Bounded by Broadway, Hamilton Place, and West 138th Street, this park honors Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784-1885), a distinguished nineteenth century Jewish philanthropist. Montefiore was born into a wealthy Italian Jewish merchant family in Livorno, Italy. Several years later, his family immigrated to Great Britain. In 1812, Montefiore married Judith Cohen (bef. 1812-bef. 1885), making him the brother-in-law of the noted British financier Nathan Meyer Rothschild (1777-1836). Soon after the marriage, he became Rothschild’s stockbroker as well. By 1824, Montefiore had amassed a considerable personal fortune on the London stock exchange. He used this money to help found the Imperial Continental Gas Association (which pioneered gas lighting for homes in Britain) and the Provincial Bank of Ireland.
At age forty-four, Montefiore retired from business and devoted his time and resources to civic and Jewish community affairs. From 1835 to 1874, he served as president of the Board of Deputies for British Jews, where he worked to end discriminatory practices against European and Middle Eastern Jews. Montefiore personally financed many efforts aimed at helping Jews living in Palestine, which today is the nation of Israel. There, he acquired land on behalf of several Jewish communities and attempted to bolster the region’s economy by introducing printing presses and factories. He inspired the founding of several agricultural settlements as well as Yemin Moshe, which today is located outside of Jerusalem’s Old City and is named for Montefiore. In 1846, Montefiore visited Russia to ask authorities to stop their persecution of Jews. In 1863 and 1867, he traveled to Morocco and Romania for the same purpose. On each of these visits, Montefiore was able to obtain better treatment for Jewish people.
Montefiore’s imposing physical stature (he stood at 6 feet, 3 inches tall) combined with his strong religious beliefs and his philanthropy earned him considerable respect throughout Great Britain and the rest of the world. In 1837, he was elected Sheriff of London. That year, in recognition of his humanitarian efforts, Queen Victoria (1819-1901) knighted Montefiore. In 1847, she bestowed upon him the title of baronet. In 1884, Montefiore’s 100th birthday was declared a public holiday in Jewish communities around the world. That year, the Montefiore Home for Chronic Individuals was formed on 84th Street and York Avenue (Avenue A) by prominent New York City Jewish philanthropists. Montefiore passed away the following year in his home outside of London; his legacy, however, lived on. In 1889, the Home relocated to Broadway between 138th and 139th Streets, to the north of this very park. In 1913, the institution, now known as Montefiore Medical Center, moved to its present location between Gun Hill Road and 210th Street in the Bronx.
In 1906, pursuant to a resolution of the Board of Aldermen, the City of New York acquired this property and designated it Montefiore Park. That same year, Parks assumed jurisdiction over the property. In 1991, a renovation of the park began that was completed in 1993, the rehabilitation project completely transformed the park. New benches and pavement were installed on the north side, and several new plantings were added. New species included the Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar stryaciflua), the Green Mountain Silver Linden tree (Tilia tomentosa ‘green mountain’), the Regent Scholar tree (Sophora japonica ‘regent’), as well as flowering bulbs, including the crocuses and the daffodils.
The Montefiore Park Neighborhood Association, established in 1996, assists Parks in maintaining this gently sloping triangle. The Association initiates new plantings, facilitates community involvement, and organizes events, including an annual Christmas tree lighting. Today, Montefiore Park serves as both a memorial to a dedicated humanitarian and a place to rest the body and restore the senses.