Tennis Legend Billie Jean King Rallies Opponents of Museum of Natural History Expansion

Billie Jean King rallies the crowd.

By Carol Tannenhauser

Tennis great Billie Jean King spoke at a rally Saturday morning on the steps of the American Museum of Natural History, at 79th Street and Central Park West, protesting the planned addition of a 230,000-square-foot science education center on the Columbus Avenue side of the Museum.

The organizers of the rally, a local nonprofit called Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park (CU), are claiming in court that, if built as currently designed, the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation would illegally consume a quarter of an acre of the 17.58 acres comprising Theodore Roosevelt Park, which surrounds the Museum and is owned by the City. Seven towering canopy trees would be lost.

Anne Canty, a spokesperson for the Museum said “the Gilder Center has already gone through a very rigorous process, with many governmental approvals and public meetings. We are building it because there is a real need for science education in this city and country, and it will be used, like the rest of the museum, by hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren throughout the five boroughs, as well as by visitors from around the world.”

“I have been living on the Upper West Side since the mid-70s,” said King, whose apartment overlooks Teddy Roosevelt Park. “Ilana [her partner] and I care very much about this neighborhood. We’ve used Roosevelt Park forever, especially when we had Lucy, our dog.”

King went on to praise public parks in general, pointing out that New York City is “second to last of the top 25 cities when it comes to green space available per capita. We need to save every inch of green space we have,” she said.

“I’m with Billie Jean!” the crowd of about 100 people chanted.

King introduced Michael Hiller, a land-use lawyer representing CU in its legal battle against the City. Hiller contends that the City gave the land for the Gilder Center to the Museum in a “secret back-room deal” that bypassed procedures mandated by the City Charter. Furthermore, he warned, if allowed to proceed, the Gilder Center would be a gateway for further expansion.

Billie Jean King and Michael Hiller.

“It is improper to build a building in a public park when viable alternatives exist,” said the next speaker, William Raudenbush, chairman of CU.

In an ad hoc press conference afterward, King expounded on Raudenbush’s implication, repeating a charge that CU has made often, including on the flyer for this event:

“The architect said they could do everything within what’s already here,” King said, meaning the goals of the Gilder Center could be met within the Museum’s existing footprint.

The Museum sent WSR a sworn affidavit from Jeanne Gang, the architect of the Gilder Center, denying having made the statement:

“I do not know what they are referring to in those purported allegations, but I do not recall ever having made such a statement and it certainly does not reflect my views of the Gilder Center…To the contrary, critical aspects of the project would not be possible in the absence of the limited Museum expansion, which will occupy approximately 1⁄4 acre of additional park space. For instance, a long-planned connection to the northern facade of an existing Museum building (Building 8) – which will vastly improve internal circulation within the Museum – requires the Museum to expand into existing park space. Similarly, the Museum’s new programmatic goals of the Gilder Center could not all be accommodated within the existing footprint.”

As for whether or not the Museum obtained legal permission to widen its footprint, “The courts have already ruled that we could move forward, saying that everything was done properly,” said Canty, referring to a December 10 decision, which CU appealed. “The matter will be addressed in the appeal,” she added. “The most important thing to remember is that nothing is built here that is not in the service of science education for New York City schoolchildren and families and visitors from throughout the world. Science has never been more important in the civic dialogue than it is now.”

“Build it in the Bronx where it’s really needed,” Billie Jean King suggested, naming Crotona Park, also owned by the City, as a possible alternative.

“We were disappointed when the court did not rule in our favor,” Hiller said. “However, when we brought this case to the appellate division, they immediately granted an interim stay to protect the green space of the Park.”

The next court ruling will be whether or not to extend the stay until the appeal has been decided. Neither side knows when that ruling will come.

NEWS | 41 comments | permalink
    1. patrick says:

      I can’t with these people…

    2. Sherman says:

      I was at the AMNH last week with my family. Aside from the planetarium much of the museum looks old and dated and in need of sprucing up.

      If the AMNH is to remain a world class museum it must modernize and expand.

      • Douglas says:

        You can update without expanding

      • Kat French says:

        Oh my goodness, the “old” part of the museum is perfectly preserved from its very founding by Teddy Roosevelt and is absolutely beloved by New Yorkers and visitors alike. You want to see protests? Try “sprucing up” the dioramas! There would be a revolution.

    3. Josh P. says:

      These Urban Reactionaries who endlessly oppose progress at every step do not speak for the Upper West Side. The people’s elected representatives have spoken, and these self appointed obstructionists are attempting to overturn our decision. They are on the wrong side of history.

      • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

        fair enough, Josh, but then i assume you also agree with the People’s Elected Representatives on other development issues, where they oppose the luxury development: 200 Amsterdam and 50 W. 66th are two examples.

        I hope you speak out to defend Gale, Helen et. al. at the constant abuse they receive on this blog.

