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From the Archives: Christmas Eve Letter from Robert Moses

We thought you might enjoy this bit of history from the MAS Archives, and we plan to share more with you over the next few weeks. We found this letter from Robert Moses while sifting through the archives. Addressed to MAS President Electus D. Litchfield, the correspondence is dated December 24, 1936. Moses was appointed as the Commissioner of the Department of Parks in 1936 by then-Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. Moses also served as head of the State Parks Council, head of the State Power Commission, and chairman of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority. Electus D. Litchfield was the president of MAS in the 1930s. The following is Moses’ somewhat testy response to a letter from Litchfield regarding the construction of East River Drive (known today as FDR Drive), which started in 1934 and was completed in 1966: (Click here for a PDF of the actual letter.)
December 24, 1936 Miss Irene V. Walsh, The Municipal Art Society, 119 East 19th Street, New York City Dear Miss Walsh: Mr. Litchfield’s letter of November 11th was answered by sending him printed reports which clearly indicated the answers to his questions. I am happy, however, to answer them again in this letter. The new East River Drive from Corlear’s Hook to 63rd Street is under the jurisdiction of the Borough President of Manhattan. The Parks Department is, however, making the plan for the new park outside of the Drive on filled land between Grand Street and 14th Street. The Borough President builds the bulkhead and places the fill back of it, and will then let contracts for park work on our plans. Similarly, there are several new playgrounds along this Drive which are under the jurisdiction of the Park Department, the most important being at 42nd Street and the East River. From 63rd Street to 92nd street it is proposed that the East River Drive follow York Avenue. From 92nd Street to 125th Street the East River Drive is being constructed by the Triborough Bridge Authority with the cooperation of the Park Department. It will be under the jurisdiction of the Park Department, excepting for the pavement which will be under the Borough President of Manhattan. I may say in passing that I do not believe that the East River Drive plan between 53rd and 63rd Streets is very practical and I cannot see at all the use of York Avenue for a mile and a half as a connecting link. It seems to me that in the end it will be necessary to follow the waterfront, Exterior Street and East End Avenue, and take care of at least a substantial part of this traffic. This, however, is in the future. The immediate program involves only the section from Corlear’s Hook to 53rd Street. It may also be added that we have so constructed the East River Drive at 125th Street that it can be carried northwest under the bridge when the proper time comes. As to the west side, the jurisdiction of the Borough President ends at 72nd Street where the Park Department picks up the Drive. Everything from there north is under the Park Department, including all the work of reconstructing Riverside Park, the building of the Drive through this park, the continuation of the Drive and various park plans at Fort Washington Park and the connection of the Drive with the Henry Hudson Parkway and Dyckman Street. The jurisdiction of the Dock Department includes various marginal streets on the East Side and of course all docks which are not wiped out by the shore improvement. Generally speaking the lower East River Drive is elevated where there are shipping and active waterfront uses and runs along the waterfront on the ordinary street level where there are none. On the West Side above 72nd Street there are various pieces of shorefront still under the control of the Dock Department outside of the park areas, for example, at 125th Street north of the Manhattan terminal yards and at Dyckman Street. Very truly yours, Robert Moses Comissioner
For inquiries regarding the archives, contact Kathy O’Callaghan, Manager of MAS Archives at kathyoc[at]mas.org