U Thant Island

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

U Thant Island
U Thant Island from the north, with the Williamsburg Bridge in the background
Coordinates40°44′48″N 73°57′52″W / 40.746599°N 73.964387°W / 40.746599; -73.964387Coordinates: 40°44′48″N 73°57′52″W / 40.746599°N 73.964387°W / 40.746599; -73.964387
StateNew York

U Thant Island (officially Belmont Island) is a small artificial island or islet in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. The 100-by-200-foot (30 by 60 m) island, created during the construction of the Steinway Tunnel directly underneath, is the smallest island in Manhattan.[1][2]

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.[3][4] It lies midway between the United Nations Headquarters at 42nd Street, in Manhattan to the west, and Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City, within Queens to the east. It is legally part of Manhattan and is formally a part of Manhattan Community District 6, which also includes the neighborhoods of Turtle Bay and Murray Hill to the west of U Thant Island.[5]

The island is owned by the New York State Government and is currently protected as a sanctuary for migrating birds, including a small colony of double-crested cormorants. The cormorant population more than doubled from 2000 to 2011.[6] The Borough, Block and Lot is Manhattan, Block 1373 (shared with Roosevelt Island), and Lot 200.[7] Public access is prohibited.[8][9][10] Since 2016, the island has been designated a Recognized Ecological Complex under the city's Waterfront Revitalization Program.[11][12] The reefs in the waters surrounding the island make it a popular spot for boats fishing for striped bass.[13][14] The United States Coast Guard maintains a 57-foot (17 m) tall lighted beacon on the island, designated "Roosevelt Island Reef Light 17";[4][15] an earlier 23-foot (7 m) tall light had been erected in 1938,[16] and another pair before then.[17]

Mean sea level in the East River is sometimes measured in reference to the "Belmont Island Datum", 2.265 feet (0.69 m) below that of Sandy Hook.


In the 1890s, businessman William Steinway began a project to construct a tunnel for trolleys under the East River to link Manhattan to his eponymous company town, Steinway Village, in Astoria, Queens; the tunnel would be named the Steinway Tunnel after him. As part of this 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. saw the project to completion between 1905 and 1907. Belmont Island, named after the financier, became the legal name of the island. Four workers were killed in a 1906 shaft accident under the island.[18] 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.[19] Buildings from the tunnel stayed up until at least 1918.[20]

In 1964, the 33,310-short-ton (30,218 t) Norwegian fuel oil tanker Sigdal ran aground on the island, imperiling East River traffic.[21][22][23]

In 1968, the Hudson Institute published a proposal for connecting Roosevelt Island and U Thant Island by landfill to form a single larger island, as part of an economic redevelopment. 42nd Street would have extended across the island from Manhattan to Queens, connected by a Ponte Vecchio-like bridge covered in shops. "Belmont Center", modeled on Rockefeller Center, would have had towers of up to 80 stories.[24][25][26]

A Jet d'Eau–like fountain sponsored by George T. Delacorte Jr. stood nearby on Roosevelt Island from 1969 to 1987, and faced calls for its relocation to U Thant Island due to environmental hazards throughout its existence, at the time of its installation, in a 1972–74 lawsuit, and at the time it was finally demolished.[27][28]

In 1972, the island was declared "Soviet Jewry Freedom Island" and symbolically occupied for 2+12 hours by activists led by Manhattan and Bronx Borough Presidents Percy Sutton and Robert Abrams to protest a United Nations speech by Leonid Brezhnev and the imposition of the diploma tax as a barrier to emigration from the Soviet Union.[29][30]

The Chrysler Building and United Nations Secretariat Building, with U Thant Island in the foreground

In 1977, the island was adopted by a group called the Peace Meditation at the United Nations, employees at the United Nations headquarters and followers of the guru Sri Chinmoy, who served as the interfaith chaplain there. They leased the island from New York State, greened its surface, and unofficially renamed it after the Burmese former United Nations Secretary General U Thant, a friend of Chinmoy. In 1982, Belmont Island was officially rededicated as U Thant Island.[31] It is now the site of a metal "oneness arch", preserving personal items of the island's namesake.[8][32]

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.[33]

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).[34]