        • Josh says:

          Nah, those projects are Good and should continue. We’re in the middle of a housing crisis and these projects are desperately needed. The Upper West Side needs to go back to the days when buildings were allowed to experiment architecturally instead of having to please a bunch self appointed busy bodies.

    4. BA says:

      This is a pure NIMBY issue, and the Museum will prevail.

      • Upper West Side Neighbor says:

        Of course and we all know that and it’s going to happen and we all know that it’s going to happen… I’ve never seen such stupid demonstrators in my life and I’ve gone through the 60s! “if they build it we will come”

    5. Peter Wright says:

      Better West Siders get active, pro or con, than do nothing. But please, folks should get their facts straight. The article puffs up the expansion by throwing in the total size, 230,000 square feet..not the relatively small 10,000 feet that will extend into the Park. Secondly,the protesters have been consistently blind to the fact that the Museum ADDED 1 acre of landscaped park on the Arthur Ross Terrace when they built the new garage by the Rose Space Center, replacing the ugly old asphalt parking lot. So by adding one acre..and subtracting 1/4 of an acre…the Museum has actually added a net of 3/4 of an acre.

      • Jean Forman says:

        Benzo(a)pyrene, benzo(b)fluoranthene, and dibenz(a,h)anthracene were detected above safe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation limits in 14 of 18 soil samples.
        Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and cis-1,2-dichloroethylene (cis-1,2-DCE) was detected above safe Aquifer Water Quality Standards.
        Beryllium, chromium, lead, mercury, and nickel were detected in groundwater samples, with 21 unfiltered samples over safe Aquifer Water Quality Standards. 16 filtered samples were over safe Aquifer Water Quality Standards.
        Trichloroethylene was detected in soil vapor above 4 µg/m3, exceeding New York State Department of Health limits.

        • Jay says:

          As been pointed out many times before, you’ll find those same pollutants in the same or higher concentration if you dig two inches down in any place in Manhattan. Also, there is no exposure route for anyone; other than construction workers who are used to working in that environment.

          If you want to learn more, all the details are in the FEIS. Might be a good idea to understand things before you attempt to make a point.

    6. Kathleen says:

      Hooray for Ms.King! This is SUCH A TERRIBLE IDEA – in every way. Anyone who thinks otherwise should move it to the Bronx or to Queens or Brooklyn….
      “underrepresented” science education areas.

    7. Patricia Gilman says:

      This is so wrong. The expansion is needed for education. The museum Is known for its educational programs. There will still be plenty of park space left.

    8. Aaron Jacobs says:

      Really BJK? Have you no shame?!
      With a 10 million semolian apt. across the street, you think the solution is to send the science kids of NYC to the Bronx? What’s your issue BJK? Don’t want NYC kids to invade your space? This is hypocrisy to the extreme! Let it go, cry babys! Let progress happen, already.

    9. Jay says:

      Fake news.

      Nimbys just being Nimbys… yawn.

    10. Dana Desjardins says:

      I’m just glad this article has some substance to it as yes… every remaining inch of green life in the city needs to be conserved! I was afraid it was about one of many celebrities residing in that neighborhood complaining about the potential noise and dust created by any new construction project. We wouldn’t want THAT!

    11. notanimby says:

      It’s private land, you idiots.

    12. Kat French says:

      I love Billie Jean King. I have been a fan of hers for more than 40 years. But it’s kind of ironic that she is so anti-development when she lives in the penthouse of the tallest building in the neighborhood… a building that was controversial when it was built and that towers over everything else nearby. The museum expansion represents slow, smart growth much more than the very building she calls home.

    13. Jerry B says:

      Spare us, please, from such coverage of rich NIMBY neighbors of the museum who are horrified at the thought of losing part of their park views to growth and progress.

      These are probably the same folks whose gripes about the crafts and street fairs outside the park on Columbus aused the City to restrict them to a precious few days
      per year.

      Anyone who has ever visited the AMNH on a weekend of school holiday should understand how more Museum space is needed. The wait lines are often crazy.

      As your article noted, the expansion will only take a quarter of an acre of the 17+ acre park.

    14. Joe Rappaport says:

      Does “modernization” necessarily go with “expand,” as one commentator seems to suggest here? I wonder. Perhaps the museum should have taken (and still should take) another approach, first getting its own house in order before encroaching on valuable nearby parkland.

    15. Follow the money says:

      This is actually worse than NIMBYism. “Community United” is actually a front for Cary Goodman to promote his business interests in the Bronx. The goal is NOT to protect Theodore Roosevelt Park — that’s just the best PR hook they had to stop the museum. Their real goal is to block the museum expansion here and force them to expand at a satellite location (the Bronx), where the presence of an AMNH satellite will help the 161st Street Business Improvement District, of which Cary Goodman is Executive Director. Billie Jean King said it herself — “Build it in the Bronx where it is really needed.” It’s just a shame she has been fooled by Con-man Cary and the rest of these crooks.

