Volume 16 • Issue 51 | May 14 - 20, 2004

A Bush at The Battery

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photos by Robert Stolarik

Laura Bush, Warrie Price, president of The Battery Conservancy, and Mayor Bloomberg walked on the park’s promenade Monday.

On a day when her husband visited his embattled defense secretary, Laura Bush paid a visit to a former Revolutionary War fort, becoming one of at least four first ladies who have taken an interest in Battery Park.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Warrie Price, president of The Battery Conservancy, greeted Bush at the park’s East Coast War Memorial, where a first man, President John F. Kennedy, was the guest of honor at the dedication ceremony in 1963.

“It’s truly breathtaking to look at these 11,000 acres, or as Warrie says 11,023,” Bush said Monday. An estimated 11,000 acres of New York Harbor are visible from the 23-acre park.

Bush seemed well versed on the park’s plans at the ceremony to dedicate the park’s Gardens of Remembrance for 9/11 victims. The first lady spoke of the long-term idea to restore the roof to Castle Clinton and the plan to add gardens and a marine-life carousel to the Bosque area, where construction began a day after the ceremony.

The first lady said, “the castle will be a center of cultural activity and the parks will be a horticultural oasis…. I’m really really thrilled about the designs for Battery Park. I think it’s really going to be a place for families to come.”

After the ceremony, she, Bloomberg and Price sat on one of the benches installed in recent years and Bush said “it’s very comfortable.”

Bush said she became interested in the park when one of the first ladies she most admires, Lady Bird Johnson, wrote her. Johnson, who, like Bush and Price is from Texas, visited about seven years ago.

In the 1940s, Eleanor Roosevelt led the fight to save Castle Clinton, which was in the way of Robert Moses’ plan for a bridge. Moses was able to have the roof removed and the New York Aquarium moved to Coney Island, but the opponents were able to save the rest of the castle and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel was built instead of a bridge. Hillary Rodham Clinton, after becoming senator, came to the park March 11, 2002 to participate in the ceremony marking the sixth-month anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack.

The area now known as Battery Park opened as Fort Amsterdam in 1626 and was built by the Dutch, according to the conservancy’s Web site. American forces captured the fort in 1776 and battled British ships there on July 12. The fort was destroyed in 1790 and a public promenade was extended. In the years preceding the War of 1812, Castle Clinton was built in preparation for the war.

From 1855 – 1890, an estimated 8 million new immigrants passed through an immigration center at what was then called Castle Garden. The aquarium opened in the castle in 1896 and was there until the roof was demolished in 1941. Thanks to Roosevelt and other preservationists, Congress designated the castle a National Monument in 1946.

As for the park’s future, Price is excited that the $8.5 million Bosque project is underway. The four-acre area in the park’s east end will have 57,000 square feet of gardens designed by landscape architect Piet Oudolf, who also designed the Gardens of Remembrance. The Bosque will also have a million-dollar carousel with fish instead of horses and new kiosks and is expected to reopen in a year.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., using its post-9/11 federal funds, contributed the most money to the Bosque out of its $25-million fund for Downtown parks.

Price said she is consulting with officials from the aquarium in Coney Island on the carousel and that the Parks Dept. is working on setting up ferry service to the aquarium from Gangway 1 in the park. About 4 million people visit the park every year to catch ferries to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

The day was not all about parks, as Bush and Bloomberg also answered questions about the pictures of prisoner abuse by Americans in Abu Ghraib, and New Yorkers’ lack of support for the war.

Bush said she “absolutely” had confidence in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Bloomberg came to the first lady’s defense in response to another question about Iraq.

“Let me add something to that,” the mayor said, making a link between Iraq and 9/11. “Don’t forget the war started not very many blocks from here.”


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