One of New York’s last leftover spaces, almost forgotten, The Governors Island is open for visits till September 27 this year. This $75 million urban Eden, operated by a private nonprofit trust but paid for mostly by the city has a lot of things to offer. A five-minute ferry ride from Brooklyn ( on weekends only) and Manhattan, it feels distant yet impossibly close.
The 172-acre Governors Island off the southern tip of Manhattan is the oldest European settlement in New York. Since 2003, a former U.S. Army military base and U.S. Coast Guard station, 92 acres of the island are open to the public during the summer. It became one of my favorite summer attractions. I wrote about the Island last year and at the beginning of this summer.
This time I'd like to tell not about the whole island but only about one house. The Admiral's House is located in the Nolan Park area of the island. In the first half of the nineteenth century the prominent New York architect Martin E. Thompson, best known for its design of the Arsenal in Central Park, built the Commanding Officer's Quarters as a part of Nolan park, the first area in the park, developed by the Army.
Nolan Park is a bucolic, four acre manicured green, surrounded by houses and buildings that date back to 1840s. When the Island is open to the public, Nolan Park is generally used for picnicking and other leisure activities. The park is surrounded by houses, several of them are open to the public with art exhibitions during the open season. The Admiral's house was constructed in the 1843 and served as the home of the island's highest ranking Army officers.
The symmetrical form of the Greek Revival was changes in 1886 by the addition of a southern wing. The cannons, captured during the Spanish-American War and central flower bed in front of the house were also added during 1936 renovation which transformed the building to more or less its current appearance.
In 1966 the Army left Governor’s Island, turning it over to the United States Coast guard which headquartered its Third Coast Guard District and the Atlantic Area here, creating the largest Coast Guard base in the world. The Commanding Officer’s Quarters was renamed The Admiral’s House.
On December 7, 1988, President Ronald Reagan and [President-Elect] George H. W. Bush met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Governors Island in this house, then the headquarters for the Coast Guard.
In his 1998 book about foreign policy, former President George Bush recalled an important meeting at Governors Island with the leader of the Soviet Union after that historic speech: “As the ferry carrying Mikhail Gorbachev slowly approached the Coast Guard station at Governors Island through the gray waters of New York harbor, a feeling of tense expectation spread across the waiting knots of US and Soviet officials.
The arrival field had been largely cleared of spectators and Coast Guardsmen and their families peered from windows, eagerly waiting to glimpse the Soviet leader as he stepped out onto the island. It was a crisp December 7, 1988, and I was looking toward seeing Gorbachev, who had just finished a major address to the United Nations General Assembly–one filled with far-reaching arms control proposals. He was on his way to meet with President Ronald Reagan for a brief summit, which had been tacked on to the tail end of his visit to New York.”
New York Times in 1998 wrote: "The major theme of the meeting on Governors Island between the Soviet and American leaders was continuity. While Mr. Reagan looked back on his four previous meetings with Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Bush's presence symbolized the expressed intentions of both nations to strengthen the bridges between them. Mr. Reagan captured this mood of memories and hopes when he raised his glass for an ''informal and spontaneous'' toast at the luncheon, offering warm words for Mr. Gorbachev. ''This is my last meeting,'' Mr. Reagan said. ''I'd like to raise a toast to what we have accomplished, what we together have accomplished, and what you and the Vice President after Jan. 20 will accomplish together.'' 'Our First Agreement'
In response, Mr. Gorbachev stood, raised his glass toward Mr. Bush and said, ''This is our first agreement.''
The Soviet leader then turned to Mr. Reagan, his partner and rival during four years of bargaining, and said: ''Thank you very much for the meeting. There is a new atmosphere and a new rhythm in our negotiations.''
The Admiral’s House , although still empty, is open to the public by the National Park Service.