Post Office And Court House Of City Hall Park
( Originally Published 1921 )
A PLAN FOR AN APPROPRIATE MONUMENT TO THE LIBERTY BOYS OF 1918
In the first issue of this publication, attention was called to the neglect of the City Fathers to print the Minutes of the Common Council from 1784 to 1831—a most interesting period—and to the great importance of getting this valuable manuscript in printed form. The editorial was acknowledged by Bertram de Cruger writing for the Mayor, and soon after a committee was appointed by the late Mayor Mitchel and the result is that this work is now well toward completion. We were happy in being the humble instruments whereby so great an achievement was accomplished. Much work had previously been done in the same direction and perhaps we assume too much in claiming the whole credit. Nevertheless ours was the final touch that tipped the scale in the right direction.
And now a similar situation presents itself and a similar opportunity to render our city a great service is at hand. We refer to the removal of the Post Office and Court House from the City Hall Park.
It is quite reasonable to say that practically every citizen who really cares for New York is sick of the sight of these two eyesores on what is one of the few breathing spots in the crowded downtown district. And not one of us but would rejoice to see the old Park restored to its original graceful proportions of Colonial times. Many committees have already attempted to solve this problem but to no avail. In taking up the matter at this time we have the benefit of all the splendid work that has gone before and what is of greater importance—of the existence of a distinct and important public sentiment in favor of the plan. If we can but crystallize this sentiment—if we can get the various differing factions to unite on the idea of a Restored Park as a proper and fitting Memorial to our soldiers in the great World War—we shall be successful in this great plan for the betterment of our city. Madison Square, Union Square, Battery Park, Riverside Drive and all the other locations suggested for this particular monument have each their claims of merit. But nothing will so largely benefit all the people of all the Boroughs as more space in our present City Hall Park. And the Restoration of the Old Liberty Pole completes an ideal scheme.
During the stormy days that preceded the Revolution no body of patriots were more active than the Sons of Liberty, an organization formed in our own city and for many years a leading influence in the events that shaped the War of 1776. New York is seldom accorded that measure of credit for her revolutionary efforts that is cheerfully given to Boston or Philadelphia, but the fact remains that New York has a record that is equal to the best and superior to many of the cities that were then in revolt. Encounters with the soldiers in which American lives were lost occurred in New York considerably before the Boston massacre or the Battle of Lexington; and New York, of all the signatories of the non-Importation agreement was the only one to faithfully observe the covenant though as a result she was bound to suffer more severely than others on account of her extensive oversea commerce.
The Liberty Boys had a meeting place at Burns' Coffee House; and later at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street. They erected a Liberty Pole in the "Common Lands" which we now know as the City Hall Park. And all public meetings of remonstrance relating to questions between the Royal Governors and the populace were held around the Liberty Pole on the Common. So obnoxious became the Liberty Pole to the servants of Royalty that it was repeatedly removed. Strange to relate, it was always restored and no matter how many times destroyed there was always forthcoming a new and loftier Liberty Pole. In a very short time it was easily seen that the struggle between popular rights and autocracy was symbolized in the attack and defence of the Liberty Pole.
As we all know the first struggle for Liberty in the Western World ended with the War of the Revolution. Autocracy was utterly routed and the start of the new world toward Democracy fairly begun. The contest thus commenced in City Hall Park under the Liberty Pole has raged unceasingly, and its latest victory has been achieved over the semi-barbaric Teutonic Empires. It was the United States of America, the originators of modern human freedom that ultimately made the world safe for democracy.
The time has come to suitably commemorate the brave deeds of our American boys who died in foreign lands that Liberty might live. Many projects have been advanced for the conservation of this immortal service. All have merit. Any one of them would be good but so long as we cannot all agree on one particular plan why not adopt one that recalls the valor and daring of the original Sons of Liberty as well as the later heroes who so nobly trod in the footsteps of their fathers?
In earlier days City Hall Park was a very much more beautiful and attractive municipal gem than the present generation realizes. Stately trees, sparkling fountains and shaded paths made it an oasis in a desert of sidewalk and cobblestone and it was a beauty spot without a rival in any city in the world. But alas ! the work of the philistine and demagogue has all but ruined one of the most priceless spots in all the city's domain.
Under the pretense of temporary occupation a huge section of the Bridge Entrance has been wrongfully built across the East end. On the North the most unsightly building in all New York—the City Court—rears its ugly head and on the South, the Federal Government has inflicted upon our defenceless city one of the mightiest and ugliest buildings known to men—the Post Office. This building also exists upon sufferance and sufferance only. The Federal Government obtained the use of this plot for one purpose and one alone—a Post Office. That was a convenience to our merchants at the time and was so nominated in the bond. There never was to be any building there except one devoted wholly and exclusively to the Post Office business.
That obligation has for years been a dead letter. The Federal Government has broken its sacred word to the Municipal Government by using this building for other purposes and in the case of a private tenant would have been ousted long ago for breach of contract. To-day even as a Post Office this building is obsolete.
Looking at the view of City Hall Park before the addition of the Post Office, Court House and Brooklyn Bridge, one is at once struck by the beauty of contour, symmetry of design and fascinating aspect of the entire prospect. Nothing is so great an asset to the City as beauty in her public parks, or so adds to her renown among the countries of the world. And it would be a simple matter to restore to New York the City Hall Park of Colonial days, erect a fitting and dignified monument to tilt gallant sons of New York now lying in Flanders Fields, Italy and France, and do it with means well within the City's present limited resources. If these excrescences should be once removed let us not commit the folly of replacing them by any structure however artistic. Nothing can excel in beauty open space in a city so greatly congested as ours. The vacant land, the breathing space, the charming vista from whatever side you approach, is far more effective than the loftiest and grandest structure we could erect. Let the old foot paths be restored and new ones added for the convenience of the common people. Let the old Fountain once more send its myriad diamond studded strands to the sky ; let the old trees once more cast their grateful shade, and last but not least, let the old Liberty Pole rear again its defiant head to the assaults of privilege and autocracy!
On the base of the monument let there be inscribed these words:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF THE LIBERTY BOYS OF 1918
WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES THAT THE WORK OF THI LIBERTY BOYS OF 1776 MIGHT NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH.
THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED, AND THE PARK RE-STORED TO ITS ORIGINAL COLONIAL CONDITION BY THE GRATEFUL CITIZENS OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK.