She Covers the Waterfront

by Paul Hond
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“There was a tremendous amount of antagonism toward the proposal,” Buttenwieser says. “The people who opposed it latched onto the environmental issue. At that time, and for many years afterward, environmental issues were used to stop projects. Nowadays, that seems to be less the case.”

After earning her doctorate in urban planning in 1984, Buttenwieser went to work for the Department of City Planning, Waterfront Division, where she “traveled the country to see what other cities were doing, to try to find some models for New York.” Six months into the job, she was “yanked away,” this time by Governor Mario Cuomo and Mayor Ed Koch. When Westway fell, Koch and Cuomo set up the New York State–New York City West Side Task Force to figure out what to do with the roadway and the piers. And they wanted Buttenwieser to be deputy director.

The task force set to work, and 25 years later we see the results: a six-lane, mostly at-grade boulevard (Joe DiMaggio Highway, officially) and the five-mile-long Hudson River Park, with its bikeways and walkways, luxuriant green lawns, landscaped piers, extensive recreation facilities, large seasonal crowds — and, in the water — plenty of striped bass.

Like the prolific park builder Robert Moses ’14GSAS, Ann Buttenwieser is a swimmer. She was born in Annapolis in 1935, and grew up on the Chesapeake Bay. Her father, Isador Lubin, was an economic adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Ann was 11, Lubin took a job as industrial commissioner under Governor W. Averell Harriman ’54HON of New York. The family moved to Manhattan, which had a different waterfront from the one Ann was used to. “It was an industrial waterfront,” she says. “There was shipping and transportation. In high school, I went to France on the Ile de France, which left from the West Side piers, and I arrived home after my year abroad on the S.S. America, which also landed on the West Side. And to get to Annapolis you had to take the B&O [Baltimore & Ohio] Railroad — you got on a float car on the West Side and a barge took you across the river, where the B&O started. That’s what the waterfront was.”

After graduating from the Dalton School, Ann attended Swarthmore, where she studied literature, competed on the swim team (she was a diver, too), and, at a Federation of Jewish Philanthropies benefit, met Larry Buttenwieser, a law student whose father, Benjamin Buttenwieser ’19CC, ’64HON, was a prominent banker, philanthropist, and Columbia trustee. (Larry’s mother was the former Helen Lehman, of the Lehman banking and political family.) Ann Lubin Buttenwieser transferred to Barnard for her senior year, had her first child, and, after graduating, settled into parenthood on the Upper East Side.

Then came the asphalt playgrounds, the Safety Surf, and a taste for the good fight, for getting things done. What else could she achieve, given her talents and connections and expanding civic consciousness? How else to improve the lives of the children of New York?

In a dusty room under the Battery Maritime Building, she discovered files from the Department of Ports and Terminals.

A compelling answer presented itself while Buttenwieser was researching Manhattan Water-Bound in 1980. In a dusty room under the Battery Maritime Building, she discovered files from the Department of Ports and Terminals, dating from 1872 to 1935. They contained repeated references to “floating baths.”

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