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Letter: Weighing in on Lighthouse Project

(Editor’s Note: This letter is in response to Town of Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray seeking comment on the proposed Lighthouse Project. It is being printed at the author’s request.)

This is a response to your invitation for residents of the Town of Hempstead to express their concerns and desires to assist you in formulating a successful path to the controlled development of the 150 acres you describe as the Nassau HUB for our Town.

The subject area (formerly Mitchel Field, established by the United States on the largest plains in America east of the Mississippi River) has been a continuing project of mine for at least 20 years. It arose when I served as a trustee of the Garden City School System and it increased when I was elected village trustee and sat as chairman of the village’s Postal Relations committee. It was there I became deeply involved in the growth of the subject area, the stores that were moving in and the use and misuse of the name of our village by people and organizations flaunting themselves as residents of our Village of Garden City. At that time the protection of our historic village, its residents and its businesses, became of primary importance while I served the village as mayor during the years of revitalization of our own business community.

After multiple letters over the years to Newsday,  that newspaper’s editors graciously directed their reporters, in time, to more specifically designate people and businesses in the subject area as coming from a place they chose to call East Garden City. Apparently they did not pick up on the recommendation from the more historically accurate name of “Meadowbrook” as recommended by Garden City’s village historian John Ellis Kordes. Even today several such East Garden City organizations hold themselves out falsely to the world as either being in or affiliated with the historically unique Village of Garden City. You probably already know that such misrepresentations as to location can be a violation of federal law.

It is now important for our village residents that I refresh your knowledge about that uniqueness that makes Garden City worthy of special consideration as you and your board move forward to change an area that has been awaiting change since the end of World War II.

In 1869 Irish-born self-made multi-millionaire Alexander Turney Stewart bought a portion of the relatively unpopulated Hempstead Plains and founded the Village of Garden City. The village, like many in our Town of Hempstead, was created as a peaceful community for those seeking respite from the clamor of New York City. Early on, the main attraction of this community was the Garden City Hotel, designed by the acclaimed firm of McKim, Mead and White and of national fame. Although the original structure, as well as the one that replaced it at the end of the 19th century, were torn down many years ago, a hotel still stands on the original grounds, as do many nearby homes that continue to display construction styles of an earlier memorable era.

Stewart’s wife, Cornelia, founded the St. Paul’s School for boys, St. Mary’s School for girls, a Bishop’s Residence and the Gothic Cathedral of the Incarnation, which is today the center of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, as well as the final resting place of Alexander Turney Stewart and Cornelia Stewart. This elaborate memorial was completed in 1885. Our residents continue to respect that historical honor.

The early village did well due to its proximity to Hempstead, at that time the commercial center of Long Island. In time, thanks both to the railroad and automobiles, Garden City’s population increased. In 1915, the Village of Garden City merged with the Village of Garden City Estates to its west. It became an incorporated village in 1919. Garden City’s growth led the way in promoting development of many nearby towns, including Stewart Manor, Garden City Park, Garden City South and, more recently, East Garden City.

In the 1920s, the community continued to grow, with houses built in Garden City Estates as well as the Eastern Section of Garden City. This development included the Mott Section, developed by the heirs to the Mott’s apple juice fortune, which was spurred by easy access to the now defunct Long Island Motor Parkway, as well as the establishment of the Doubleday publishing group’s corporate headquarters.

Housing construction slowed after the 1929 stock market crash. But in the 1930s, hundreds of houses were built to accommodate a population boom, though Garden City used a strict zoning code to preserve Stewart’s vision of residential beauty. Alone in central Nassau, the village retained a strict sense of orderly development, true to its rigorously planned roots. Mitchel Air Force Base, located on the far east side of Garden City, served as a United States Air Force base from 1918 through 1961. As you already know, as of 2008, the U.S. military still retained a limited physical presence there, with the rest of the former base occupied by housing, Hofstra University, Nassau Community College, the Long Island Children’s Museum, the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center, a Sony IMAX theater and the Cradle of Aviation Museum.

I apologize here for going on so, but the point I wish to make clear is that the Incorporated Village of Garden City is historically unique across the nation, not only for the fact that it is America’s first planned community, but also because it is studied in political science courses in universities across the nation as operating under a most unique form of governing. It operates under what is designated as “The Community Agreement” under which all residents have a direct input into how their community will be run. The mayoralty changes from section to section every two years so that equality and balance reign continuously throughout the village. These features, then, make Garden City worthy of special interest for you and the developers of The Lighthouse Project. The plan is unique and abuts a village that is unique. They will be creating a multi-modern scene for America on the remains of the greatest eastern American plains while the quaint village abutting the new glitz and city-type community will remain a stronghold of what American life has always been—pleasant communal living among New York commuters and residents who own, operate or are employed in the village in small offices set in pleasant and peaceful environs.

The goal, then would be for you to recognize that vastness and size have a place in the 2010-12 Town of Hempstead, but alongside it belongs tranquility that visitors to the new Nassau will seek out to return to yesteryear—the historical Village of Garden City. Dare I even think the phrase “Old Garden City”?

You are in the unique position today to help the Town of Hempstead move into a new century with spectacular development while preserving for all our residents throughout Hempstead Town a special place of pride and historic tranquility.

I recommend that you propose reasonable and appropriate criteria to the Village of Garden City for the development of the Lighthouse Project:

1. Establish, with the wholehearted consent of the village leaders of Garden City and residents most closely affected by the new development, two (and no more) ways for users of the new Nassau HUB to transfer themselves into the historic Garden City via pre-planned and architecturally appropriate roadways;

2. Have the developers of Nassau Hub create and establish historically correct entrances to the village using unique Victorian era lighting lamps and floral patterns that travelers will admire and respect;

3. Provide the Village of Garden City with sufficient funds to change all its street lighting in residential areas to architecturally correct Victoria era lamps that the village officials determine will generate necessary and appropriate lumens for residents to continue to safely pass over and along the village streets;

4. Require Nassau Hub, for as long as it continues to exist, maintain at least 20 appropriate signs calling the attention of travelers and business personnel of the HUB to look for historical Garden City for their dining and business needs.

5. Obtain a commitment from developers of the HUB to support the efforts of the village’s desire to promote its and the HUB development’s historical background in Nassau County to direct the payment of a sum—like $25 million—to Garden City supporters of the history of Nassau County, the Town of Hempstead and the Village of Garden City which sum would be used to restore and preserve for residents the history-filled structure known as Saint Paul’s School on Stewart Avenue.

Thank you, Madame Supervisor, for your patience and careful consideration of the needs and desires of the residents of the Village of Garden City as you progress through the planning of this great project.

This proposal is a personal one and in no way represents the position or thoughts of the officials of the Village of Garden City.

Richard A. Benack