What was here before?
This property was part of farmer John Meyer’s 35-acre estate. He purchased the property in 1825 and built his home at present-day Eighth Avenue and West 133rd Street in 1835, which remained until 1897. The property was ultimately divided into smaller lots and sold at auction.
In 1884, the Hebrew Orphan Asylum of New York (HOA) opened on the east side of this property after the institution needed to expand beyond its original Chelsea location. After decades of declining populations in the orphanage, it closed in 1941. Five years after the orphanage opened, the Montefiore Home for the Chronically Invalid opened to the north, with this site acting as a gently sloping approach to the campus. In 1913, the institution, now known as Montefiore Medical Center, moved to its present location in the Bronx.
How did this site become a park?
In 1906, the City of New York acquired this property through condemnation and designated it Montefiore Park under the parks department assumed jurisdiction. According to the assessment of the site at the time of acquisition, it was already “thickly planted” with trees that would provide shade for park users.
NYC Parks renovated the park in 1993, and in 2021 the park opened after another redesign that closed Hamilton Place to vehicular traffic and expanded the park. Designed by Thomas Balsley Associates/URS Corporation, the space is divided into three primary areas: an open lawn with terraced stone seating, a garden of shade-tolerant perennials, and a paved plaza that can be used for art installations, markets, festivals, and performance. The updated pathways also help ease pedestrian flow between the nearby bus and train stations, the commercial corridor along Broadway, and students from City College.
The Montefiore Park Neighborhood Association, established in 1996, assists NYC Parks in maintaining this sloping triangle. The Association played an important role in advocating for the 2021 park redesign, coordinates gardening, facilitates community involvement, and organizes events.
Who is this park named for?
This park was named after the neighboring Montefiore Home for the Chronically Invalid. The organization honors Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784 -1885), a 19th-century Jewish philanthropist. Montefiore was born into a wealthy Italian Jewish merchant family in Livorno, Italy. By 1824, Montefiore had amassed a considerable personal fortune on the London stock exchange, which he used to help found the Imperial Continental Gas Association (which pioneered gas lighting for homes in Britain) and the Provincial Bank of Ireland.
At age 44, Montefiore retired from business and devoted his time and resources to civic and Jewish community affairs. Montefiore personally financed many efforts aimed at helping Jews living in Palestine, which today is the nation of Israel. He acquired land there on behalf of several Jewish communities and bolstered the region’s economy, education, and health through investment. He was also successful at internationally advocating for the better treatment of Jews.
In 1837, he was elected Sheriff of London and Queen Victoria (1819-1901) knighted Montefiore in recognition of his humanitarian efforts. She later bestowed upon him the title of baronet. In 1884 Montefiore’s 100th birthday was declared a public holiday in Jewish communities around the world. Montefiore passed away the following year in his home outside of London.