What Thomas Paine Can Teach Us About the Armory

Written By: Robert Cox

DSC_0331.jpgAs 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.

6 thoughts on “What Thomas Paine Can Teach Us About the Armory”

  1. WildCliff
    I also remember going to WildCliff every year as part of school trip. WildCliff was also the place that on every trip there tried to hamer into our little heads that the metric system was coming. We all feared 1985. But much like the metric system WildCliff met its demise.

    Speaking of school trips we NEVER went to the Thomas Paine cottage or museum. School trips are the key and with historical documents across the street from the high school why would a history teacher not walk a class over there.

    So much has happened here on the historical or pop culture grid that it is a shame no one teaches a civics or history class. Want to build community let people know that New Rochelle is and has been so much more than a bedroom for NYC.

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  2. On a smaller scale…
    …than something like Greenburgh Nature Center, Rye Marshlands or Norwalk Aquarium, but maybe a small ‘hands on’ educational area for children about the Sound Shore, it’s environment and living creatures. It will attract local school trips in addition to kid’s ‘birthday parties’.

    1. The key is school field trips
      Whatever use the armory is put to, they is to create an experience for students that is of sufficient length, depth and interest that a school will organize a field trip to bring their students to the facility. Part of any marketing analysis would be to look at what schools are being offered now, what sorts of needs are not being fulfilled and otherwise making sure that you maximize the likelihood that a school will book a trip.

      The goal should be that the building has a constant flow of school children coming in for a morning session and an afternoon session each day. I have to believe that it would be possible to have 150 days a year booked for schools and summer camps.

      Economics also has to be taken into account. Look how smart Regal Cinemas is at New Roc. On the weekends they are packed and have lots of staff on hand including students who can work on the weekends and will accept minimum wage. During the rest of the week the entire multiplex appears to be run by 1 ticket taker, a ticket seller, often the manager, 1 projectionist (the system is automated anyway) and 2 cleaning staff. So, they can make money on non-peak days because their costs are so low. In the same way, the armory facility should be set up in a way to account for similar staffing management to keep costs down. BTW, this raises another point in favor of the armory, right? Not only will the work on the armory generate jobs but the facility itself will bring in sales tax revenue and long-term employment opportunities.

      It also make me wonder whether another way to make the project work would be to build a very small number of elite, luxury condo units on top. If you could sell 5 units for $1mm each you could probably pay for the whole thing.

      1. Possibility? Connect Armory site to Five Islands Park?
        Sample site:

        This small center has trails connecting to a local park. In addition: afterschool programs; scouting programs and family events.


        Always wondered why NR doesn’t have something similar to this. Was ‘Wildcliff’ something along these lines? Does any one remember?
        Vaguely remember a class trip to Wildcliff down by Hudson Park.

      2. once grand hudson park and wildcliff museum
        Iam 43, and remember wildcliff well.There was a petting zoo and you were able to churn butter things of that nature.On my way out,but have a very interesting article about wildcliff.Its was printed through the new york times the name of the article is “vision takes on reality as group inches closer to stage of its own”.THis would be a great place for the thomas paine articles or even a small science or enviroment type charter school.Considering thers supposed to be 1.2 m involved here.Well gotta go.

      3. wildcliff
        Was once owned by the prince family.they gave it to the city to be used as a museum.But the city later turned it into a playhouse.A number of years it was used as such,until about 3 or 4 yrs ago.Apparently in recent yrs the princes family supposedly donated a house that was nerbye.This house was to help pay for renovations.There are also 2 green houses located in hudson park iam not sure who owns these.The group freinds of wildcliff are the supposed care takers.According to this artcle the house was worth 1.2 million and the city was going to ask the state for 300,000.$ to help in repairs.I think most people would find this article interesting.Type in the name and the website will pop up.Thereare several sites on wild cliff,including mayor bramsons site.

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