From WIC to West 8: Dutch developments on Governors Island

Dutch developers return on New York’s shores for the first time since 1674, as a team lead by architects from Rotterdam based West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture win the competition for the redevelopment of Governors Island. The results of the competition were made public by New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and New York State governor Eliot Spitzer as representatives of the islands owners: ‘the people of New York’. The plan to develop the island that boasts Manhattan, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty as its neighbours, came from the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation, who control the island since it was left by the Coast Guard in 1995. The $400 million plan should be completed in 2012. West 8 is represented by architects Adriaan Geuze and Jerry van Eyck. They will be appointed to develop a master-plan and a detailed design.

governors-island-plan.jpg The winning bid was made in cooperation with New York based architects Rogers Marvel Architects and Diller Scofidio & Renfro (according to The New York Times in association with Quennell Rothschild & Partners and SMWM). It includes a 2 mile long promenade along the western waterfront, a new park including some artificial hills on the southern flat part of the island and an ‘improved’ park in the island’s northern historic district. The plan leaves room for future building activity in two development zones, where facilities for visitors may be built. 1Source for the plan: Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation through the New York Times article. The jury stated in that respect that the winning design “was really the scheme that best addressed the issues of phasing.”

Governors Island was known to the native Indians as Pagganck (Nut Island) after the island’s plentiful hickory, oak and chestnut trees. The Dutch aptly named it ‘Noten Eylant’ from 1611 onwards while the island remained to be used by the native Indians. In 1637 the fifth director of Nieuw Nederland Wouter van Twiller bought the island from the Manahata Indians (other sources speak of “two Lenape, Cacapeteyno and Pewihas”) for two ax heads, a string of beads and a handful of nails. Van Twiller bought the island for private use, but one year later the Dutch West Indian Corporation (WIC) confiscated the island.

The English first took over the island in 1664, and after ten years they secured it’s possession for the next 100 years, “for the benefit and accommodation of His Majesty’s Governors”. American troops confiscated the island and officially named it Governors Island. Shortly after that the Americans built two fortifications: Fort Jay and Castle Williams. governors_island.jpg The island became a self providing community for the local army and facilities. In 1912 the island was enlarged extensively by the deposit of rocky material which was the result of excavations for the Lexington Avenue Subway.

A garden party (liberation day?) at Governors Island. Photo courtesy of Library of Congress.

From 1966 onwards the American Coast Guard took over the island from the army until they left in 1995. Four years ago, on 31 January 2004, the island was transferred to the people of New York, stipulating amongst others that building houses and casino’s was prohibited. Surprisingly they did not ask for the planting of trees that bear nuts, but the architects may be smart enough to think of that themselves…

Further reading, more reading, pictures of Governors Island and more pictures from the winning bid.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Source for the plan: Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation through the New York Times article.


  1. I could not resist editing this post to add a spectacular photograph of a 1910-1915 garden party taking place at Governors Island. This is taken from the great pool the Library of Congress has made available on the photo sharing site flickr.

  2. The following is the true account of my experience on Governor’s Island, as a U.S. Coast Guard recruit, in 1969. It is an excerpt from the larger story, “Running scared : Memories of a young fugitive…” (consisting of nine chapters, for some 17,000 words) which relates my evasion and the adventures and misadventures in Manhattan and eventually leading me through upstate New York to Buffalo’s Quaker community. They courageously conducted me safely across the border to exile in Canada via the Underground Railroad….
    I, later, exiled to France, where I have been living for the last thirty-five years…

    Thank you for your kind attention,

    Edward Ashley LAMB
    Le Vieux Presbytère
    e-mail :

    Chapter One

    Governor’s Island

    “Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
    Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis ?…”

    The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock – T.S. Eliot, (1900-1949)

    The arduous, overstated virility of the ambience
    Cold, hard and acrid as brass
    Relentless, constant as the surrounding brackish waters
    Of the deep, dark Hudson’s eternal tides…

    Like a young man’s tearless, unavowed solitude
    In the lone, Spartan celibacy of a hard bunk
    Enveloped in sterile, rugged, anonymous sheets
    And the vague odour of industrial laundry

    The routine masquerade of starched white uniforms
    Senseless ceremony in the brisk early morning air
    Forcing a rigid, meaningless salute
    Reciting the same empty phrases

    Supposed to howl “Yes, Sir !” in feigned obedience
    To some insignificant, masochistic Sergeant
    In execution of some purely capricious “order”
    The sole purpose of which is your humiliation

    Forming straight, disciplined monotonous lines
    Herded like cattle towards
    Soulless, saltpetre meals slopped into stainless steel vessels
    In an atmosphere of utter boredom…

    Paradoxically, across the Bay, rose Manhattan Island
    The awesome Apple and her Civilisation and… Freedom
    Reflecting, at night, her sparkling lights on the water
    Lady Liberty out there holding her torch to no one’s edification

    On a smuggled radio in the barracks
    The news related the Woodstock Festival
    Hard Rock Music and Sex and Drugs
    Youngsters making Love and not War

    And protest movements on dozens of campuses
    Resistors burning their draft cards in the streets
    Young women’s rights protesters reclaiming abortion
    Publicly emancipating themselves of their now superfluous bras…

    Tonight, he would make a break for it
    Somehow sneak onto the ferryboat
    Leap off on the other side
    Or perish in the icy waves of the Hudson

  3. Richard Carl Thews

    I was stationed there aprox June 1957- June 1959. Worked in Com center near the ferry slip. Army number RA13566596
    From the pictues, I see much has changed.
    Wich I could come back to see Fort Jay again, but I am to far away and getting a little old.

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