It seems about once a year or so, someone happens by the small patch of hilly land separating Henry Hudson Parkway East and the actual Henry Hudson Parkway and finds something they didn’t expect: an old flagpole.
As most anyone could attest, it’s easy to miss. It’s literally steps from the Riverdale Monument on West 239th Street, and the once white paint is now covered in rust, helping it blend in with the foliage around it.
Not too long ago, longtime resident and local community activist Richard Feldman raised $500 to restore the flagpole. But because it sits on city property controlled by the transportation department — and not parks, like the neighboring Monument — Feldman found himself hitting enough roadblocks to stall the project.
But it’s been another year or so, and once again the flagpole has been discovered. This time by another community activist, Danny Monge. And he’s determined — come hell or high water — to put the American flag on top of this pole in time for Flag Day on June 14.
And Monge has recruited some help: Tree Army owner Nicholas Lynch.
“The best thing we can do is get it back to working condition,” said Lynch, who started his Kingsbridge Heights tree and landscape company as a way to provide a purpose for many veterans struggling to re-align with civilian life.
“When people see that someone will take care of it, that changes the game.”
Despite how it looks, Lynch is convinced the flagpole itself is in great shape despite being subject to the elements for more than 65 years. A good sanding and repainting could make a world of difference. And bringing in a bucket truck and a small crew should require just a couple days to get it all done.
It’s a project that would likely cost Lynch about $2,500 — but then again, Tree Army puts aside some profits from each job throughout a year so they can do a service project just like this. While those projects typically might be working in the aftermath of storms or helping a veteran who’s down on his luck, restoring a flagpole with a history like this one is right there in his wheelhouse.
And believe it or not, this flagpole does indeed have history, all thanks to a bus driver whose route regularly passed Bell Tower Park where the Monument is located. Eric Langfier admired the structure for its honoring of World War I veterans, but was shocked to find there was no flag included with the Monument.
He connected with Riverdale Press founder David Stein, and throughout the spring of 1955, they raised $220 — a little more than $2,000 today — to get a flagpole constructed.
Then, on May 22, 1955, Langfier was joined by members of the William E. Irwin Post of the American Legion as well as U.S. Rep. Paul Fino and other dignitaries in raising the flag for the first time. He was even there as they installed a plaque — still on the pole today — announcing the flagpole was “erected by the residents of the Riverdale community through popular subscription.”
Today, however, no flag flies. Although it’s near the Monument, the pole is actually on property controlled by the city’s transportation department — an agency that doesn’t typically deal with these kinds of structures.
“DOT does not install or maintain flagpoles,” a department spokesperson told The Press back in 2019. “If we find an entity willing to maintain the flagpole at this location, we are open to further discussions.”
Monge believes he has now, at least informally, put that entity together. When he reached out to DOT last week, the official he talked to seemed enthusiastic about finding a pathway to get the flagpole restored.
But on Tuesday evening, however, Monge — who has put together thank-you dinners for frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic — was a bit more discouraged. Reaching someone different at DOT revealed what seemed like enough red tape to make a Flag Day ceremony almost impossible.
“They said, ‘That flagpole was put up without permission,’” Monge said. “Apparently they have flagpole records going back before 1955, and they have no record of this flagpole. But I asked him to please be an ally on this. It’s only right for those veterans and their families.”
A DOT spokeswoman reached after-hours on Tuesday was unable to comment, but said she would look further into what Monge and Lynch are trying to accomplish. Dan Padernacht, who chairs Community Board 8’s traffic and transportation committee, said that just because DOT might not have a 66-year-old record of the flagpole being installed, it doesn’t necessarily mean it was installed illegally.
Feldman, who tried to get this ball rolling a few years ago, said he was elated to see the progress made in just the last couple weeks, despite the red tape.
“Look, it’s our town square,” Feldman said. “We need to get some kind of group together that can really make a difference here. And, hey, I still have the $500 I raised if they need it.”