It all began in 1951 when the White Plains Chamber of Commerce appointed a Civic Design and Beautification subcommittee to replace long-gone oak trees in the downtown area along Mamaroneck Avenue. Originally given to the village of White Plains by King George III in 1760, the trees were removed in 1917. Brian Wallach was appointed chair of the eight-person committee and led the charge, going door-to-door convincing building owners to contribute to a fund to purchase and plant pin oaks. Other subcommittee members were John C. Bailey, Sybil Carin, Zachary Druss, Midge Goyert, Marjorie Priestley, Theodora Russell and Alvin Zinkin. The first tree was planted the next year, 1952, but it took another 10 years to complete the tree-planting project that stretched from Post Road to Maple Avenue and cost $9,000. In the next couple of years, the committee continued to raise money planning such events as a Dogwood Arbor Week and planting more trees along Post Road. (Read more…)
Incorporation and Independence
By 1965, the group was established enough to stand on its own, and White Plains Beautification Foundation was incorporated as a not-for-profit with a $2,000 budget, eight trustees and Wallach serving as the first president. Other officers included Carin, George van Geldern, Dr. Herbert L. Gould, Danby Osborn, Priestley and Russell. Their next project became benches with planters, designed by van Geldern. Throughout the ’60s, the attractive seating was installed downtown, the first public benches the city ever had. At the turn of the decade, WPBF members (at their own expense) took two Urban Design Odysseys – as the trips were called – to Great Britain and northern Europe to gather ideas to enhance the city. Meeting with government officials, they visited ancient towns as well as some new since World War II. What members learned led to the beginning of major gifts to the city that enhanced the public spaces of White Plains. Among the first during the 1970s was the purchase of a Schulmerich carillon, the design and development of two fountains downtown as well as a proposal to city officials to allow outdoor dining, prohibited in White Plains.
The capital projects undertaken during the 1970s and 1980s were quite varied:
- Kwanzan Cherry Trees 1970
- Malmud Parklet 1973
- Schulmerich Carillon 1974
- G. Kent Hawks Fountain 1978
- Triantafillu Fountain 1978
- Eugene E. Russell Copper Beech Tree 1981
- Edwin G. Michaelian Memorial Gazebo 1984
- John C. Bailey Summerhouse 1985
So many projects incorporated Kwanzan cherries and Bradford pears that WPBF became known as a city of beautiful spring flowering trees. It was during this period that the Adopt-a-Park program was established to encourage continuing support and sponsorship of gardens. At the start of the program in 1986 the number of gardens was 12. For the rest of the 20th century and into the next, because of this program, WPBF could afford to add many more gardens. Some gardens are carved out of little parklets and in quiet spaces. Others serve to highlight significant memorials. One of these is the beautiful garden around a monument of a Civil War soldier that had been in Tibbits Park since 1872, previously surrounded by hard surfaces. Another is the one-of-a-kind giant basket in Armory Plaza facing the historic White Plains Armory, where the original County Court House once stood. It was there on July 10, 1776, that the New York Provincial Congress met, adopted the Declaration of Independence and declared New York an independent state. On the next day, the Declaration of Independence was read publicly there for the first time in New York State. White Plains now has more than 60 gardens, recognition of the impact of the Adopt-a-Park program. Major gifts to the city continue to this day to mark special occasions and to honor individuals.
- Holocaust Memorial Garden 1992
- Welcome to White Plains Sign 1995
- Renoda Hoffman Street Clock 1990
- Hendey Library Street Clock 1999
- Flag Pole in Tibbits Park in 2004
- Golden Anniversary Street Clock 2015
While WPBF started out as an organization focused on making White Plains a city of trees, by the end of the 20th century volunteers had expanded their vision of what could be accomplished. Already many gardens were being created across the city so why shouldn’t WPBF be at the center of encouraging the community at large to participate and why shouldn’t WPBF be a focal point for offering educational opportunities to schoolchildren to understand the role and importance of trees, shrubs and other plants in our lives. That was a catalyst that motivated a number of new programs and partnerships undertaken at schools and to recognize individuals and businesses in the broader community. Among them are:
- Arbor Day
- Annual Fall Gala
- Business Awards
- Dazzle with Daffodils
- Earth Day Booth
- 50th Anniversary
- Front Yard Gardens
- Greening Project
- School Grants
An Evolved Organization
In the early days, WPBF volunteers planted, weeded, watered and cleaned litter from the gardens. Today, these functions are largely the responsibility of local nurseries hired by WPBF, but you may still spot foundation devotees cleaning up where needed.
Although WPBF receives no government funding, we appreciate and welcome help from the City of White Plains Mayor’s office and Department of Public Works in, for example, preparing beds for new gardens, removing plant material from gardens undergoing renovation and even providing additional mulch for the gardens.
During its 50-year history, WPBF’s thoughtfulness has extended far beyond the city’s borders. When the Board of Directors learned from national news reports that a huge storm had taken down most of the trees in a tiny town in northern Georgia, also called White Plains, they voted to donate and plant a willow oak tree in 1993 as a sign of friendship to a sister city. The organization also has not forgotten about the importance of recognizing its volunteers and having social get-togethers for relaxation, good food and good conversation, not only as a thank you but also as inspiration and motivation to continue the good work. A special recognition goes to the 13 individuals who have devoted so much time to serve as president.
- 1965 – 1972: Brian Wallach
- 1972 – 1984: Marjorie S. Priestley
- 1984 – 1987: Robert F. Ruger
- 1987 – 1990: Beth Wallach
- 1990 – 1996: Barbara Vrooman
- 1996 – 2001: Ann Edwards
- 2001 – 2005: Sally Coe
- 2005 – 2007: Dorothy Schere
- 2007 – 2008: Barbara Ramsdell
- 2008 – 2010: Mary Merenda
- 2010 – 2012: Jean M. Bello & Marie Silverman Marich
- 2012 – 2016: Deborah Donahoe
- 2016-Present: Karen Quinn
The organization’s work has been recognized far beyond the local community. Over the years, WPBF has been nominated for the Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Award, presented with commendations by President Ronald Reagan and First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson, and awarded the Westchester County Beautification Award numerous times. The work of WPBF has also been a contributing factor in the city’s designation as Tree City – USA by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The biggest reward though is that of seeing everyday, ordinary residents, day-in and day-out, as well as visitors enjoying the places and spaces of beauty and relaxation in our city.