over to Church Street School for The Hang!
This week, they are bringing you your favorite jazz standards performed by world renowned musicians Grant Stewart (saxophone), Lucy Yeghiazaryan (vocals), Tardo Hammer (piano), Murray Wall (bass) and James Polsky (drums). Stop by for a night of old faves! $10 suggested donation. For more information head to: http://churchstreetschool.org/classes/the-hang/
The Hang is produced in partnership with KeyedUp and International Contemporary Ensemble.
Church Street School for Music & Art
Celebrates 30 Years
Church Street School for Music and Art
has been the only non-profit music and art school
in Lower Manhattan for 30 years!
We will be celebrating at our annual gala:
Tuesday, March 10th
6:30pm to 10:30pm
Julia Stiles is this year’s Artist Chair
and the school will honor
The Kleiman Family:
Laurie, Norman, Daryl, Charlie & Gabe.
The Event will take place at the glamorous Tribeca Rooftop, located at Two Desbrosses Street and will include music, dancing, cocktails, fine dining, awards, and a silent & live auction.For tickets and information:
Today in History
12 BC – The Roman Emperor Augustus is named Pontifex Maximus, incorporating the position into that of the emperor.
1521 – Ferdinand Magellan arrives at Guam.
1820 – The Missouri Compromise is signed into law by President James Monroe. The compromise allows Missouri to enter the Union as a slave state, brings Maine into the Union as a free state, and makes the rest of the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase territory slavery-free.
1869 – Dmitri Mendeleev presents the first periodic table to the Russian Chemical Society.
1899 – Bayer registers “Aspirin” as a trademark.
1943 – Norman Rockwell published Freedom from Want in The Saturday Evening Post with a matching essay by Carlos Bulosan as part of the Four Freedoms series.
1945 – World War II: Cologne is captured by American troops.
1953 – Georgy Malenkov succeeds Joseph Stalin as Premier of the Soviet Union and First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
1967 – Cold War: Joseph Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva defects to the United States.
1970 – An explosion at the Weather Underground safe house in Greenwich Village kills three.
1975 – For the first time the Zapruder film of the assassination of John F. Kennedy is shown in motion to a national TV audience
1992 – The Michelangelo computer virus begins to affect computers.
1475 – Michelangelo, Italian painter and sculptor (d. 1564)
1619 – Cyrano de Bergerac, French author and playwright (d. 1655)
1812 – Aaron Lufkin Dennison, American businessman, co-founded the Waltham Watch Company (d. 1895)
1906 – Lou Costello, American actor and comedian (d. 1959)
1923 – Ed McMahon, sidekick for Johnny Carson (d. 2009)
1923 – Wes Montgomery, American guitarist and songwriter (d. 1968)
1927 – Gordon Cooper, American engineer, pilot, and astronaut (d. 2004)
1936 – Marion Barry, 2nd Mayor of the District of Columbia (d. 2014)
1947 – Rob Reiner, American actor, director, producer, and activist
190 – Prince of Hongnong (poisoned by Dong Zhuo) (b. 176)
1888 – Louisa May Alcott, American novelist and poet (b. 1832)
1900 – Gottlieb Daimler, German engineer and businessman, co-founded Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (b. 1834)
1932 – John Philip Sousa, American conductor and composer (b. 1854)
1973 – Pearl S. Buck, novelist, short story writer, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1892)
1984 – Henry Wilcoxon, Dominican-American actor and producer (b. 1905)
1986 – Georgia O’Keeffe, American painter (b. 1887)
2007 – Ernest Gallo, co-founded E & J Gallo Winery (b. 1909)
2016 – Nancy Reagan, actress, 42nd First Lady of the United States (b. 1921)
Photos and information culled from Wikipedia and other internet sources
Thinking Globally, Acting Locally
Lower Manhattan Party Leader Shifts Allegiance in President Contest
The dynamics of the national presidential campaign have begun to shift at the local level. Paul Newell, a respected Democratic Party activist, who serves as a District Leader in Lower Manhattan, announced on Wednesday that he was withdrawing his earlier endorsement of Elizabeth Warren, and instead throwing his support to Bernie Sanders.
This is more than an abstract or symbolic switch. In addition to serving as District Leader, Mr. Newell is also a candidate to serve as a New York State delegate to the Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Milwaukee, this July.
Eyes to the Sky
March 2 – 15, 2020
Spring stars rising, NEAF
Spring stars appear in our evening sky as rhythmically as pussy willow and snowdrop blossoms emerge here on Earth in the northeast. As March begins, the constellation Leo the Lion, in full figure, stretches above the eastern horizon at nightfall. The expression “March comes in like a Lion” likely had cosmic roots before its familiar reference to fierce winds.
All the Lion’s stars, from brightest Regulus at its front foot to bright Denebola at its tail, come into view during the course of about 60 to 90 minutes after sunset.
Sundown is at 5:49 Eastern Standard Time today and about a minute later everyday through the 7th. Eastern Daylight Time begins at 2am on March 8, when clocks are set one hour ahead. Sunset by the clock does not coincide with actual sunset from March 8 until November 1, when we return to Eastern Standard Time. On the 8th, sundown is at 6:56pm EDT. The Full Sap Moon occurs on the 9th.
The most outstanding spring star, orange-hued Arcturus, is the second brightest distant sun in northern skies. Arcturus rises above the east-northeast skyline at 8:16 tonight, about two hours after Leo’s tail star, Denebola. Brilliant Arcturus appears 4 minutes earlier every evening. When I observe the golden star close above the east-northeast skyline, I stand tall as witness to nighttime’s quintessential harbinger of spring. I am swept into the rising of the new season.
