U Thant Island, aka Belmont Island
|U Thant Island,
or officially Belmont Island, is a tiny 100 x 200 foot (30 x 60
metre) artificial island in New York City's East River, just to the south
of Roosevelt Island. It lies across from United Nations headquarters at
42nd Street, and is legally considered a part of the Borough of Manhattan
and New York County. The islet is currently protected as a sanctuary for
migrating birds and access is prohibited to the public.
The island has its origins in the 1890s as a side-effect of the construction by William Steinway, of piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons, of trolley tunnels under the river to link bustling Manhattan to his eponymous company town in Steinway, Queens. The island was built up on the existing granite outcrop Man-o'-War Reef with excess landfill from a shaft dug down the reef to the tunnels. But Steinway died before his tunnels' completion, and it was financier August Belmont, Jr. who finished the project in 1907, leaving the finished islet as a bonus. . Belmont Island, after the financier, became (and remains) the legal name of the island.
The little inconvenient island was unused and almost forgotten for nearly a century, until in 1977 it was adopted by employees at nearby UN headquarters following the controversial guru Sri Chinmoy, who served as an interfaith chaplain there. The group, called Sri Chinmoy: The Peace Meditation at the United Nations, leased the islet from New York State, greened its surface and unofficially renamed it after Burmese Buddhist United Nations Secretary General U Thant, a friend of Chinmoy. As a name, U Thant Island, though unofficial, has stuck, and is today that most commonly used.