Friday, September 01, 2006

"Yankee move hits locals out of park" NY Daily News 08/29/06

Yankee move hits locals out of park

reprint from Bronx edition of NY Daily News, Tuesday, August 29, 2006, page BW 8

By Patrice O’Shaughnessy’s column “Around the Bronx”

The first thing you notice when you walk into John Mullaly Park from the north end on McClellan St. is the picturesque canopy of big, thick oak trees with powerful limbs so leafy that they almost hide the el on River Ave. It’s cooler in here because there’s a breeze and relief from the sun beating down outside the park.

The stately trees line either side of the water-sprouting retro dolphins, creating a tranquil, verdant space. Under one of them, on a pink quilt in a large circle of shade, sat Heidi Lopez, feeding her 4-month-old son, Alexander, from a bottle. They’ve been coming here all spring and summer.

It’s just how Mullaly himself pictured it: the people who live in the brick buildings, in the congested neighborhoods, “the toilers of the city,” enjoying “their Newport.”

But they’re going to tear down hundreds of these trees in the process of eliminating most of Mullaly and neighboring Macombs Dam Park to make way for the new Yankee Stadium.

The issue has been hotly debated. The city says it will replace the parkland elsewhere; opponents say the new areas will be no match for these cherished, established spaces.

Another tragic aspect is the desecration of what was supposed to be a memorial to the man the Parks Department considers the “father of the Bronx parks system.”

If it weren’t for Mullaly, the Bronx would not be the Borough of Parks. There would be no Bronx Zoo, Pelham Bay Park, Botanical Garden, Van Cortlandt Park.

“There is a very definite appropriateness about the proposal to name a new small park in the Bronx after him. For Mullaly, more than any other man, was responsible for the city’s lone example of a true park system….with the parkways that link them together,” read a 1929 article from the New York Herald Tribune posted by Tony Costa on the Web site of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality (

Mullaly died in his 70s around 1911, with 15 cents in his pocket, an ignominious end for a man who gave so much pleasure to millions.

Mullaly was an Irish-born reporter for the New York Herald who “saw thousands of persons living under the terrible conditions that prevailed in the tenement districts…And he saw that there was no place for these thousands to walk and sit and lie and breathe fresh air,” the 1929 article reads.

Mullaly advocated taking some 4,000 acres of land in the Bronx for public parks that he said would “be the favorite suburban resort of the mass of the population, the toilers of the city: it will be their Newport.”

Two mayors opposed the plan, but he fought on, and before his death Mullaly saw the completion of the major borough parks with their linking parkways, and Crotona, St. Mary’s and Claremont parks.

The Parks Department hailed his foresight for helping to ensure the borough, whose population is now more than 10 times what it was at the turn of the century, “would be a land of greener pastures.”

These days Mullaly must be spinning in his grave.

When they broke ground for the new stadium on 162nd St. and River Ave., tractor trailers and TV satellite trucks were parked in Macombs, the street was closed off, hordes of cops stood guard and wooden barriers were set up, harbingers of the disruptions to come in Highbridge.

As summer winds down, people enjoy the park while they still can.

Lopez, 17, said she grew up in Mullaly, splashing in the pool, having picnics and attending birthday parties. But little Alexander won’t be able to continue the tradition.

“I’ll miss it,” she said.

The Herald Tribune article quoted the president of the Park Association as saying the Bronx park system is “due almost wholly to the unselfish fight made by John Mullaly in the face of well-nigh insurmountable obstacles. We hope that his services may be fittingly recognized by naming in his memory one of that great system of parks, which will constitute a perpetual reminder of his services to the people of the City of New York.”

The park was opened in 1929, six years after Yankee Stadium.

In the Bronx, it seems, perpetuity lasts less than eight decades.


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