The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

UES Pool Should Be Named After Living Former Parks Commissioner: Residents

By Shaye Weaver | September 5, 2016 1:55pm
 Community Board 8 members will vote on whether to name the pool after Henry J. Stern this month.
Community Board 8 members will vote on whether to name the pool after Henry J. Stern this month.
View Full Caption
DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

UPPER EAST SIDE — A neighborhood pool should be named after a former city parks commissioner who campaigners say deserves the honor now, while he's alive.

Members of Community Board 8 want to name the John Jay Park pool, at East of York Avenue and 77th Street, after Henry J. Stern, 81, who served as the city's Parks Commissioner for 15 years and spent a number of years on Community Board 8.

Stern, who was a major advocate for the city's parks and nature, is also well-known for his wit and quirky personality, who always had his dog at his side, friends say.

"[We want] to honor Commissioner Stern in the present rather than in the past," Clynes said.

"He had a personal connection with the pool at John Jay Park. He frequently swam there. During his tenure as commissioner, Stern was an enthusiastic promoter of public pools."

The board's parks committee will vote on the effort on Sept. 8, according to board chairman Jim Clynes.

Once the parks committee comes up with a resolution, the full board will take a vote on it on Sept. 21. Then it will be passed to the Parks Department for consideration.

The 145-foot-long pool, located next to the FDR Drive from East 76th to 78th streets, was built by city planner Robert Moses and opened in 1940.

Stern, who lives on East 84th Street near East End Avenue, across from Carl Schurz Park, served as parks commissioner for 15 years, first under Mayor Ed Koch from 1983 to 1990, and again under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, from 1994 to 2002 — "only second to Moses, who served 26 years," Stern told DNAinfo New York on Wednesday.

Though the Parks Department didn't say it would approve the naming, a spokeswoman noted that the agency respects Stern's contribution, but typically, a parks department naming is done for someone who has passed away.

"Henry Stern is a revered former commissioner for this agency and dear to many near and far. His leadership and impact on Parks is immeasurable," she said in a statement.

Clynes pointed to the Queensboro Bridge, which was named after Koch, and the Manhattan Municipal Building, named after Mayor David Dinkins when they were still alive.

"He is a hell of a guy," said Barry Schneider, who formerly served with Stern on Community Board 8, on Friday.

Schneider says he remembers a man passionate about preserving the city's beauty.

Stern is retired but still frequents the parks, including John Jay Park where he started an annual swimming event for city employees back in the mid-1990s.

Every July 7 while he was commissioner, Stern would invite his co-workers and community members to gather at the pool at 7 a.m. to swim seven laps. Stern would swim 14.

"It was a rite of passage," he said. "The idea was that 'John Jay' had seven letters and the pool is at 77th Street. It was a lovely annual ritual but they stopped after I left [in 2002]." 

Stern also gave out T-shirts and other awards to swimmers who swam the most laps each summer.

When he wasn't swimming or promoting the pool, Stern was busy protecting the city's parks. In the later part of his term under Giuliani, he took heat for preventing a 3-day Victoria Secret fashion show event in Central Park, Stern said.

If someone cut down a tree illegally, Stern would make sure justice was served, Schneider said.

He was also known back in the day for his quirks and sense of humor. He assigned a nickname to all he worked with and kept a book of record to remember them all, Schneider said.

Born in 1935 in Inwood, Stern attended Bronx High School of Science from which he graduated at age 15. He went on to City College and then graduated Harvard Law School in 1957, according to the New York Times.

He became executive director for parks in 1966.

He was assistant to the Manhattan Borough President in 1962, and started working on Community Board 8 in 1974 in a number of capacities for a number of years, including the board's parks committee, he said.

He was also elected as a city councilman in 1973 and 1977.

Stern, who lives with his wife Dr. Margaret Ewing and has two sons and five grandchildren, doesn't swim much any more but is still fond of the pool, he said.

"The park has fared well," he said. "It would be a great honor [to have the pool named after me]."

Henry J. Stern
(Photo courtesy of the Parks Department)