By Sabina Mollot
On July 20, Herbert Rosenfield, a longtime Gramercy Park resident and community activist — also an original resident of Peter Cooper and World War II veteran — died at the age of 97.
His passing, which came just 16 days away from his next birthday, was due to diabetes as well as kidney disease, which he was diagnosed with in June. His funeral was held last Monday.
Rosenfield, who lived in Gramercy Park since 1950 (after a two-year stint in the newly opened Peter Cooper), was throughout his life involved in the community, focusing on quality of life issues through neighborhood organizations like the Block Association.
His daughter, Patricia Rosenfield, told Town & Village that when her father and mother, Audrey Priest Rosenfield, moved into the community, “They were the youngest residents at the time.” Feeling there was a serious problem in the neighborhood of people not cleaning up after their dogs, Rosenfield, along with the rector of Calvary Church at that time organized the first community park cleanup event. Patricia also said Rosenfield was active in pushing for what would become the Pooper Scooper Law.
In the 1970s, Rosenfield also started an organization aimed at helping the neighborhood he worked in, Tribeca, called the Chambers Canal Civic Association. This was following the building of the World Trade Center, which Rosenfield feared might impact the quality of life of area residents.
Locally, he was also involved in a coalition aimed at passing loft legislation so artists would be able to live and work in the same space and he helped set up a fund to help the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Other philanthropic work included establishing an outreach program for elderly, isolated people to be able to get eye exams at what is now the New York Presbyterian Hospital in Lower Manhattan.
His family’s textile business, which Rosenfield eventually took over following his father’s death, had already been in that area for decades. The company, Continental Convertors Corporation, was established by his grandfather. Rosenfield joined it after finishing high school and became the president in 1955. The company closed in 2010 when he retired.
However, the textile business was not his passion, Patricia said; civic work was.
In a eulogy read at his funeral, Patricia discussed how her father was a direct descendent of the 18th Century Enlightenment scholar/activist Jacob Emden on her father’s side, while his maternal grandfather, William Fischman, was a successful coat and suit manufacturer. Fischman, who Rosenfield was inspired by, was also a philanthropist, helping schools, hospitals and immigrant causes.
Rosenfield was also an early adapter to ATM machines, investing in a company that was developing the then-new machines.
“He embraced computers in the 1970s and built his own and was using his own programs for his business,” Patricia said.
Meanwhile, on his own time, Rosenfield enjoyed spending time at the National Arts Club. Patricia recalled that this is where he liked to go to read the newspaper and smoke his cigar.
“He loved living in Gramercy Park and he loved walking around the neighborhood,” she said.
Prior to starting his career, Rosenfield served in the military from 1940-1946, first in the Army, then later the Coast Guard. At first he served stateside, but later saw action in France and Germany.
It was in 1947 when he married Audrey, and the couple remained together until she died on June 9, 2001.
The couple had three children who are now grown, Patricia, Thomas and Nelson Chang, who’s adopted. Rosenfield is also survived by six granddaughters, Patricia’s daughter Victoria, Thomas’s daughters Danielle, Jessica and Vanessa and Nelson’s daughters Elaine and Julie.
Rosenfield was born in Far Rockaway and grew up in different homes in Manhattan and in White Plains.