Tuesday, August 5, 2008

To Arms for the Armory

A mere stone's throw from my home sits the old New Rochelle armory, its grand old brick facade facing the Post Road, with two anchors flanking its entryway. Opened in 1933, the armory was a base and training facility for naval recruits. Now, of course, someone wants to tear it down. Developer Forest City Residential's plan to revitalize 26 acres of Echo Bay waterfront has the armory slated for the wrecking ball—-to be replaced by a 20,000-square-foot community center. Perhaps it will have a vaguely nautical theme, in order to preserve a bit o' history and honor the naval veterans who served there?

The armory hasn't seen a lot of action in the last several years, serving only as the home for New Rochelle's famous Haunted House each fall. Last year, a local politician stopped by our door with his hopeful plan for turning it into a museum, an ice-skating rink, or--just think!--a community center.

While there is no doubt that the Echo Bay waterfront deserves to be a place of real beauty rather than a sludgedump, why not incorporate the armory into the plans rather than tear it down? It seems that Forest City may have spiritual kin in the braintrust who razed New York's grandest train station in order to build Madison Square Garden, leaving us with the execrable fluorescent wasteland that is today's Penn Station.

Nonetheless, earlier this year, the City of New Rochelle accepted Forest City Residential's proposal, which includes the construction of hundreds of condos and townhouses along the waterfront, as well as restaurants and shops. “We will be long-term partners," said David Levey, executive vice president with Forest City Residential Group. "We will become part of the fabric of this community. We’re going to do a bang-up job. . .it’s going to be something that’s pleasing to the city and pleasing to the developers.” When it comes to the old armory, however, a group of local citizens are not pleased, and they are not going to let the building go down without a fight.

The armory has its biggest hero in Larchmont resident Alex Litzky, age 21, who is hiking the Appalachian Trail from New York to Maine in order to raise awareness and funds to save the armory. Many local merchants are standing behind Litzky's trek (which he began on Sunday, August 3), with several offering to donate percentages of sales to the cause. Walk down Palmer Avenue and it's encouraging to see how many Larchmont stores are advocating to preserve this element of New Ro history.

Litzky's hike was inspired by his father David, a member of the Save the Armory Committee. The group has spoken out in defense of the armory at public meetings on the Echo Bay plan. "Developments have brought a lot of congestion to downtown New Rochelle," the younger Litzky said, "and I don't think it's for the better."

Pledges for Litzky's hike can be made by calling 914-500-3165 or e-mailing djrl56@aol.com.

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