U Thant Island

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U Thant Island from the north, with the Williamsburg Bridge in the background
U Thant Island from the west-southwest

U Thant Island (officially Belmont Island) is a small artificial island in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The 100-by-200-foot (30 by 61 m) island, created during the construction of the Steinway Tunnel, is the smallest island in Manhattan.

Location and jurisdiction[edit]

The tiny artificial island is 100 by 200 feet (30 by 60 m) in size and located in the East River, just south of Roosevelt Island.[1][2] It lies midway between the United Nations Headquarters at 42nd Street and Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City and is legally part of the borough of Manhattan and of the coterminous county of New York.

The islet is managed by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and is currently protected as a sanctuary for migrating birds, including a small colony of double-crested cormorants. Access is prohibited to the public.[3][4][5] The reefs in the waters surrounding the island make it a popular spot for boats fishing for striped bass.[6]


The Chrysler and UN buildings, with U Thant Island in the foreground

In the 1890s, William Steinway constructed the two Steinway Tunnels for trolleys under the East River to link Manhattan to his also eponymous company town, Steinway Village, in Astoria, Queens. As part of that construction project, a shaft dug into the granite outcrop known as Man-o'-War Reef to reach the tunnels produced excess landfill that built up the reef and created a small island. Steinway died before his tunnels' completion, and financier August Belmont Jr. finished the project in 1907. Belmont Island, named after the financier, became the legal name of the island. The tunnels, which pass directly beneath the island, are still used by the IRT Flushing Line (7 and <7>​ trains), and are now part of the New York City Subway system.[7]

In 1977, the island was adopted by a group called the Peace Meditation at the United Nations, employees at United Nations Headquarters and followers of the guru Sri Chinmoy, who served as the interfaith chaplain there. They leased the islet from the state of New York, greened its surface, and unofficially renamed it after the Burmese former United Nations Secretary General U Thant, a friend of Chinmoy. Although unofficial, U Thant Island has become the common name for the island. It is now the site of a metal "oneness arch", preserving personal items of the island's namesake.[3][8]

In 1999, The New York Times Magazine staged an international competition to design a time capsule to preserve artifacts for the next millennium. An entry by Caples Jefferson Architects proposed a granite obelisk on U Thant Island that would gradually disintegrate, leaving only the time capsule by the end of the 30th century.[9]

During the 2004 Republican National Convention, local artist and filmmaker Duke Riley, who has traveled to various abandoned islands around the New York City area, rowed a boat with a friend to the island under cover of darkness, proclaimed it a sovereign nation and hoisted a 21-foot (6.4 m)-long pennant depicting two electric eels from the island's navigation tower. On their return voyage in daylight, they were apprehended by a United States Coast Guard boat but were not arrested. The entire incident was videotaped for a piece Riley titled Belmont Island (SMEACC).[10]


  1. ^ Mascia, Jennifer (July 5, 2009). "Sand, Surf and Shoobies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  2. ^ Chart 12335 (Map). 1 : 10,000. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. April 1, 2009. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  3. ^ a b Schneider, Daniel B. (October 6, 1996). "F.Y.I." The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  4. ^ Brody, Jane E. (September 8, 1998). "A Cleaner Harbor Lures Water Birds to New York". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  5. ^ Berger, Joseph (December 4, 2003). "So, You Were Expecting a Pigeon?; In City Bustle, Herons, Egrets and Ibises Find a Sanctuary". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-12.
  6. ^ Kaminsky, Peter (November 7, 2004). "Some Special Spots in Shadow of Skyline". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
  7. ^ Rogoff, David (1960). "The Steinway Tunnels". Electric Railroads (29).
  8. ^ Baard, Erik (June 4, 2002). "Holy Waters". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved 2009-07-12.
  9. ^ Muschamp, Herbert (December 5, 1999). "Designs for the Next Millennium. Caples Jefferson". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-07-12.
  10. ^ Tudor, Silke (May 23, 2006). "Life of Riley". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved 2009-07-12.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°44′48″N 73°57′52″W / 40.746599°N 73.964387°W / 40.746599; -73.964387