As the travesty of the Thomas Paine Museum has begun to sink in, residents might do well to consider what other forces are at work silently selling off or stealing the heritage of New Rochelle to make a quick buck.
The Armory was given to the people of New Rochelle by the State of New York to use as a public space and not for a handful of politicians to trade away for some PAC money and promises of future campaign cash. The gift of the Armory to the people of New Rochelle was not meant to put a bargaining chip into the hands of a Mayor or other members of the City Council to negotiate with a self-interested real estate developer whose only goal is to maximize their own short-term profit and earn a healthy return for bankers and other investors who have never set foot in New Rochelle and probably never will.
The Paine collection so recently spirited away by the New York State Historical Society needs a proper public home in New Rochelle. That home is not Elmsford (the home of the Westchester Historical Society) and it is not a private college across the street from a local diner.
There is much to celebrate and recognize in Paine and his major role in the American Revolution but there is so much more to New Rochelle — artists such as Frederic Remington and Normal Rockwell lived and worked her, pop culture icons such as Terrytoon animation’s Mighty Mouse and Heckle & Jeckle were created her, Don McLean’s American Pie is about growing up in New Rochelle, the Dick Van Dyke Show was set in New Rochelle, there are many connections to Broadway theater and film including the Foy’s and George M. Cohan, sports icons such as Lou Gehrig up to present-day Yankee great Mariano Rivera, suffragette Susan B. Anthony taught her in New Rochelle, another leading suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, lived in New Rochelle John Jay, co-author of The Federalists Papers and first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court attended school in New Rochelle.
I am sure readers can add much more in the comments.
Isn’t the solution rather obvious?
Convert the Armory into a multi-use space where the Paine Collection can be properly exhibited along with other exhibits sure to attract widespread interest — exhibits celebrating the Dick Van Dyke Show or Lou Gehrig or Heckle & Jeckel or “American Pie” are sure to make such a museum a fun, interesting and popular destination. Partner with some upscale coffee or sandwich shops like Cosi’s or Starbucks, maybe a educational toy store, a book store. Heat, cool, electrify and water the building using the latest in green technology and make the physical plant a tour unto itself (hint: one of the leading solar panel companies in the U.S. is based in New Rochelle). Given the location, connect in some aspect of the Long Island Sound ecosystem. Given the nature of the building, use a section of the building to properly honor those who have served in the armed forces and maybe even turn some part of it into a service center for returning veterans. Include an auditorium-sized performing arts space for the New Rochelle opera, local theater troupes, comedy and musical acts — and make the seating retractable so the space can double as a mini-convention center That, in turn, can be tied back into the two existing hotels and the third planned hotel at Echo Bay.
If such a facility was set up properly it would be heavily booked by area schools as a field trip destination and booked every weekend with arts and entertainment ensuring not only the preservation of the building itself but much of the history of New Rochelle and likely even a profit.
I am sure folks can brainstorm out these ideas further in the comments section. Other cities have done wonders with converted armories. Research shows that a Naval Armory has never been torn down to make way for property developers. All around the country these buildings are prized, valued possessions of their local community and are always converted into interesting, useful spaces.
Does New Rochelle really want to be known as the first place to tear down a Naval Armory in the United States? And for what? To build condos?
Heck, it it helps get it done, call it the Noam Bramson Center!
Whatever it takes. Just let us not be sitting here five years wondering how we let the Armory get away from us as we are now wondering why the Paine Collection was packed up in boxes and shipped out of town.