Points of view

Protect the Palisades


The Palisades are the name that we give to the breathtaking line of rocky cliffs along the west bank of the lower Hudson River stretching from Jersey City, N.J. to Nyack, N.Y. They rise from near the edge of the river to a height of approximately 300 feet at Weehawken, N.J., and gradually to a height of 540 feet near their northern terminus. Primordially these spectacular cliffs may have reached 1,000 feet in height! Thus, they are among the most dramatic geologic features in the vicinity of our great metropolis. North of Fort Lee, N.J. they form part of the Palisades Interstate Park, designated a National Natural Landmark by the National Parks Service in 1983.
The native Lanape people indeed called this imposing natural wonder “Weehawken — rocks that look like rows of trees.” The town of Weehawken itself sites at the top of the lower cliffs, directly across the Hudson from the isle of Manhattan.
Modern efforts to preserve, protect and defend the Palisades began late in the 19th century, when quarrying for railroad ballast, and billboards, threatened to destroy the scenic cliffs. In 1898 alone, tons of dynamite brought down the Washington Head and Indian Head sections of the cliffs at Fort Lee. As a reaction to this devastation, The New Jersey Federation of Women’s Clubs led the creation of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which was authorized to acquire the land between Fort Lee, N.J. and Piermont, N.Y., and then, in 1906, the land up to Stony Point, N.Y.
In the 1930s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated 700 acres atop a 13-mile stretch of the Palisades for the express purpose of preserving, protecting and defending that land from any and all uses inconsistent with the Palisades Interstate Park and the preservation of the Palisades themselves. At the same time, he donated the acreage for Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters, the world famous medieval art museum in the park that forms part of our Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In fact, the entirety of the Washington Heights and Inwood neighborhoods of Northern Manhattan have a particular connection to the preservation, protection and defense of parkland and scenic viewsheds. Their very street patterns were designed around parks and scenic views and were intended as a contrast to the island’s man-made grid, terminating at West 155th Street. The grid — as we all know and appreciate — ignores and alters the island’s natural topography, to which these charming Northern-tip neighborhoods remain faithful.
The University Heights, Spuyten Duyvil and Riverdale sections of the Midwest and Northwest Bronx likewise guard their viewsheds west to the “grim gray Palisades” sung of in the N.Y. University alma mater of old.
But now LG Electronics USA, Inc. proposes to construct a new 143-foot-high North American headquarters tower in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. that would rise far above the tree line of the Palisades.
The corporate site is almost directly across the river from the Cloisters, a National Register of Historic Places landmark, from which its tower would be clearly visible; from Fort Tryon, Fort Washington, and Inwood Hill Parks; from City Scenic Landmarks, famous for their rugged naturalistic quality and panoramic vistas out to the Hudson and the dramatic Palisades beyond; from the Wave Hill public garden and cultural center in Riverdale, founded by the first chair of the N.J. State Federation of Women’s Clubs; from the recently designated Hall of Fame for Great Americans National Historic Landmark at the old New York University campus at University Heights, on the banks of the Harlem River, which has been home, for the past two generations, to Bronx Community College of the City University of New York; and from the homes, businesses and vehicles of hundreds of thousands of residents and visitors on the east bank of the Hudson, both within the city and northward to Westchester County.
Thus, the inescapable conclusion is that LG’s proposed tower design does not respect the integrity of the Palisades National Natural Landmark — and that it would seriously undermine more than a century of dedicated civic-minded effort to preserve, protect, and defend the natural environment and scenic views of those magnificent cliffs.
The 27-acre site of the proposed project is easily large enough to accommodate a headquarters building that is horizontal and does not puncture the tree line. However, as LG is one of the most significant taxpayers in Englewood Cliffs, it comes as no surprise to learn that its development plans were accommodated by the local authorities, which granted a zoning variance to exempt the proposed project from the pre-existing 35-foot height limit.
But now LG Electronics USA, Inc. proposes to construct a new 143-foot-high North American headquarters tower in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. that would rise far above the tree line of the Palisades.
This unfortunate turn of events has prompted conservationists and historic preservationists, including environmental lawyer Larry Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Scenic Hudson, the N.Y.-N.J. Trail Conference, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the N.J. State Federation of Women’s Clubs, and local N.J. residents to launch both lobbying and legal efforts to preserve, protect and defend an unspoiled viewshed of the northern Palisades. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Fort Tryon Park Trust, New Yorkers for Parks, the New York Restoration Project, the Historic Districts Council NYC, the Preservation League of New York State, and the National Association of Olmsted Parks have all written letters of support asking LG to reconsider its proposed plan so as not to pierce the tree line of the beautiful Palisades. Three former executive directors of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission have also written urging the company to be a good corporate citizen.

Advocates for the preservation, protection and defense of the Palisades and its unique scenic viewsheds do not at all oppose the development of LG’s new headquarters at the present site. But we do oppose the design as it is currently proposed. A horizontal redesign will not adversely impact either the company itself or the economic development benefits that Englewood Cliffs derives from LG as a major employer and taxpayer.
Thus, we urge our fellow citizens on both sides of the river — and indeed across the nation and around the world — to support the efforts of the interested parties and stakeholders to advocate for the redesign of LG’s new headquarters in order to preserve, protect and defend irreplaceable scenic viewsheds and to respect the environmental and historical heritage of the Palisades National Natural Landmark, which generations have worked to respect and enjoy in perpetuity.
Further, we call upon all New Jersey and New York local, state and federal elected officials to help us advocate vigorously for a redesign which will satisfy the company and the host municipality and, at one and the same time, the larger moral, aesthetic, and cultural values which are now under threat.

Howard Yourow is a former Riverdale resident. The Points of View column is open to all readers.