Peace after World War II was shattered in Greenwich, Conn., when a United Nations site committee started looking at land for its new headquarters in the tony suburb.
The news came in December 1945 to the Greenwich Time newspaper by Prescott Bush, a resident, banker, future U.S. senator and father of George H.W. Bush. It shocked the town.
The United Nations Organization site committee, headed by Dr. Stoyan Gavrilovic of Yugoslavia, had chosen a 42-square-mile site that included nearly all of Greenwich north of the Merritt Parkway and parts of Stamford and North Castle.
It would be called the "Free City of the United Nations," kind of like Vatican City in Rome. A new railroad spur and four-lane highway were proposed, along with an airport, a sewage treatment plant, residential section, business section, hotel, power plants, churches, schools, a hospital, fire and police stations. The crowning glory would be a 12-story administration building modeled after the Pentagon, for 50,000 office workers.
Greenwich residents took to calling it UNOville. Most of them had one message for the U.N.: Not In My Back Yard.
Cities and towns all across the United States had been scrambling to lure the United Nations. Sen. Harley Kilgore of West Virginia sent a letter to the committee arguing the town of Berkeley Springs would be much more affordable than Fairfield County. Stamford, Conn., unlike Greenwich, wanted the U.N. Also in contention were Atlantic City, Bear Mountain in New York, Palisades State Park in New Jersey, Glacier National Park in Montana, the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Pedro Lopez, a diplomat from the Philippines, explained why Greenwich was so attractive. Its idyllic countryside was conducive to the meditation and contemplation that would help them solve the problems of a suffering and miserable world. Plus, it offered golf, and New York's nightclubs and theaters were only a short train ride away.
That would be nice for the diplomats, not so much for the residents of Greenwich. Prescott Bush explained the opposition in a letter to the UNO: A thousand families would be displaced and traffic, already a problem, would get worse, wrote Bush.
Greenwich lawyer John L. Gray and his law partner Wilkie Bushby organized a protest meeting at the Greenwich Country Day School for which 250 people showed up. Called themselves the Greenwich People's Committee. A petition circulated, legal fees were raised, and Town Meeting supported a resolution opposing UNOville.
Some residents supported the goals of world peace after the bloodshed of World War II. Others saw business opportunities and rising property values. They were outnumbered.
Opponents scheduled a referendum for George Washington’s birthday, but then rescheduled, fearing residents would be on vacation. On March 2, 1946, 73 percent of those voting opposed the UN. They were for world peace, just not world peace headquarters in their backyard.
The news media couldn’t resist. "The millionaires of Connecticut are angry," reported the Daily Mail from the UK. “Arise, Greenwichers, Ye Prisoners of the UNO," blared a New York Post headline. For those who didn’t know, the Daily Mail reported Greenwich had "mansions with 30 servants to run them; golf clubs that cost $400 a year to belong to if you are the type that 'belongs'; private beaches, and everything that a man can wish if he is a millionaire."
Greenwich’s opposition began to sway UNO. The French sided with the protesters, unwilling to displace residents. Australia wanted San Francisco anyway. And Middle Easterners opposed New York because of its large Jewish population.
By October, the Rockefeller family had donated the land on the East Side of New York City, which made that city inevitable.
Greenwich could breathe a long sigh of relief.