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Daily Plant Masthead

Volume XVII, Number 3675
Monday, Aug 12, 2002


The 480-acre island situated where the East River meets the Harlem River – only 300 feet from Manhattan – has been home to many things and many people. Native Americans "sold" Minnahanonck to Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller who renamed it Barent Eylandt in 1637. By 1696 the island had come into British hands, and Little Barn Island (as it was now known) became the site of a residential community as well as a quarry that supplied the stone for Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan. Before and during the American Revolution, the island was a convenient military base that owner British Captain John Montresor humbly called Montresor Island. After the war’s end, Jonathan Randel (or Randal) purchased the property, and since 1784 the island has retained his name (although with a different spelling) Randel’s heirs sold it to the city for $60,000 in 1835 – approximately $1,224,500 today.

The City built a number of institutions for the poor and the sick on the island – a politically convenient location because it was not-in-anyone’s-backyard – including a potter’s field, a home for the poor, an orphanage, an alcohol rehabilitation center, a mental hospital, and a rest home for veterans. After years of pressure from advocacy groups, the city transferred the title to Parks in 1933 and gradually cleared the old institutions. Soon Commissioner Robert Moses launched a comprehensive program to build the recreational spaces that now cover 273 acres of the island.

For decades, Randall’s Island attracted not only New Yorkers ready for exercise, but also the best and the brightest in athletics and musical performance. Downing Stadium has hosted a number of unforgettable sporting events beginning with Jesse Owens' victory in the 100-yard dash at the 1936 Olympic Trials with President Franklin Roosevelt in attendance. Pele made his American soccer debut for the New York Cosmos there in 1975, and Tiger Woods hosted a golf clinic for city kids in 1996. The Duke Ellington Orchestra performed a memorial concert of composer George Gershwin in 1938. Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, and Grand Funk Railroad played at the three-day New York Pop Festival of 1970.

Since 1992, Randall's Island Sports Foundation (RISF) has worked with Parks to maintain and support the 27 ballfields, a 9-station batting cage, 11 tennis courts, 7 soccer/football fields, 400-meter track, a 70-station driving range, 2 miniature golf courses, picnic area, and stadium on the island. RISF also sponsors free summer camp and school year programs that serve close to 4,000 children, ages 6-18, through the Kids Island Club (KIC). In addition to KIC Sports athletic programs, KIC Nature offers hands-on environmental education for local public school students. RISF has raised $9.5 million in public and private funds to promote development, allowing over 700,000 visitors to enjoy the park and its programs each year.

RISF has had some prominent New Yorkers on board in its 10 years of service – most notably Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has supported the Management, Restoration and Development (Master Plan) for the Islands, provided much needed funding for the construction of the Track & Field Center, and secured funds for restoring, relocating and endowing the Discus Thrower Statue that RISF has adopted for its logo. Other prominent trustees include founding members Betsy Barlow Rogers, the first Central Park Administrator and also founder and first President of the Central Park Conservancy; Andrew Tisch, President of Loews Corporation; Chair Richard Davis, a partner at Weil, Gotshal, and Manges; and David Howe, a partner at Gilder, Gagnon, and Howe and Company.

Parks, RISF, and other city agencies are currently working on plans to redevelop Randall’s Island to meet the changing needs of park visitors. A total of $94.5 million in capital has been raised for several new facilities set to open in 2004. Downing Stadium has been demolished and will be replaced with a complex of soccer fields. A new Track & Field Center with a 400-meter track designed for Olympic trials will replace the old tracks in Downing. Concert fans may be thrilled with a new 19,500-seat Amphitheater constructed on the western shoreline of Randall's Island that will offer magnificent river and skyline views. Finally, a much anticipated water park will attract families with young children with spray showers, lazy river raft rides, slides and wave pools.

Written by Jennifer Keeney


"The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it."

William James

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