    16. Bob Lamm says:

      According to this report, there were 100 people at the rally. They have every right to protest and to file legal challenges (that are highly unlikely to be approved). But their claim of widespread neighborhood support has always been dubious. Once again, the data from the crucial 2017 Democratic primary. Cary Goodman, vehemently protesting the museum’s expansion plan, got 805 votes (four percent). Incumbent Helen Rosenthal, who supported the expansion plan, got 13,060 votes (64.8 percent).

    17. Carnival Canticle says:

      The desperation of the anti-Gilder group is evident when the best they can do is enlist a retired (though admittedly once-great)tennis player to holler along with them, and — much worse — to falsely attribute a statement to the architect which she denies ever making. BJK’s “Build it in the Bronx” sounds like an ugly echo of other NIMBY attempts by entrenched and entitled Westsiders to shunt everything from shelters to chain retailers out to the other boroughs.

    18. Marco says:

      Oh Billie Jean, go away.

      PS – Bobby Riggs threw the match to pay off his gambling debts.

    19. Judy Kass says:

      I support BJ King’s actions. How can I help out?

      Let AMNH fix up what exists with Gilder’s money.
      Only the dinosaurs get good treatment and they’ve been dead a zillion years.

    20. eyeswideopen says:

      Let’s see…Billie Jean is OK with taking NYC parkland…as long as it’s Crotona Park in the Bronx and not in her front yard?
      Sheesh, can it get any more NIMBY than that?!?

      As far as “Citizens United” goes…any remotely civic minded group would know it’s illegal to post flyers on public property. So why is the every lamppost, bus stop and vacant building on the UWS endlessly papered with their misleading and factually false flyers?
      These are “citizens” for whom self interest is their sole consideration.

    21. Tim says:

      “We need to save every inch of green space we have”

      “Build it in the Bronx……Crotona Park”

      If she isn’t a hypocritical NIMBY, I don’t know who is.

      Just because she’s famous doesn’t mean her opinion carries any more weight than us “common folk”. Build the expansion already.

    22. fritz mueller says:

      Can someone explain to me what the huge bombastic Gilder entry hall – the atrium – has to do with science and education? It is this new entry, for a projected million visitors, at this most unssuitable site, which the museum desires and hides behind its science and education mantra. It is this Gilder Hall atrium which requires the chainsawing of the trees, and which the museum will use as a party and fundraising venue.

    23. Jan says:

      A big science center exists at Columbia U
      About 30 blocks due North
      Save Our Park and the neighborhood
      The traffic the food carts the busses etc
      Will ruin this neighborhood are!

    24. Rob G. says:

      This gets more surreal by the minute. If by some chance “Community United” and William Raudenbush are successful in killing this project, it will be a tragedy for the neighborhood. It’s unconscionable that they are suggesting that a center for learning, which the Upper West Side has traditionally been known for, should be built in another borough. All this for sake of keeping less than a quarter acre (or .014%) of the existing park. Crazy times indeed.

      • Jay says:

        The glider center will get built. These people just have too much money and time on their hands and this blog pretends they have influence.

    25. cary goodman says:

      The museum’s spokesperson didn’t mention that at the public meetings convened to review this toxic plan, the overwhelming majority of participants, opposed the expansion. When the museum realized they were outnumbered, they cut off the microphones of park advocates. At the official public review there were no public officials present. The local/lackey community board refused to hold an open hearing on the proposed project.

      As for the purpose of the building, a quick look at the museum’s application indicates its intention to build a larger gift shop, high-end restaurant and a few classrooms which could otherwise be accommodated in the existing buildings if they were refurbished.

      VP Canty, President Futter and other museum officials are trying to bamboozle us by playing the science education card. But, what kind of science education can we expect when its bankrolled by climate change deniers like museum trustees, Richard Gilber & Rebekah Mercer?

      • Bryan says:

        “. But, what kind of science education can we expect when its bankrolled by climate change deniers like museum trustees, Richard Gilber & Rebekah Mercer?” –Cary Goodman

        And yet you have no problem with this IF its built in your district in the Bronx! SMH

        Consider it a win that you won’t have a new jail built next to the Bronx Hall of Justice.

    26. If you build it we will come says:

      Billie Jean King should stick to her tennis before she loses her stadium at the USTA If she knows what’s good for her…

      • Frank says:

        Yeah that’s not going to happen. And, the correct quote you are misusing is “If you build it they will come.” Please try to make sense periodically as it would be a refreshing change of pace. Thx.

    27. Steffi Graf says:

      Build a 16 handles on the park!

    28. chris woo says:

      this is nonsense. BJK lives in that fancy building on the corner with a private access elevator to her penthouse apartment (one of only 4 in the building). I don’t see her rallying people over other areas of expansion around the city.

    29. DEBBIE JONES says:


    30. Drew says:

      There is a lot of land the museum owns that is open and is not park space. Why can they not use available space that is not public park space?