Andrew Haswell Green was "arguably the most important leader in Gotham's long history, more important than Peter Stuyvesant, Alexander Hamilton, Frederick Law Olmsted, Robert Moses and Fiorello La Guardia", accordingly to the historian Kenneth Jackson. He was the driving force behind the creation of the modern five-borough New York City in 1898, and he was also a key figure in the establishment of several of New York's most notable institutions: Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Public Library, and the Bronx Zoo, not to mention the Washington Bridge and Riverside, Morningside, and Fort Washington Parks. An NY Times piece published late in his life recounted these accomplishments, as well as others "in the same general line, pursued with the same longsightedness and the same steadfast fidelity to a high standard of public service and personal conduct, so that in his ripe age no member of this vast community more richly merits the honorable title of Citizen of New York."
He was a man of great integrity (that makes two now!), and while he may have been "an imperious skinflint", "overbearing and stingy", and certainly "not the kind of guy you'd party with", his sober frugality was a much-needed virtue in the halls of government. Appointed city controller in the aftermath of the Tweed Ring scandals, he helped rescue New York from financial ruin at a time when "the city and county finances [were] in confusion . . . the Treasury empty, the city's credit seriously impaired, taxes excessive, the debt swollen beyond all precedent, city laborers and employes clamoring for pay, public institutions without funds to feed the hungry mouths of their wards, and the public buildings, markets, streets, and docks dilapidated and despoiled." Reflecting the regard in which he was held, the New-York Tribune wrote of his appointment at that dark hour: "The man who now holds the keys of the City Treasury is incorruptible, inaccessible to partisan or personal considerations, immovable by threats or bribes, and honest by the very constitution of his whole nature."
But despite the deep impact he had on the city's development, Mr. Green is largely unknown today. More than a century after he was murdered in 1903 in a bizarre case of mistaken identity, this hilltop bench in Central Park was the lone public monument to his life and work. (An "award-winning statue" of the man was created for the city's Golden Jubilee in 1948, but was never put on permanent display and ended up relegated to a garage in Maine.) And if that weren't enough of a slight on its own: the inscription on the bench states that "this eminence was named Andrew H. Green Hill", but the bench was booted off said eminence and relocated here in the 1970s or '80s to make way for a composting operation. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Manhattan borough historian Michael Miscione, however, the city has finally decided to honor "the Father of Greater New York" with something a bit more prominent: a waterfront park on Manhattan's East Side in the shadow of the Queensboro Bridge. (Now we just have to hope it doesn't fall into the East River.)
An even better honor would have been one Mr. Miscione was specifically pushing for: renaming the Washington Bridge after the master planner who first proposed building it. Rechristening the beautiful but often overlooked Harlem River span would not only be a more fitting and more conspicuous way to remember this forgotten civic hero, it would also help clear up a particularly confusing aspect of Upper Manhattan's transportation infrastructure: there are three vehicular bridges in close proximity to each other around 180th Street, and two of them are named after George Washington! Even Google can't keep things straight, labeling the lanes of the Washington Bridge with the name of its much more famous Hudson River counterpart, the George Washington Bridge.
So let's hear it for the Andrew H. Green Memorial Bridge — bringing recognition to a great public servant and clarity to our city's bridge nomenclature all in one fell swoop!