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Gift honors memory, ideals of Kathryn Wasserman Davis
YONKERS (WESTCHESTER COUNTY)—Scenic Hudson will make a $250,000 grant to the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, enabling restoration of its signature water feature in the Walled Garden at the historic landscape in Yonkers. The contribution is being made in memory of Kathryn Wasserman Davis (1907-2013), the visionary philanthropist, environmentalist and advocate for world peace who lived in Tarrytown. Mrs. Davis was a generous supporter of Scenic Hudson and its work in Westchester County.
The funds will allow the nonprofit conservancy and the City of Yonkers—the gardens’ owner—to reline and replumb the crisscrossing waterways symbolizing the Rivers of Life in the Garden of Eden. This garden, whose design incorporates features from several cultures and spiritual beliefs, offers a physical manifestation of Mrs. Davis’s goal of uniting nations and respecting diversity. The gift also sustains Scenic Hudson’s decades-long effort to protect and connect people to Yonkers’ natural beauty as the basis for the city’s ongoing economic revitalization.
“Kathryn Wasserman Davis was an ardent champion of international peace. At the same time, she was dedicated to helping people enjoy the natural splendor of the Hudson Valley—the scenic lands and vistas that enriched her life for 80 years. By allowing the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy to complete restoration of this historic treasure in Yonkers, our grant will provide a perfect setting for people to reflect upon Mrs. Davis’s ideals. And it will offer another exciting destination attracting people to the city,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.
According to Stephen F. Byrns, chairman of the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, “Scenic Hudson has always been on the forefront of preservation issues in the Hudson Valley. This early and significant contribution not only validates our work, but strengthens our mission to make this garden—with its reference to the Garden of Eden—a symbol of peace and brotherly love, a shared concept of the three Abrahamic religions.”
Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano said, “Untermyer Garden is a jewel in the City of Yonkers that provides tremendous enjoyment to residents and visitors alike. We are grateful to Scenic Hudson for contributing funds for the restoration of the garden waterworks, building on the organization’s long-standing commitment to the beauty and quality of life of Yonkers.”
“Untermyer Gardens is a treasured sanctuary right here in Yonkers, and Scenic Hudson’s mission is embodied in this fitting grant that will serve as a tribute to Kathryn Wasserman Davis,” said New York State Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who represents the 35th District, which includes Yonkers. “Under the leadership of Stephen Byrns, the gardens are being returned to their glory days, and will continue to serve as an attraction for visitors and residents alike to enjoy for generations to come.”
“Once again, Scenic Hudson is providing leadership support to enhance one of Westchester’s treasures, adding to Kathryn Wasserman Davis’s legacy of connecting people to the county’s natural beauty. A restored Untermyer Gardens will provide another significant boost to the economy of Yonkers and the entire county,” said Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino.
Gift builds on Scenic Hudson’s track record protecting Yonkers’ natural beauty
Scenic Hudson’s commitment to restoring Untermyer Gardens—which are open to the public daily free of charge—builds on the organization’s outstanding track record in Yonkers. Scenic Hudson partnered with Westchester County to create two-acre Habirshaw Park, the only park in Yonkers offering direct access to the Hudson River. It also led the successful campaign to halt construction of riverfront high-rises and replace them with popular Esplanade Park. In addition, Scenic Hudson planning experts first recognized the benefits of daylighting (uncovering) portions of the Saw Mill River in downtown Yonkers as the centerpiece of the city’s renewal. Later this year, the city will begin Phase Three of the daylighting initiative, which has generated significant economic development and new jobs.
Kathryn Wasserman Davis’s generosity to Scenic Hudson allowed the organization to provide exciting riverfront amenities in Westchester County. She engaged Scenic Hudson and its partners to transform the decaying bathhouse in Sleepy Hollow’s Kingsland Point Park into a modern facility for environmental education and river-based recreation. In 2011 she cut the ribbon celebrating the opening of the center, named in her honor. She also played a leading role in creation of Scenic Hudson RiverWalk Park at Tarrytown, replacing an 80-year-old asphalt plant with an esplanade offering magnificent Palisades vistas. And concerned about runaway development destroying the valley’s natural splendor, she provided critical support for Scenic Hudson’s work to protect “must-save” lands along the river.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Davis also devoted considerable energy to promoting world peace. In honor of her 100th birthday, she established 100 Projects for Peace, which continues enabling youth to develop programs that (in Mrs. Davis’s words) “bring about a mind-set of preparing for peace, instead of preparing for war.”
Gardens once nationally famous
Untermyer Gardens was designed in 1915 by prominent architect William Welles Bosworth for Samuel Untermyer, a noted lawyer, leader of America’s anti-Nazi movement and a dedicated horticulturalist. Mr. Untermyer’s charge to Mr. Bosworth was to create the “finest garden in the world.” (Mr. Bosworth also designed the gardens at Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate in Pocantico Hills.)
Once nationally famous, the 150-acre garden was open to the public on a weekly basis, attracting 30,000 visitors on a single day in 1939. Five years after Samuel Untermyer’s death in 1940, the City of Yonkers acquired a 16-acre portion of the landscape containing the gardens’ most important features. An additional 27 acres was acquired in the 1990s. The Untermyer Gardens Conservancy, established in 2011, has been spearheading efforts to return the gardens to their original splendor.
The Walled Garden was based on Indo-Persian paradise gardens and included many of their traditional elements, most notably the use of waterways to divide the garden into four quadrants, massive gates and surrounding walls anchored at their corners with octagonal towers. The garden was appointed with Grecian-influenced structures including an Ionic open air amphitheater and a Corinthian temple. It is thought to contain the largest outdoor use of mosaic in America.
Scenic Hudson will make the gift to the Untermyer Gardens Conservancy once it secures the remaining funding for the project, obtains necessary permits and selects a contractor. The conservancy hopes to commence construction in late 2015. The work is expected to take four months to complete.
About Scenic Hudson
Scenic Hudson works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its majestic landscape as an irreplaceable national treasure and a vital resource for residents and visitors. A crusader for the valley since 1963, we are credited with saving fabled Storm King Mountain from a destructive industrial project and launching the modern grass-roots environmental movement. Today with more than 25,000 ardent supporters, we are the largest environmental group focused on the Hudson River Valley. Our team of experts combines land acquisition, support for agriculture, citizen-based advocacy and sophisticated planning tools to create environmentally healthy communities, champion smart economic growth, open up riverfronts to the public and preserve the valley’s inspiring beauty and natural resources. To date Scenic Hudson has created or enhanced more than 60 parks, preserves and historic sites up and down the Hudson River and conserved over 30,000 acres.