Contact: Colleen Roche/Jennifer Chait (212) 788-2958
Edward Skyler (Parks) (212) 360-1311
Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani today took part in the dedication of Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark. The Mayor was joined by Governor George E. Pataki, Senator Daniel P. Moynihan, Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, New York Central Labor Council President Brian M. McLaughlin and Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern.
The selection of one of New York City's finest parks was made by the National Parks Service last November in recognition of the park's role as a focal point in American labor history. The Park was the site of the first Labor Day Parade on September 5, 1882.
"I am proud to be here today at the dedication of the unique Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark," Mayor Giuliani said. "As one of the jewels in City's parks system, Union Square Park has always been a center of tremendous activity, providing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a stage where entertainment and later workers' rallies, political protests and mass demonstrations took place. It was in Union Square Park on September 5, 1882 that over 30,000 union members came together in a show of unity, strength and commitment to equality and fairness in celebration of the nation's first Labor Day Parade.
"Over the years, workers from all over the world have come to New York City, turning our economy into one of the most dynamic and successful in the nation and the world," the Mayor continued. "They have supported themselves and their families and have been responsible for creating the highways, monuments, skyscrapers -- and our parks -- that have come to define the unique landscape of our City. And there has never been a better time, or a more fitting place, to celebrate the importance of workers and their contributions than right here in Union Square Park in New York City. We can all be proud that this special park is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark."
Governor Pataki said, "It is only fitting that the National Parks Service should recognize Union Square Park's long history as a focal point for political expression. New York is proud that the first Labor Day parade took place here in Union Square Park more than a hundred years ago, establishing a tradition that spread across the nation. Working together with the City, the State is also investing $400,000 to ensure that future generations can continue to enjoy the Park."
Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern said, "What a perfect time to dedicate Union Square Park as a National Historic Landmark as we enjoy its renaissance and prepare for its half-acre expansion. Thanks to funding from the Mayor's capital budget, the park will grow to the south and at its corners, creating a beautiful plaza where the Gandhi Gardens provide a home for their inspirational leader."
Union Square Park became a National Historic Landmark after the New York State Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation endorsed its application to the National Park Service, part of the U.S. Department of Interior. The Park's landmark status was officially approved in November, 1997.
Originally known as Union Place, the area was named in 1815 for the juncture of Boston Post Road (later Bowery and then 4th Avenue) and Albany Post Road (later Bloomingdale and then Broadway). In 1832, a fenced-in oval park was constructed at its center and it was named Union Square. While the park was at the heart of the entertainment district in the 1870's, Frederic Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, architects of Central Park, redesigned the Square, by removing the fence and installing a large fountain at its center. The construction of the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT) subway in the 1930's caused another transformation, placing the park four feet above street level and adding a perimeter wall. By that time, the square had become a popular site for workers' rallies, political protests and mass demonstrations. The 1960's and 70's was a bleak period in the Square's history, as the Park became overridden with drug dealers and other criminal activity.
In 1985, a $3.6 million reconstruction project addressed the park's safety problems and made it more appealing to park goers. The project built a new plaza at the south end of the Park, opened up the Park's center lawn, established clear sight lines, relocated pedestrian paths, and restored the Lincoln and Washington statues. This restoration corresponded with the renaissance of the Union Square area.
Beginning in Spring, 1999 the Park will undergo another remarkable transformation in its southern end. This project will extend the southern boundary of Union Square Park 20 feet so that it is even with the northern curbline of 14th Street. The boundary will become straight instead of elliptical, creating a more accessible pedestrian thoroughfare. The expansion will also capture the Gandhi Gardens, a monument and floral bed at the southwestern corner of the park, creating a plaza in the area between the park and the gardens which has been used for parking. The new parkland will extend to 15th Street, and enlarge the Park by 20,000 square feet. The project is funded by $2.2 million from the Mayor's capital budget and $400,000 from the MTA.