U Thant Island

U Thant Island

U Thant Island (officially Belmont Island) is a tiny 100 x 200 foot (30 x 60 metre) artificial island in New York City's East River, just south of Roosevelt Island. It lies across from United Nations headquarters at 42nd Street, and is legally considered part of the Borough of Manhattan and New York County. The islet is currently protected as a sanctuary for migrating birds, including a small colony of Double-crested Cormorant, and access is prohibited to the public.


The island has its origins in the 1890s as a side-effect of William Steinway's construction of trolley tunnels under the river to link bustling Manhattan to his eponymous company town in Steinway, Queens. The island was built up on the existing granite outcrop "Man-o'-War Reef" using excess landfill from a shaft dug down the reef to the tunnels. Steinway died before his tunnels' completion, and it was financier August Belmont, Jr. who finished the project in 1907, leaving the finished islet as a bonus.

The Steinway Tunnels are still in use as part of the 7-Flushing line in the New York Subway, and trains still pass directly beneath the island many times a day. "Belmont Island", named after the financier, became the legal name of the island.

The small inconvenient island was unused and almost forgotten for nearly a century, until in 1977 it was adopted by employees at nearby UN headquarters following the guru Sri Chinmoy, who served as an interfaith chaplain there. The group, called "Sri Chinmoy: The Peace Meditation at the United Nations", leased the islet from New York State, greened its surface and unofficially renamed it after Burmese Buddhist United Nations Secretary General U Thant, a friend of Chinmoy. Although unofficial, "U Thant Island" has stuck as the common name for the island. The islet is now the site of a thirty-foot "oneness arch" preserving personal items of the island's namesake.


During the 2004 Republican National Convention, NYC artist and film-maker Duke Riley, who has traveled to various "abandoned" islands around the New York City area, rowed a boat with a friend and a bottle of rum [http://wonkette.com/politics/dept%27-of-scruffy-animal-mascots/terror-has-a-new-face-285943.php] to the island under cover of darkness, proclaimed it a sovereign nation and hoisted a 21 foot long pennant depicting two electric eels from the island's tower. On their return voyage in daylight, they were apprehended by a United States Coast Guard boat, but were not arrested. The entire incident was videotaped for a piece Duke has entitled "Belmont Island (SMEACC)" [http://www.dukeriley.info/portfolio_belmontIsland.html] ; the acronym standing for "Situation, Mission, Execution, and Command Control" [http://www.villagevoice.com/nyclife/0622,tudor,73366,15.html] .

External links

* [http://www.forgotten-ny.com Forgotten-NY]
** [http://www.forgotten-ny.com/STREET%20SCENES/Potpourri/uthant.html An Island just for U] -photos
** [http://www.forgotten-ny.com/STREET%20SCENES/fromwater/water.html ...to the New York Islands] -photos
** [http://www.forgotten-ny.com/STREET%20SCENES/newtowncreek/newtown.html Newtown Creek- Borderline Crazy] -clear photo of arch
** [http://www.forgotten-ny.com/STREET%20SCENES/Steinway/steinway.html Steinway, Queens] -Steinway's Queens company town

* [http://www.nycaudubon.org/projects/harborherons NYC Audubon Harbor Herons Project]
** [http://www.nycaudubon.org/projects/harborherons/HHSurveyReports.shtml Harbor Herons Nesting Survey] -recent reports on cormorant and gull nesting activity at U Thant Island
* [http://www.nycsubway.org www.nycsubway.org]
** [http://www.nycsubway.org/irt/steinway/ The Steinway Tunnels] -their construction
** [http://www.nycsubway.org/irt/flushing/ IRT Corona/Flushing Line] -7 Line

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