Remembering a founder of Hudson River Park and a city preservationist

Photo by Hudson River Park

Since Hudson River Park is such a key element to our lives in Tribeca — in fact it’s very hard to remember the days before the park existed — I wanted to mark the death of one of its founders, my old friend Ed Kirkland, a stalwart advocate of the Westside. He was one of the most astute, dedicated and effective volunteers this city has known. He worked tirelessly, thoroughly, carefully and with wit and charm — just watch a couple minutes of the video of the genius roast CB4 held for him when he retired and you will see how beloved he was.

I met Ed in 1992 when I joined Community Board 4, which covers Chelsea and Clinton. He was then the board’s parliamentarian as well as the longtime chair of the board’s Chelsea Land Use Committee. Back then, the committee was in the throes of what would be become two defining projects for the westside: the preservation of West Chelsea and the creation of a park along the abandoned bulkhead of the Hudson River. A few years later, he would connect the founders of the High Line when the railroad was looking to dispose of its property, and go on to advocate for its preservation as well.

In the early ’90s, Ed and his committee members drafted what was the city’s first 197-a Plan — a community proposal to preserve the architectural character of Chelsea. The board members were inspired by a sliver building that popped up on Eighth Avenue and realized the built environment of Chelsea could change very quickly if they did not act. The Chelsea Plan was approved by the city in 1996.

He was a member of his block association, the Historic Districts Council, and most importantly for us Tribecans, was one of the founding members of Chelsea Waterside Park Association, which laid the groundwork for a Hudson River Park that would stretch from Battery Park City to Riverside Park.

But I will remember him for his deep knowledge of the city and his sparkle, wit and charm. He knew every letter of the city charter and Roberts Rules; he walked the blocks of Chelsea and Clinton daily and knew by sight every block and every building; and he never spoke without understanding the intricacies of the topic — not something you can say about many people these days. Noreen Doyle, the president of Hudson River Park, remembers that when she left the park briefly, he came to her on bended knee and presented her with a token for her service. That was the kind of gesture only Ed could pull off.

Edward Stevens Kirkland was born in Rhode Island in 1925, raised in Maine and always identified as a New Englander, with the broad accent to match. He served in World War II and spent months as a POW in Germany until he was liberated by the British. He returned to attend college at Dartmouth and taught for a time before becoming a computer analyst, but he was entirely self-taught as a preservationist. He was dedicated to his wife, June, who died in 2009. He served on CB4 for 29 years till his retirement in 2012.

He died at 97 in his apartment on 23rd Street with its view of the river, as was his wish.