  1. ^ Duffy, Karen (October 11, 2011). "New York's Treasure Trove of Tiny Islands". MetroFocus. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  2. ^ Frishberg, Hannah (August 26, 2014). "Get To Know 34 of New York City's Most Obscure Islands". Curbed NY. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  3. ^ Mascia, Jennifer (July 5, 2009). "Sand, Surf and Shoobies". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  4. ^ a b Chart 12335 (Map). 1 : 10,000. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. April 1, 2009. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  5. ^ "Community Profiles". New York City Department of City Planning. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  6. ^ Elbin, Susan; Craig, Liz (December 5, 2011). "Cormorant Population in the NY Harbor 2005-2011" (PDF). National Park Service. New York City Audubon. Archived from the original (PDF) on December 19, 2018. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  7. ^ "NYC Finance". a836-pts-access.nyc.gov. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  8. ^ a b Schneider, Daniel B. (October 6, 1996). "F.Y.I." The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  9. ^ Brody, Jane E. (September 8, 1998). "A Cleaner Harbor Lures Water Birds to New York". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  10. ^ 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 July 12, 2009.
  11. ^ "The Waterfront Revitalization Program Overview". New York City Department of City Planning. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  12. ^ "The Waterfront Revitalization Program Maps & Policies". New York City Department of City Planning. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  13. ^ Kaminsky, Peter (November 7, 2004). "Some Special Spots in Shadow of Skyline". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2010.
  14. ^ Shook, Phil (February 2009). Flyfisher's Guide to the Northeast Coast. Wilderness Adventures Press. p. 287. ISBN 9781932098679.
  15. ^ "Light List, First District - Volume I" (PDF). United States Coast Guard, Navigation Center. 2023. HUDSON AND EAST RIVERS (Chart 12335). Light list number 27315. p. 243. Retrieved March 9, 2023.
  16. ^ Complete List of Lights and Other Marine Aids, Atlantic Coast of the United States. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1954.
  17. ^ Pugsley, Richard Marriotte (1910). The New York Pilot and Guide to the United States Local Inspectors Examination of Masters and Pilots for New York Bay and Harbor to Yonkers and Great Captain Island: And a Complete New York Pilot Containing All Useful Information. R.M. Pugsley.
  18. ^ "Four Lose Their Lives in Tunnel Disaster". Los Angeles Herald. January 17, 1906. Retrieved December 20, 2018 – via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
  19. ^ Rogoff, David (1960). "The Steinway Tunnels". Electric Railroads (29).
  20. ^ New York (N.Y.) (1918). The City Record: Official Journal. p. 3540. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
  21. ^ "631‐Foot Tanker Runs Aground on Belmont Island in the East River". The New York Times. February 8, 1964. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  22. ^ "TANKER TEETERS ON ROCK NEAR UI; Salvage Crews Drawing Off Oii‐‐Fireboats Stand By". The New York Times. February 9, 1964. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  23. ^ "TALKS BREAK OFF IN TUG WALKOUT; No New Meetings Scheduled —Emergency Steps Taken". The New York Times. February 11, 1964. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  24. ^ Brodeur, Paul (February 15, 1969). "1969 to 2019". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved December 19, 2018.
  25. ^ Smith, Richard Norton (2014). On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson Rockefeller. Random House. ISBN 9780375505805.
  26. ^ Hudson Institute; Panero, Robert (1968). A Preliminary Approach to East River Development. Croton-on-Hudson.
  27. ^ Waggoner, Walter H. (December 30, 1972). "A Suit Seeks to Save Delacorte Fountain". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  28. ^ Roberts, Sam (September 28, 1987). "Metro Matters; Good Intentions On Quirky Geyser Go Slightly Awry". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 24, 2018.
  29. ^ "Isle at U.N. 'Occupied' in a Jewish Protest". The New York Times. August 26, 1972. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  30. ^ "Remembrance: Percy Sutton, champion of the Soviet Jewry cause". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. December 30, 2009. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
  31. ^ Haberman, Clyde; Johnston, Laurie (October 8, 1982). "New York Day by Day". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 28, 2022.
  32. ^ Baard, Erik (June 4, 2002). "Holy Waters". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved February 16, 2021.
  33. ^ Muschamp, Herbert (December 5, 1999). "Designs for the Next Millennium. Caples Jefferson". The New York Times. Retrieved July 12, 2009.
  34. ^ Tudor, Silke (May 23, 2006). "Life of Riley". The Village Voice. New York. Retrieved July 12, 2009.

External links[edit]