Refer to the diagram to see, on the left, the Big Dipper’s handle ‘arc to Arcturus’. Notice hallmark stars and constellations of the winter season on the right. Brilliant Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the heavens, is descending toward the west as Arcturus ascends in the east.
Opportunity to Participate
Everything New Is Old Again
Preservation Concerns about Design of New Residential Building in Tribeca
The City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has approved a new residential structure in the Tribeca East Historic District that closely mimics the visual context of the surrounding neighborhood, but has nonetheless inspired concerns among some preservationists.
To the editor,
Why do we have to continually see ugly buildings being approved and erected on the altar of ‘contextually relevant’? The proposed new Tribeca building is a really tasteless and ugly piece of architecture and we will be forced to live with its insipidity for a considerable time.
Copying a by-gone architectural age should not be the purpose of architecture. We should not be seduced by the desire to simply preserve or echo the past. We should not shy away from a modern architecture that does not mimic but that rather politely nods to its surroundings and that at the same time gives to us a feeling of the wonders of present and future possibilities. To walk past a new building and feel ‘what a joy to see and be next to something so interesting and exciting’ should be one of the prime purposes of good architecture.
What is needed on all levels of review (Community Boards, Dept of City Planning, the Mayor’s Office, Landmarks Preservation -et al-) are people who are considered to be modern architecture experts by their peers and who are given the power to review as part of the approval processes, building proposals on the basis of their architectural merits. People who because of their standing in their professions, are capable of standing fast against the easy urge to simply badly ape what once was in the day of our grandfathers.
‘This Is a Deal That Must Be Made’
Gateway Plaza Tenants Association Continues to Work on Affordability Protections
On February 6, the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association hosted more than 100 residents, along with a phalanx of elected officials and community leaders, who came together at the P.S./I.S. 276 auditorium to share concerns and offer updates about the status of affordability within Battery Park City’s largest rental complex. The meeting came at a critical time, because caps on rent increases at Gateway are set to expire on June 30.
GPTA president Rosalie Joseph began, “I want everybody here to know that the GPTA’s goal is long-term rent stabilization for all. Elected officials and BPCA have heard this from us. I wish I could stand here today and tell you that there is resolution, but I can’t. But the work continues, and we will work as hard as we can, closely with elected officials and BPCA to achieve the goal of rent stabilization for all.” To read more…
Ars Gratia Communitas
Battery Park City’s Annual Art Exhibit
Battery Park City’s annual art exhibition opened on Sunday, January 26.
The art will be on view at
75 Battery Place, weekdays,
January 27 to March 27, 2PM to 4PM
People visiting should check in with our security desk on the ground floor, where they will be directed to the elevators to the 4th floor. The receptionist will direct them to the show.
Multiple New Bikes Lanes Coming to Lower Manhattan
A network of new bike lanes is planned for Lower Manhattan’s streetscape, with implementation for some of the project slated for later this year.
The first addition to Downtown’s bike grid will consist of dedicated cycling lanes on Broadway and Whitehall Street, extending from City Hall southward to Bowling Green and the Staten Island Ferry, where this route will link with the existing Waterfront Path, which connects the Battery to bike easements on the East River shoreline and in Battery Park City.
Higher, Wider, Handsomer
City Council Announces Design Competition to Improve Pedestrian Access to Brooklyn Bridge
The City Council has partnered with the Van Alen Institute (a New York nonprofit architectural organization, dedicated to improving design in the public realm) in sponsoring a contest to incubate fresh ideas for better pedestrian access to the Brooklyn Bridge. To read more…
City Plans to Raise Esplanade in the Battery to 11 Feet Above Waterline
Among the myriad of resiliency projects that are now in the planning stages for various parts of Lower Manhattan, the City is planning to raise the level of the waterfront Esplanade in the Battery to an elevation 11 feet above the current waterline. To read more…
CLASSIFIEDS & PERSONALS
Swaps & Trades ~ Respectable Employment ~ Lost & Found
NEED A PERSONAL ASSISTANT?
ORGANIZED, RELIABLE, KNOWLEDGEABLE.
LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR AVAILABLE
FOR BABYSITTING OR TUTORING
17 year old young man, lifetime resident of Tribeca and BPC.
Went to PS 234, Lab Middle School and currently attending Millennium HS. This summer was a Councilor at Pierce Country Day Camp. Excellent references.Very experienced with kids under 10.
Available for weeknight and weekend baby-sitting and tutoring middle-schoolers in Math or Science. Please contact Emmett at 917.733.3572
IT AND SECURITY SUPPORT
Experienced IT technician. Expertise in 1-on-1 tutoring for all ages.Computer upgrading & troubleshooting. Knowledgeable in all software programs.
James Keirstead email@example.com
347-933-1362 References available
CERTIFIED HOME HEALTH AIDE SEEKING
Full-Time Live-In Elder Care
I am loving, caring and hardworking with 12 years experience. References available. Marcia 347-737-5037 firstname.lastname@example.org
NOTARY PUBLIC IN BPC
$2 per notarized signature Text Paula at 917-836-8802
ELDER CARE NURSE AIDE
with 17 years experience seeks PT/FT work. Refs available Call or text 718 496 6232 Dian
Available starting September for PT/FT.
Wonderful person, who is a great worker. Reference Available
Available for PT/FT elder care. Experienced. References Angella
EXPERIENCED ELDER CARE
Able to prepare nutritious meals and light housekeeping
Excellent references 12yrs experienced 347-898-5804
Call Hope email@example.com
If you would like to place a listing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Cass Gilbert and the Evolution of the New York Skyscraper
by John Simko
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