When you think of the backcountry area of Greenwich, images of tall buildings, airports and major roadways constructed to support the work of diplomats probably dont come to mind. But this bucolic area (and the Town as we know it today) would likely have had a vastly different appearance and character if officials at the newly chartered United Nations Organization (UNO) had their way after the close of World War II.
A UNO search committee began the work of selecting a site for the headquarters of the international organization in June 1945. Naturally, many large cities including New York, San Francisco and Philadelphia were eagerly hoping that they would be selected.
But by January 1946 it appeared the first choice was a location that included practically all of Greenwich north of the Merritt Parkway, as well as sections of Stamford and North Castle, NY. The core of the site was 42 square miles, with plans to extend it to over 100 square miles. Not surprisingly, the natural beauty of the area, access to water supplies, favorable climate and proximity to New York City all factored into the sites favor.
Bernie Yudain, then a journalist and managing editor of the Greenwich Time, received word of this momentous decision from banker (and future U.S. Senator) Prescott Bush. His article ran the following day in the paper. Once the word was out, the stunned area citizenry quickly formed strong opinions, both for and against the proposal. Many opponents recognized the enormous change that the addition of tall buildings, railroad and highway extensions, power plants and at least one new airport would bring to the community. They did not want the character of their homes to be so altered by the new UNOville, the name coined by opponents for the proposed development.
Some supporters of the proposed site believed the goals of the United Nations were so important that they should take precedence over other concerns, especially after the recent and terrible losses of the Second World War. Financial considerations, as such a dramatic change would have seriously impacted property values and presented significant opportunities for area businesses, underpinned both sides of the debate.
It was an active and tumultuous time, as the efforts for and against the United Nations proceeded at a brisk pace. Ultimately, opponents won the day after the majority of votes cast in a referendum were opposed to the development of the United Nations headquarters in Greenwich. Although the results of the referendum did not provide any definitive legal barrier to the United Nations, officials at the world organization eventually decided that the Greenwich site presented too many thorny problems.
An exhibition called No to UNOville (presented by the Greenwich Historical Society in 2003-2004) examined the debate in greater detail. The Archives at the Greenwich Historical Society contain a variety of material related to the exhibition and this important episode in the Towns history. The Town History Collection also contains the letter file of Wilkie Bushby (a leading opponent of the UNO development). The archives are open to the public on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m.
Christopher Shields is Archivist at the Greenwich Historical Society, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob, CT 06807. Visit www.greenwichhistory.org for more information about the Greenwich Historical Society, its exhibitions and programs.
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