Sy J. Schulman, who smoothed the way for a controversial sewage plant in Harlem by offering state financing for a park with playgrounds and ball fields atop the structure…… now known as the popular Riverbank State Park, died on Sept. 1 at his home in White Plains, where he once served as mayor. He was 86.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his son Ethan said.
Tempers had been running high in the spring of 1968, when New York City gave the go-ahead for a sprawling sewage-treatment plant running along the Hudson River from 137th Street to 145th Street. Few had disputed the need for the plant; the city was still dumping raw sewage in the river. But Harlem residents argued that their neighborhood had been singled out because it was poor and black.
After the city, to placate them, hired the modernist architect Philip Johnson to design the plant, their anger was further inflamed when they learned that his plans called for a giant fountain on top of the building. Rumors spread that sewage water would be used in the fountains.
By November the city had abandoned Mr. Johnson’s idea, promising instead to build a park on top of the plant. Mr. Schulman, who was general manager of the State Council of Parks for New York City at the time and was eager to promote more green spaces in the city, floated the idea of using state financing to build a park with ball fields and a skating rink. After hiring an architecture firm to do an early study, he offered his proposal. Harlem leaders were eventually sold on the idea.
Mr. Schulman described his role in an article as “helping the community decide what it wished to do with the area.”
Three more architects and three decades later, at a cost of more than $120 million, Riverbank Park opened in 1993, its 28 acres sitting 69 feet above the river. With a baseball diamond and other playing fields, an Olympic-size lap pool, a skating rink and picnic areas, the park is one of the most popular in the state. The state parks Web site says it is the only park of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.
Seymour Jerome Schulman was born on May 31, 1926, in Brooklyn to Elias and Sarah Schulman, immigrants from Russia. He served in the Navy at the end of World War II, then earned a degree in civil engineering from Cooper Union and a master’s in city planning from Columbia in 1954.
In the early 1960s, Mr. Schulman became the head of planning for Westchester County, where he helped acquire land to expand parks.
He entered public planning at a time when such positions were often given out as political patronage, said Henry J. Stern, the former New York City parks commissioner. Mr. Schulman, he said, “was a straight guy who did things based on their merits.”
Laurance S. Rockefeller, the head of the State Council of Parks and the brother of Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, asked Mr. Schulman to oversee state parks in the city in 1968. He left government in 1973 to become chief operating officer of the Westchester County Association, a business advocacy group, and remained with it for two decades.
After he retired at 65, he ran for mayor of White Plains and won. He was elected in 1993 and served until 1997.
In addition to his son Ethan, he is survived by his wife of 64 years, the former Rosalind Jordan; another son, Dan; two grandchildren; and a brother, Irwin.
- Handballers of the World Unite Again in New York City (prweb.com)
- The World All-Stars to Play in New York City (prweb.com)
- Harlem Water Front, 1902 (harlemworldmag.com)