Bella Abzug Park
Bella Abzug Park
What was here before?
For much of its history, this area of Manhattan was underdeveloped, with nineteenth-century maps noting only a few row houses. In 1849, with the opening of the Hudson River Railroad that connected Manhattan and Albany, the site became the terminal depot train yard. Cornelius Vanderbilt consolidated the rail operation as the Hudson Central Railroad in 1864. In 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad built the North River tunnels so customers could enjoy nonstop service between New Jersey and New York City without the use of a ferry. The train yards remained unimproved until 2012 when construction began on Hudson Yards, a development of mixed used buildings and green spaces.
How did this site become a park?
This park, developed in tandem with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority 7 Train’s extension, is part of a six-block-long greenway in Hell’s Kitchen. This environmentally sustainable park was designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. It includes a play area for children with a rope climbing feature, several sitting areas and small plazas, and three innovative water fountains that can detect wind speeds and shut off during high winds. This once industrial area now provides a valued green space and a welcome refuge from the city.
Who is this square named for?
This park honors Bella Abzug (1920-1998), a feminist, civil rights activist, lawyer, and U.S. Representative who was a staunch supporter of civil liberties.
Born to Russian Jewish immigrants, Abzug was raised in New York City and graduated from Hunter College and Columbia University’s law program. As a young lawyer, she experienced gender discrimination and fought hard to have her voice heard. When she realized that serious professional men wore hats in the workplace, she started to wear them too. Her flamboyant hats became her signature as a professional and matched her forceful attitude. As a lawyer, she defended the rights of people she called “on the outside of power” including those arrested based on racial bias and those deemed “communist agents” by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s (1908-1957) investigatory committee.
In 1970, Abzug ran for a seat in the 19th congressional district of New York. Her platform stood for the advancement of women, with the slogan, “This woman’s place is in the house… the House of Representatives!” She won the general election and garnered support from celebrities and NYC Mayor John Lindsay (1921-2000). While in office, Abzug, Shirley Chisholm (1924-2005), Gloria Steinem (1934-), and others founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, which is dedicated to mentoring women who are seeking elected and appointed offices at all levels of government.
An ardent advocate of equal rights, Abzug put forth bills that supported women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the right to information. One of her well-known contributions was the Sunshine Laws under the Freedom of Information Act, which required government hearings to be held in public. Abzug served three terms in Congress and afterwards continued her work for social justice until she died on March 31, 1998.