Niagara Gazette

July 4, 2013

GLYNN: Niagara area offered site for UN headquarters

By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It seems that from time immemorial Niagara Falls has been eyed for mind-bogging developments.

Disney supposedly explored land in this area in the 1960s, prior to selecting Orlando, Fla. for its East Coast entertainment empire. Those slippery Alberta-based Ghermezian brothers conned this city and many others into thinking they would be the site for the Mall of America which ended up in Minnesota. A Buffalo businessman stuck the city with a hefty tab for a failed Grand Prix event downtown.

But the biggest grandiose scheme in local annals was the proposal to provide a permanent home for the fledgling United Nations that had been chartered at San Francisco in June 1945.

Civic and government leaders from both sides of the Niagara border presented an impressive plan for the United Nations Preparatory Commission to consider for the UN headquarters. The site was the 315-acre Navy Island in the upper Niagara River and within several thousand feet of the falls. 

Americans on the international committee promoting the Niagara location included Harry M. Hooker, chairman of the Hooker Electrochemical Co.; Alanson C. Deuel, publisher of the Niagara Falls Gazette; Edward Butler, president of the Buffalo Evening News; and Lawrence D. Bell, president of the Bell Aircraft Corp. The Canadian committee included: Minister of Labor Charles Daley; Frank H. Leslie, publisher of the Niagara Falls Review; and Arthur A. Schmon, president of the Ontario Paper Co.

The committee produced a splendid 20-page booklet complete with a stunning photo from the base of the American Falls — prior to any major rockslides — maps illustrating Navy Island’s numerous advantages as a headquarters site, its proximity to transoceanic and steamship service, and a vast system of modern highways. The architect’s sketch showed the UN complex including the Secretariat Building dominating the island. Bridges would link the site to the West River Parkway on Grand Island and the Niagara Parkway, between Chippawa and Fort Erie on the Ontario side. A spokesman said that with Niagara as the headquarters, “the UN could be complete masters in their own house, a separate state situated between two friendly nations.”

The intriguing behind-the-scenes story of the race to host the United Nations is meticulously told in “Capital of the World,” by Charlene Mires (New York University Press, 319 pages, 2013). She is an associate professor of history at Rutgers University.

It’s important to note that Niagara Falls was just one of more than 200 cities and towns in pursuit of the lofty dream. While the big cities like Chicago, San Francisco, St. Louis, Denver and New Orleans were confident of their chances, the Black Hills of South Dakota and many small towns across the U,S, waged vigorous campaigns for the host role.

When its Headquarters Committee determined that the site should be in the U,S., it was obvious that the Niagara group had to shift its strategy from the Canada-owned Navy Island to Grand Island. The site committee ultimately rejected the Niagara proposal, pointing out that nearby Buffalo was “not sufficiently a cultural center.” (No mention of the weather factor, professional sports teams or a signature bridge).

The ultimate choice, of course, was New York City. Officials had been confident all through the debate that they would win. After a frantic search for available parcels, John D. Rockefeller Jr. provided $8.5 million on Dec. 10, 1946, to acquire a six-block site on the East River in Manhattan. It was owned by developer William Zeckendorf whose initial plan was he build a city within a city (e.g. a Rockefeller Center-style project). 

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A FINAL WORD: Imagine the impact on the area economy had the site committee chosen Niagara Falls as the headquarters for the UN: A world-class airport. Thousands of hi-tech jobs. UB’s 20-20 plan completed in the 1970s. Legalized casino gambling as just another state-run attraction, not a critical funding source for communities to survive. Millions of more tourists. Maybe even another 100 restaurants featuring Indian food. 

Enjoy Independence Day!

Contact Reporter Don Glynnat 282-2311, ext. 2246.

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.