Protecting the Greenbelt
By ELLEN O’FLAHERTY PRATT
For me it all began on December 26, 1979 when the Staten Island Advance headline read “Mayor Koch to sell SeaView.” The semi-abandoned hospital between Staten Island’s Brielle Avenue and Manor Road was built in the early 20th century as a tuberculosis sanatorium. By the 1950s it had fallen into disuse after a cure for the disease was found.
The announcement of the sale came as a shock because the hospital sat squarely in the middle of the Greenbelt – one of the nation’s premier all-urban green spaces. The news galvanized the public. Hundreds of letters were written. Actually it was a virtual tidal wave of letters that kept arriving every day for years, all in support of saving our woodlands in the central hills of Staten Island.
On January 9, 1980, protectors of Pine Oak Woods obtained an injunction to halt the sale of Seaview and the attendant Farm Colony complex – New York City’s 19th centure “poor farm.” A Protectors’ flyer, “Save SeaView and the Greenbelt,” recruited member and funds to fight from the Greenbelt’s future.
I remember the hearings, 450 and 700 attending, and other efforts to recruit and organize speakers to cover every point. I remember Mayor Koch’s call for a City Planning Department study and, in March 1983, the enthusiastic crowd of 550, which applauded Staten Island Parks Commissioner Tom Paulo’s “S.I. Greenbelt Study,” which actually proposed creation of the Greenbelt Park.
I remember the work in the early 1980’s of the Borough President’s Committee on the Greenbelt, carrying recommendations of the Greenbelt Study further. And I remember seven years of S.I. Greenbelt Stewardship committee as members of Protectors and the Committee insisted on adding the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge, St. Francis Woodlands and the Richmond County Country Club golf course to the Greenbelt core.
Throughout, dozens of walks were led by Dick Buegler along the Richmond Parkway route, and along the proposed Greenway roadway, educating one person at a time, eventually many hundreds, to the wonders of the Greenbelt.
Then, in 1985, with the ceremonial cutting of a green ribbon, the Greenbelt was formally opened. Among those in attendance were New York City Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, Borough President Anthony Gaeta, Dick Buegler, Terry Benbow, and my husband, George. I remember Mayor Edward I. Koch funding the Greenbelt office so that the work of creating and refining the park could begin, and those first months at High Rock with Tom Paulo at the helm.