What was here before?
The site now occupied by DeLury Square Park was once populated with residential and commercial buildings between three and five stories tall, which were razed to make way for the adjoining Southbridge Towers Co-op. Construction on the complex began in 1961 and was part of the Mitchell-Lama housing program when it opened in 1971. Signed into law in 1955, this program provides affordable housing in the form of rentals and cooperative apartments to middle-income families. Property for such complexes was often acquired through eminent domain. The tenants of these buildings voted to privatize in 2005.
How did this become a park?
This park was predated by a plaza created in 1984 at the intersection of Fulton and Gold Streets. The City acquired 5,792 square-feet of land from Southbridge Towers and merged it with a street right-of-way with the help of the Department of Transportation, creating this park. The original plaza was demolished during the street realignment and its name was transferred to this improved park.
DeLury Square Park opened on November 8, 2010 as part of the City’s effort to increase parks and open spaces in the downtown area following the September 11th terrorist attacks. The construction of the park was funded by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. The park’s design included seating alcoves, large rock outcroppings interspersed throughout, a pathway that snakes through the park, and a display fountain made of rough-hewn stone that masks ambient street noise and a drinking fountain. Reconstruction of the park completed in November 2020 included improvements to the park’s walkway, benches and plantings, and repairs to the fountain.
The Friends of DeLury Square Park are stewards of the park and regularly host events and volunteer park cleanups.
Who is this park named after?
This park, like the original plaza, is named for John DeLury Sr., who founded Local 831 of the Uniformed Sanitationmen’s Association in 1956 and served as its president until 1978. The organization’s headquarters is located around the corner from DeLury Square on Cliff Street.
In 1968 DeLury led the sanitation workers strike to demand a contract that offered fair pay and a decent pension. The strike lasted for nine days, during which time the city’s streets were not cleaned and trash was not picked up. Governor Nelson Rockefeller (1908-1979) threatened to send in the National Guard if they did not break the strike. In response, the various municipal unions came together to threaten a general strike if that happened. This standoff precipitated a deal that gave union members a 20-year pension plan and a $5,000 pay increase. The strike’s success inspired a sanitation worker strike in Memphis, which brought Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) the day before he was assassinated.
DeLury was also instrumental in changing the institutional term “garbageman” to “sanitation worker.”